On Friday, pace sensation Umran Malik made his much-anticipated ODI debut as India took on New Zealand in the first match of the three-match series in Auckland and returned figures of 2/66. Umran picked up the wickets of Devon Conway and Daryl Mitchell with an impeccable show of fast bowling but unfortunately, his efforts were not enough as New Zealand emerged winners by seven wickets to take a 1-0 lead. Umran, whose pace has been a hot topic of discussion among experts and even received attention from Pakistan great Wasim Akram, cracked it up on the speed gun, to an extent that he even clocked 153 kmph, while constantly bowling at above 145 clicks.

The square boundaries at Eden Park though allowed Kane Williamson and Tom Latham to play themselves in and then take the attack to the Indian bowlers, including Umran, who towards the end leaked a few runs. But former India fast bowling greats Zaheer Khan and Ajit Agarkar were overall quite impressed with Umran’s debut and urged the management to stick with the 23-year-old even if he bowled a few expensive overs.

“He was great. He started very well. And the pace which everyone has been talking about that is his strength, he backed it. Towards the latter half, there are some learnings for sure but it’s just the first game for him at this level. It is about going out there, enjoying the moment and giving it all. I think he had a good debut. You can overlook the runs right now but what is important for a bowler like him, who is bowling at that kind of pace, it is the wicket-taking intent. That was good, and the body language was good too. All the little fine-tuning he will figure as he moves along in his career. But what’s important is that he should back his strength and look to bowl as quick as possible. He showed decent control and should continue with that,” Zaheer said exclusively to broadcaster Prime Video at the end of the Indian Innings.

“You need variety in your bowling attack. You have used different bowlers for different things. When you look at Umran, you have got to look at him as a wicket-taker. Let him flourish as a bowler who is going to be that striker of your attack. He someone who is probably not thinking about runs. He will leak runs in the process but you have got to take it in your stride and just back him to be free. That is something which is very important. You can either have really good pace or control. Till the time he is bowling quick, you have to let him be free. Just make sure you tell him… ‘You see that wickets, attack those stumps’,” Zaheer added.

Agarkar, who for years partnered Zaheer with the new ball, agreed with the former India left-arm quick’s assessment, saying that to expect a young tearaway bowler to show both pace and accuracy is too much and that someone of Umran’s calibre should be allowed to express himself freely. On a day when every Indian quick went for runs, Umran overshadowed his senior pros Arshdeep Singh and Shardul Thakur by picking up two out of the three New Zealand wickets to fall, which Agarkar reckons is a huge positive.

“When someone is as raw as he is, I think he had a brilliant day. I agree with Zak because he gave India the control and the wickets which kept them in the game. 306 as Shreyas said India thought they were above par but with the dimensions of the ground, when there is a set batter, it becomes difficult to stop. He got India the wickets they needed – Conway and then Mitchell – so he got India back in the game, bowled exceptionally well,” Agarkar said exclusively to broadcaster Prime Video at the end of the Indian Innings.

“We don’t expect a young bowler, who is a tear away, to come and bowl on the right line and lengths immediately. That is what gives them the X-Factor. He was very impressive because he showed that control at the start. I think he had a terrific debut and lots to look forward to. There are lots of bowlers who can bowl line and length but very few who can get it up to 150. That’s a special ability to have. You’ve got to nurture it and give him that confidence.”

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