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Bhuvneshwar Kumar: India’s swing-merchant who can scale great heights for his country

Bhuvaneshwar Kumar has risen rapidly since the turn of 2013 © Getty Images
Bhuvaneshwar Kumar has risen rapidly since the turn of 2013 © Getty Images

 

Bhuvneshwar Kumar, born on February 5, 1990 has the uncanny ability to move the ball both ways in the air and off the track. He can hold his own as a batsman too. Bharath Ramaraj has more about the cricketer from Meerut, Uttar Pradesh.  

During 2012-13 season, the swing-merchant from Meerut,Uttar Pradesh, Bhuvneshwar Kumar got his much deserved break when he was picked to play for India against Pakistan in the Twenty20 International (T20I) at Bangalore.

Most of the critics expected Bhuvneshwar to wilt under pressure with his heart pumping and nerves jangling in his debut game. Instead, with a cocked wrist, he made Pakistan’s batsmen dance to his tunes and put out a virtuoso performance. With a two card trick, he setup the Pakistani opener Nasir Jamshed for the in-swinger, and sent his stumps somersaulting in the air. He followed that up by taking the wickets of Ahmed Shehzad and Umar Akmal.

As we sit back and marvel at the filigree precision with which the swing-king from Uttar Pradesh takes his wickets, one has to remember that he had to put in the hard yards for more than five years in First-Class cricket. He had to play in front of empty stands and on barren tracks. But that unquenching desire to play for the country and don the national cap kept him going.

Bhuvneswar, who idolises his state mate Praveen Kumar, first made his presence felt when he took 35 wickets at a highly impressive average of 25.2 in 2008-09 First-Class season. One fondly rekindles memories of him taking five wickets against a resolute Railways line-up at Delhi in 2008-09 Ranji Trophy. In 2010-11, he was again amongst the wickets by scalping 21 batsmen at a highly impressive average of 20.14. However, the general consensus was that he wasn’t quick enough to play in the international arena. When a swing bowler combines geometric precision with the ability to swing it late, you don’t need to bowl at the speed of red-lightning. It has to be remembered that Bhuvneshwar is a fine seam bowler too — a largely unnoticed fact about his modus operandi.

Days, turned into months and years but despite his spellbinding showing in domestic cricket, playing for India seemed to be a distant dream. It all changed when he made his debut at Bangalore in that T20I game against Pakistan. Since then, he has not let his captain down too many occasions, and even when he has been short of wickets, he hasn’t been hit around the park.

When Australia toured India to play a four Test match series in 2013, spin was expected to play a key role in dismantling the Aussie batsmen. Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja were all over Australian batsmen like a rash in that series. But Bhuvneshwar with his ability to move the ball both ways in the air and off the track also made a significant contribution in helping India to annihilate Australia 4-0.

In the Test match played at Hyderabad, he got the ball to dip and swerve in the air to leave Australian batsmen in a state of complete dizziness. The likes of Ed Cowan, David Warner and Shane Watson, who hardly face crafty swing bowlers back home were sent marching back to the pavilion one- after-another. Bhuvneshwar, used the two card trick in a swing bowler’s hat to perfection in that game.

A few months later when India embarked on a trip to England to play in the ICC Champions Trophy 2013, not many gave them a chance to lift the coveted trophy. Yet, the Indian bowling line-up rose to the occasion to deliver knockout punches when needed, and they went onto win the tournament. Bhuvneshwar was a vital cog of India’s success in that tournament by taking six wickets at an average of 22.8.

In the game against Pakistan played at Edgbaston, with just a tilt of the wrist, he swung it around the corners to take two wickets and bowl parsimoniously. His ability to swing the ball was a sight for soar eyes that day. Emboldened by his fine showing in the ICC Champions Trophy, he continued his rip-roaring form by snaring 10 wickets in the tri-series played in the West Indies at a wondrous average of 9.7.

But every cricketer is bound to go through a barren period. Bhuvneshwar too since his masterful showing in England and the West Indies has been in poor form. In his last 14 One-Day Internationals (ODIs) he has taken a mere nine wickets. Even in the recently concluded ODI series in New Zealand, he found it difficult to make his mark on featherbeds. Bhuvneshwar did play two Tests against the West Indies at home, but could only snare three wickets. He has since lost his place in the Test side.

When he jogs into the crease with a farmer-like gait, Bhuvneshwar Kumar seems just like another of those journeyman medium-pacers going around. But he is bestowed with god-gifted talent of being able to generate enormous amount of backward rotation on the ball. The boomerang-bending swing bowler can certainly make life difficult for batsmen on most tracks. He is one of those few Indian swing bowlers who can generate appreciable seam movement. Bhuvneshwar can even be a fine willow wielder and has a noteworthy First-Class average of 29.45 to his credit. He has notched up a ton in his fledgling First-Class career. From India’s perspective, one can only hope that by showing a warrior-like perseverance, he will come back to form and show that rapid strides he made during the 2012-13 season was no fluke.

(Bharath Ramaraj, an MBA in marketing, eats, drinks and sleeps cricket. He has played at school and college-level, and now channelises his passion for the game by writing about it)

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