The accolades are coming in thick and fast. The most exciting pace bowling prospect in eons. The next big thing to happen to Indian cricket. The fastest Indian fast bowler of all time. A rare talent that needs all encouragement. A precocious youngster whose fitness should be nurtured. He should be fast tracked into the Indian team right away. He is going to take the world by storm if he starts playing at the international level.

Umran Malik is suddenly the most talked about cricketer in the land. And to think that he hasn’t played a Test, or an ODI or even a T-20 international. He has played just three first class games. But he is excelling in the IPL, and given the status and popularity of the tournament he is garnering a lot of attention.

But wait. There is another reason why he is the subject of intense discussion among fans and experts. He is a fast bowler. And by that I mean really quick. The shortest format of the game is perhaps not the ideal one to be bowling at speeds approaching the 150 kmph mark, at times even going beyond that. At that pace the bowler can be guilty of spraying the ball all over the place – criminal in T-20. But then Umran Malik is not just another young bowler who loves to make the batsman at the crease hop around in palpable discomfort. He is fast, full of raw, scorching pace and that alone can be disconcerting for the best of batsmen.

Already, he is being compared to the greats of fast bowling. That could be dangerous for there is always the possibility of the young man turning out to be a meteor. Somehow, Umran doesn’t give that impression. He is a genuinely exciting prospect who deserved an early break in international cricket.

At 22 the Srinagar-born Umran has time on his side and can indeed develop into the biggest name in Indian cricket. There have been bowlers before who have generated a lot of speed, Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav, Varun Aaron and Jasprit Bumrah come to mind. But they have delivered spells of really fast bowling, not as consistently as Umran. For instance it has been recorded that over 90 percent of his deliveries in the IPL have been clocked in excess of 140 kmph, that is consistency personified.

Already the discussion around him centres around one query: “is Umran Malik the fastest bowler India has ever produced?’’ This is not an idle, wasteful question for the answer has to be in the affirmative. For once all the plaudits that are being heaped on him are not over the top, and are absolutely deserved.

An astonishing aspect of Umran’s cricket is that he didn’t touch a cricket ball till he was 17. That makes his rise truly sensational. But the all-important question today is – what happens now? While he can send down yorkers and bouncers that have batsmen hopping, at his age he can also be profligate. This is the stage when he needs guidance, for he is a prodigious talent who has to be closely watched. With Dale Steyn as his coach in the Sunrisers Hyderabad dug-out he has just the man to show him the way forward.

Besides a knowledgeable coach he also needs an understanding captain and Malik has that too in Kane Williamson who has already called him “very special’’. Of course like any fast bowler Umran has to have a big heart for there will be days when some hits can go into the stands, and he will have to maintain his composure. That’s when you need the captain and the coach to tell you “don’t worry, keep bowling fast, for you are a fast bowler”.

There should be no compromise on that and fortunately Umran has made it clear that he always concentrates on bowling really fast. “I have also been trying to bowl better lines and lengths. The plan is always to attack the stumps’’ he said. Asked if he was aiming for the 155 kmph mark he said “hopefully it happens but the main goal is to bowl well and pick up wickets for the team.”

Sheer pace is arguably the sport’s most potent weapon and Indian cricket is fortunate to have a thrilling prospect in Umran. An exceptional talent like him should be picked quickly, the selectors have an opportunity with the T-20 home series against South Africa coming up. The selection for the T-20 World Cup in Australia also should be automatic given the bouncy and pacy nature of the tracks Down Under.

In the IPL Umran has been improving with every match and the piece de resistance came in the game against Gujarat Titans. The figures – five for 25 off his four overs – are impressive enough but they scarcely convey the mayhem he caused out in the middle. Four batsmen were bowled, the other caught off a really fast delivery he knew nothing about and essayed an awkward skier to be caught at third man.

The choicest dismissal was that of a well settled Wriddhiman Saha who found himself scuttled by a ferocious delivery timed at 153 kmph. There is really nothing any batsman can do to negotiate such express deliveries especially when they are directed on the stumps and are virtually yorker length.

In the stands during the game a spectator held up a placard “I came to watch Umran Malik.” Yes, cricket fans now will be queuing up to catch a glimpse of Indian cricket’s latest sensation.