DUBAI: Four years ago, Bhuvneshwar Kumar was at the top of his game here in Dubai. With Jasprit Bumrah evolving rapidly as a bowler at the other end, Bhuvneshwar became India’s first pick in white-ball cricket. That he was falling behind in Test cricket, despite a productive record, hardly came up for debate.
Bhuvneshwar’s potency with the new ball has overshadowed his capabilities at the deep end of a game. The dream run continued till the 2019 World Cup. A never-ending wait to recover from a hamstring injury saw a host of fast bowlers springing up from India’s massive resource pool.
By the time he took the field back for India in 2021, Bhuvi had to fight for his place. The indifferent performance in the T20 World Cup last here in Dubai dragged him to the edge. The annihilation at the hands of Babar Azam and Mohammad Rizwan had put his future in Team India Blues in serious doubt. “That was one match which didn’t go my way. That can happen to anybody. I got back to doing what I used to do, the same drills and routine which are very boring,” Bhuvneshwar asserted after his masterclass performance on Sunday.
Now he is back in Dubai again, this time just as a T20 specialist. He may have come here on the back of a few mesmerizing spells of new ball bowling but Bhuvneshwar would know that every series and big match will count when the selectors and team management sit down to pick the first XV for the T20 World Cup in Australia in October-November.
The spell of 4/26 against Pakistan on Sunday evening will help him cement his place. “Honestly, I haven’t done anything different,” he said. Subtly, in his ultra-polite voice, he conceded: “You need a bit of luck. Luck favoured me in the past few matches and the performances were good. All things started going my way. I didn’t do anything special.”
Bad luck abdicated him as a premier seamer right after the 2019 MOST VALUABLE: Bhuvneshwar Kumar (second from right) is the centre of attention after bagging a Pakistani wicket World Cup. Now, as luck would have it, Deepak Chahar, who is fast evolving as his like-for-like replacement but with better batting credentials, too was sidelined for nearly six months with a hamstring injury.
Bhuvneshwar has been one of the great survivors in Indian cricket over the last decade. He has survived big bats, small boundaries and prolonged injuries. As he fights to become the indispensable part of the pace attack – at least in T20Is – he must play the senior pro to the fresh faces in the team in this Asia Cup. It was his experience that got him the nod for the T20 World Cup last year.
Known more for his prodigious swing with the new ball, Bhuvneshwar decided to pull the length back against Babar and Rizwan on Sunday. Waiting to pounce on full-length deliveries, both batters couldn’t free their hands. Just before the T20 World Cup last year, former India pacer Ashish Nehra had made an observation to TOI: “Skills and accuracy have never been an issue with Bhuvneshwar. It’s the zip off the pitch that he used to get. When he was clocking 135 kmph regularly, he was hitting the bat hard which made him tougher to get away. I understand the struggles of coming back from injuries. He will need another six months of training and he will be back at his best.”
The difference is now showing. The same back-of-length deliveries which were being dismissed by Babar and Rizwan last year were cramping them up for room on Sunday.
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From a distance, Bhuvneshwar’s built doesn’t scream ‘fast bowler’. He emotes less, his eyes are anything but intimidating but rest assured, when he is at the top of his mark, his mind is ticking. Credit to him, he never fell for the trappings of competing with express bowlers next to him.
“It’s very important to out-think your opposition. These days, T20 cricket has become so fast that players start assuming what the bowler or batter is going to do. The pitch here didn’t aid swing. Bounce was more important. You plan for a batter and you know the strengths of the batter. Once you have bowled a couple of balls, you understand the nature of the pitch. Thinking about the game is as important as having the skills,” Bhuvneshwar said.
If anything, Bhuvneshwar’s late-over bowling has been under the scanner. The South Africans at home this June feasted on him. “The concept of bowling yorkers in death overs is what you people talk about. We don’t say that. We bowl according to the conditions. When there is the need to bowl yorkers, we do that,” he said.
He is perhaps in his last lap as an international pacer, but Bhuvi has finally hit his stride.