Bhuvneshwar Kumar has the second highest batting average in the Test series against England © Getty Images
Bhuvneshwar Kumar has come a long way in his fledgling Test career after putting in a tremendous all-round showing in the first two Tests against England. Shiamak Unwalla looks at the metamorphosis of the man who went from medium-slow swing bowler to India’s best player in the 2014 tour of England.
If Virat Kohli symbolises the in-your-face, aggressive new India, then Bhuvneshwar Kumar portrays an entirely different side. Quiet, efficient, and hard-working; these are the qualities that immediately stand out when one thinks of “Bhuvi,” as he is fondly called.
When people first saw him bowl, there was a view going around that he was not a typical fast bowler. That isn’t entirely wrong; he doesn’t have the right build, he isn’t particularly quick, and he never stared a batsman down. But then, he didn’t have to.
Like all good bowlers, Bhuvneshwar let the ball talk. A very impressive T20 debut in 2012 — 3 for 9 in four overs against Pakistan — was followed by consistent performances throughout. With the rise of Mohammed Shami though, he lost his Test spot soon after making his debut in whites. It was not because he wasn’t good enough, but with nine wickets in six Tests, he obviously needed some work.
Bhuvneshwar was a decent cricketer without being outstanding. Then came the Indian Premier League (IPL) 2014. Playing for Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH), Bhuvi consistently out-bowled no less a bowler than Dale Steyn. With a far superior economy rate and a lot more wickets than Steyn, Bhuvneshwar made it clear that he was ready to take his game to the next level.
And that next level was attained in India’s tour of England, 2014. Lacklustre returns in the two warm-up matches meant that there was already a sense of foreboding in the Indian media about another possible whitewash. He made a mark immediately, albeit with bat rather than ball. An innings of 58 and a 100-run alliance with Shami for the final wicket put India well and truly ahead in the first Test at Trent Bridge. Bhuvi wasn’t done though. He soon performed the role one would generally associate with pure tearaway quicks: he cleaned out the tail, James Anderson’s 81 and Stuart Broad’s 47 notwithstanding.
By that point, it was clear that the match was going to end in a tame draw. But then a couple of the Indian batsmen decided to heat things up by playing rash shots, and another couple got out to good balls. Soon, India looked like they could lose another first Test of a series in England .
Then came Stuart Binny, who played a tremendous innings that put India back on track. However, it would have been impossible for him to do so without the help of the man at the other end: who else but Bhuvi? Twin fifties batting at No 9 had been achieved only once in the history of the game. India drew that game and went to Lord’s.
Here too he made 36 in the first innings; a knock that was cut short with a ball that did not bounce very much. He followed it up with a six-for (this time including the first four top-order wickets) to take his series tally to 11 wickets in two innings. Of course, he wasn’t done just yet. With India in a tricky position with the bat (yet again), he turned up with his third half-century in four innings at No 9.A tail-ender achieving a feat like this proves that he is not just a typical slog and hoick No 9 (Harbhajan Singh comes to mind), but someone with the temperament and technique to do well in extremely tough conditions. He was also the man who combined with MS Dhoni in Chennai to take the game away from Australia in a Test match. There, Dhoni scored 224, but without Bhuvi 38, India would have scored far fewer, and that could well have changed the eventual 4-0 result.
The match is evenly poised at the moment. England needs 214 to win in three sessions. India have to pick up six wickets in three sessions. However, that the match is poised in this position is down to some terrific all-round cricket displayed by both teams — and led by Bhuvneshwar Kumar.
Complete coverage of India’s tour of England 2014
(Shiamak Unwalla is a reporter with Cricket Country. He is a self-confessed Sci-Fi geek and Cricket fanatic who likes to pass his free time by reading books, watching TV shows, and eating food. Sometimes all at the same time. You can follow him on twitter at @ShiamakUnwalla)