Bhuvneshwar Kumar believed South Africa’s plan to bowl short-pitched deliveries and bounce the Indian batsmen out failed miserably in the first T20 in Johannesburg. In comparison, India bowled intelligently and mixed things up with a combination of short balls and slower ones. And he would know, he picked up his maiden five wicket haul in T20s on Sunday. In the end, India bowlers curtailed South Africa to 175/9 to seal a 28-run win.
“What I was trying to do is bring about change of pace in my bowling. I just wanted to take the pace off the ball because I knew it won’t be easy to hit the ball and that’s what I did. The important thing is how you mix your deliveries according to the wicket,” Kumar said. “For instance, today (Sunday) we bowled a lot of slow balls. It was a part of our strategy on this wicket, to do away with pace and make it difficult for the batsmen to score. Apart from line and length, it is important to understand how you want to mix your deliveries. It matters. Today, for instance, it was about bowling slow,” he said in the press conference.
However, a lion’s share of the job and plenty of work in the win was done by Shikhar Dhawan who scored 72 runs from 39 balls to take India to a massive 203/5. Led by 78 runs in the powerplay overs, India didn’t let momentum subside for the most part to notch their highest T20 score against South Africa.
“Whenever India goes abroad, the reputation is that India are not good at batting against short bowling. This time we haven’t seen that thing. We have really tackled it well. Today they bowled 5-6 overs of short bowling to us early on and it really backfired on them. Whatever the reputation we had, in the last few years we are playing totally opposite of that. We have managed the short ball pretty well on this tour. They wanted to bowl short but it didn’t really work well for them,” he said.
He also pressed on how South Africa didn’t have a Plan B after their strategy of bowling short didn’t work out. “Something doesn’t work for you, you have to come up for something else. So that’s what probably worked to our advantage.”
Bhuvneshwar also praised the entire team on a complete performance – with the bat, ball and in the field. “It was a complete performance from us. When we went in there, we knew what we wanted to do as best as a bowling team,” said Kumar. “We lost the first two Test matches and then we came back. The momentum was on our side and if momentum is on your side, you have got to make it count. Credit has to go the Indian team for the way we have played in every department,” he added.
Bhuvneshwar Kumar has been a standout performer for India in all formats on the tour. He has been effective with the ball and chipped in with crucial runs with the bat as well. He alluded that it has been possible due to his ability to manage workload which has thus helped his fitness. “First thing, it comes with fitness. It’s not easy playing all three formats, especially on a single tour. So the first thing before coming here what I wanted to do is manage workload. I wanted to practice but in a specific way, so as to not put extra workload on the body,” he said. “The credit goes to the entire team because individual performances don’t matter. We stayed together and that’s what worked. For instance, we didn’t win the first two Tests but from the third Test, the momentum went our way. So it wasn’t about just one person. It’s about each and every player, and the support staff and the management to everyone,” Kumar added.
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Bhuvneshwar became the second Indian bowler to take a fifer in T20 cricket (after Yuzvendra Chahal). Speaking about the milestone he said, “Taking wickets means a lot to me when you play for your country. It doesn’t matter if you take five wickets or how many as long as you’re winning matches for your country. That’s what matters and taking fifers in every format feels good. I want to do it as long as possible.”
India were put in to bat by stand-in South Africa skipper JP Duminy. At the time, Virat Kohli stated he too preferred to bowl first but in the end, the lost toss helped Bhuvneshwar get a reading of the pitch and the strategy to be deployed. “After we batted, we had a certain idea of the kind of wicket we would be bowling on after what we saw. But the whole picture begins to emerge only after you’ve bowled because it depends on the bowlers,” he said. “Look at their bowlers, they’re of a different height and have different skill sets. So you get an idea but as I said, the whole thing emerges only after you’ve bowled a few balls. For instance, if I’ve bowled the first over, I can communicate with the rest of the bowlers what’s happening on the wicket, like that,” he added.
Even with South Africa looking a beleaguered and depleted unit, Bhuvneshwar stressed that they cannot be taken lightly. “If you look at the one-day series and now, yes they’ve been vulnerable. But South Africa is not that kind of team (to be considered fragile). It happens to any team in the world when things don’t go your way or plans don’t fall in place but that doesn’t mean they’re a weak team or they’re not a good team,” he said for the second T20I that will be played in Centurion on Wednesday.