If you look at Bhuvneshwar Kumar without ball in hand, he is unlikely to come across as someone who could storm into any scene. But for the first few months of his international career, the slender and slim medium-pacer was quite the sensation, troubling batsmen the world over with his swing and movement. He was also skipper MS Dhoni’s go-to man with the new-ball, and often Kumar would end up finishing his quota of 10 overs in one go. By then, he would have also swung the match in his team’s favour, quite literally.
The 25-year-old though has not had a great run this year. He remained a spectator confined to the dug-out for most part of India’s run at the World Cup — only appearing at Perth against UAE — as his bowling didn’t quite have the same effect on the harder and truer surfaces in Australia. In what has been a hectic calendar for the Indian team, Kumar has only appeared in 10 matches in which he’s picked up 12 victims. Crucially, three of those came in India’s dramatic come-from-behind victory at Indore earlier this week. For all the plaudits that went Dhoni’s way for his breath-taking 92, Kumar played his role too with the ball, swinging a semi-new ball to dismiss the dangerous David Miller before mopping up the tail.
And at the Saurashtra Cricket Association (SCA) Stadium in Rajkot on Sunday, both Kumar and his team will look for an encore in order to take a significant lead in the five-match series.
Speed throttles swing
Like in Australia, Kumar had also struggled to make an impact in South Africa in late 2013, playing only a solitary ODI where he was taken to task by Quinton de Kock & Co. His lack of genuine pace was the chief reason mooted by most for his failure to adapt to the pitches in the southern hemisphere which offer generous bounce but not much movement. The most worrying factor of the downturn in his fortunes was his sudden inability to swing the ball much.
And those close to Kumar put that down to his desperate quest to add a few yards of pace. They reveal that his extended period on the bench Down Under was what prompted him to add a new element to his bowling. But they worry that he might end up compromising his biggest strength in that pursuit. There have been similar cases before, which didn’t quite end well. You only have to think back to the likes of Irfan Pathan and RP Singh, who too came into the setup as bowlers with the ability to generate prodigious swing, but lost the plot along the way as they succumbed to constant criticism regarding their lack of pace.
To the extent that even the recently retired Zaheer Khan had expressed his concern over Kumar not swinging the ball like he used to. Though the former Indian pace spearhead did not quite agree that it had anything to do with Kumar’s attempts at adding pace.
“I don’t relate to that. Bhuvi has never been an out-and-out pace bowler at 145 kmph. He is still focusing on his skills and trying to swing the ball. That he’s not able to swing is a different story,” Zaheer had said.
And on Saturday, the man himself too wasn’t quite ready to buy the argument that he had actually lost his most important attribute.
“No, I don’t think I have lost my swing. I have told this in the past as well that I need proper conditions to assist my swing bowling as well. If I have conditions on offer I would swing the ball a lot more than the rest of the bowlers. If you see in the last match, there was some swing early on in the innings. When there is no swing on offer, I try to exploit the reverse swing if at all there is any,” he said.
Though the pace v swing argument may not quite be resolved anytime soon, what Kumar does deserve credit for his new-found ability to bowl in the death. If anything, he’s become Dhoni’s go-to man in the death these days. To boot, he was also looked clearly the most adept Indian seamer in the IPL when it came to delivering yorkers consistently. And it’s an ode to the many hours he’s spent under the sun practising his death bowling in the nets.
“I used to bowl a lot at the death in the IPL and it serves as a confidence-booster that I can do a lot more with the ball at the start of the innings and at the death. It is good to bowl with the new ball and the old ball,” he explained.
Kumar, like all the other bowlers on show from both sides, will have their task cut out in dealing with the batting-friendly conditions at the Saurashtra Cricket Association stadium, which many consider to be a graveyard for pacers in particular.
But a rejuvenated India and Kumar will look at it as another challenge that they would want to swing past and overcome.
(3rd ODI, Live on Star Sports 1 & 3 1:30 pm onwards)