Jasprit Bumrah’s return to the Indian team will have to wait. On Monday, the eve of the first ODI between India and Sri Lanka in Guwahati, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) said that Bumrah will need some more time to build bowling resilience. “This decision has been taken as a precautionary measure,” the BCCI added.
Bumrah hasn’t played for India since September 2022 due to a back injury. The sequence of events relating to Bumrah betrays muddled thinking from the decision-makers.
The 29-year-old pacer wasn’t included when the T20I and ODI squads for the Sri Lanka series were announced on December 27 though he is understood to have been fit and available for selection. The pragmatism was entirely understandable after chief selector Chetan Sharma’s admission in November that they had erred by trying to rush him back for the T20 World Cup.
But on January 3, a couple of days after the BCCI’s review meeting where his fitness status reportedly came up for discussion, he was added to the ODI squad. At the time of his inclusion, the BCCI had said: “The pacer has undergone rehabilitation and has been declared fit by the National Cricket Academy (NCA).”
Skipper Rohit Sharma, however, said on Monday that Bumrah felt “a bit of stiffness in his back” over the last couple of days. “It is unfortunate for him. He has been working really hard at NCA all this time. Just when he got back to his full fitness and started bowling…this happened. It is nothing major. But when Bumrah says anything, we have to be very cautious. That is what we did,” he told reporters.
The latest episode also raises valid concerns about the protocols in place before clearing an injured player’s selection. Just last month, Sharma had expressed his disapproval with players getting injured on India duty despite being passed fit, adding that he wanted the NCA to get to the bottom of it.
“It’s something we have to look at,” Rohit had said in Bangladesh regarding injuries to pacers Kuldeep Sen and Deepak Chahar. “We have to sit with our team back home at the NCA as well and try and monitor their workload. We can’t afford guys coming in here half-fit and representing the country. There’s huge pride and honor in representing the country and if they’re not fit enough, it’s not ideal. Having said that, we just need to get to the bottom of it and find out what exactly is the reason behind this.”
Though better sense may have prevailed by pulling Bumrah out, it is worrying that the star pacer’s comeback has been prematurely halted for the second time in the last four months. When he last returned to the Indian team after injury — in September 2022 — for the T20 Is against Australia and South Africa at home ahead of the T20 World Cup in Australia, we all know that it didn’t pan out according to plan. He just played two matches against the Aussies before a back injury that saw him miss the Asia Cup resurfaced, ruling him out of the South Africa series and the subsequent T20 World Cup.
The mismanagement clearly hurt India at the T20 World Cup. In his absence, India had to call up Mohammed Shami, who hadn’t played a single T20I since the preceding edition in 2021, to accompany Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Arshdeep Singh in the seam attack. At key junctures, Sharma missed his strike weapon, most notably during the semi-final against England where India were handed a 10-wicket defeat.
With a four-Test series against Australia beginning on February 9 and the ODI World Cup slated for October-November, India need a fully-fit Bumrah to be leading the attack for the major assignments. Before getting him back into the national team, though, it may be prudent to have Bumrah play a couple of Ranji Trophy fixtures for Gujarat to prove his match fitness and show beyond doubt that he is ready for the rigors of international cricket. That is perhaps something the BCCI should have already done by now with the domestic season in full swing instead of the see-sawing we have witnessed over the past week.