What is Jasprit Bumrah’s true worth? It is a question that was asked a lot in the aftermath of the IPL auction. Perhaps, somewhere, it is still being asked.

The man who does the initial recce and makes sense of all the information is Bumrah.(Getty Images)

Australian pacer Mitchell Starc had commanded an astronomical 24.75 crore. Pat Cummins, another pacer, had gone for 20.50 crore. Harshal Patel, an Indian pacer, went for a cool 11.75 crore. Alzarri Joseph, a 27-year-old West Indies pacer, raked in 11.50 crore. Good money. But as things stand, Bumrah gets just 12 crore from the Mumbai Indians and any layman will tell you that he is priceless. He is the kind of bowler you simply can’t put a price on.

Wrap up the year gone by & gear up for 2024 with HT! Click here

And if you need a quick reminder of what he is all about, then the Test series against South Africa which begins on December 26 will serve that purpose well.

Cummins has his moments and his record in Test cricket over the last five years is exceptional (171 wkts at an average of 22.04). But he isn’t as consistently good in ODIs and T20Is. Starc can run through line-ups on his day, as shown by his 142 wickets @ 26.47, but he has plenty of off-days too. Kagiso Rabada’s levels have dropped from the heady highs but 129 wickets @ 23.08 are proof of his quality.

But even among this group, Bumrah stands out. In 22 Tests over the last five years, he has taken 89 wickets at an average of 21.25. No pacer in the top-10 wicket-takers list has a better average and the unique part about the Indian pacer is the ease with which he leaves his mark across different formats.

Barely have we gotten over his spell-binding performance at the ODI World Cup, where teams would often simply just look to play him out rather than risk losing their wickets, and now we will have a chance to see him do the same in red-ball cricket too. Different formats, same old Bumrah.

South Africa has been a happy hunting ground for him. He made his Test debut at Cape Town in January 2018 and hasn’t looked back since. In six Tests, he has taken 26 wickets at an average of 24.38 and what has stood out from his debut is how quickly he comes to terms with the conditions.

India pacer Mohammed Siraj had given some insight into the workings of the pace attack during the World Cup.

“We speak about what better line and length to bowl on at a wicket,” Siraj had said. “We are passing on these messages to each other which is very important. For fast bowlers, it is very important to bowl in a consistent area.”

The man who does the initial recce and makes sense of all the information is Bumrah.

“When Jassi bhai bowls, he gets an idea about what line and length is better on a wicket. He relays the same message to us,” Siraj had further said.

Going into a match, the team already had plans in place but sometimes, the wicket doesn’t play along and that is where Bumrah’s genius truly shines. His true gift is to adapt and change without so much as a stutter.

But the challenge, this time, will not be easy. Over the past few years, the 30-year-old seamer got used to have a superb supporting cast. But this time, there will be no Mohammed Shami, who will miss the series due to an ankle injury. Ishant Sharma has given way to Siraj and Umesh Yadav isn’t quite the same bowler in an away series.

Great pace attacks always hunt in packs but this time India won’t have the same quality to fall back on. There will some learning that will need to be done quickly by the younger bowlers. That is what Bumrah had once managed and Rohit Sharma will hope someone does the same this time around.

So more than ever before, India will need Bumrah to sprinkle the series with a generous dose of magic; magic he is more than capable of producing but at the same time, something his team will desperately need.

The best bowlers find a way to make the most of whatever card is dealt to them. In the past, we have seen Bumrah play mind games, lay a trap and then, strike the fatal blow. Sometimes the batters see it coming but they still can’t stop his unorthodox genius.

Often, the IPL auction may fly in the face of logic and in times like this, we can only rely on Bumrah to calm the waters, smile and deliver as only he can.