Bhuvneshwar Kumar started off as the brightest swing prospect in India since the fall of Irfan Pathan © AFP
By Sudatta Mukherjee
Somewhere around January 2009, a boy from Meerut, a month short of turning 19, became the first Indian bowler to dismiss the Indian batting legend Sachin Tendulkar for a duck in a First-Class match. It was the Ranji Trophy final of 2008-09 season.
Fast forward to 2013: the same boy, now a 23-year-old, took the whole cricket world by surprise with his ability to swing the ball both ways and for picking up the wicket of Mohammad Hafeez with his the first ball of his One-Day International debut (thus being only the second Indian to achieve this feat). A year afterwards that same youngster, for whom swinging the ball was his greatest strength, struggles and his bowling average since October 2013 is 67.25.
Bhuvneshwar Kumar. Even though his ODI economy rate is 5.55, Bhuvneshwar has barely been able to pick up wickets since the home ODI series against Australia. Before India’s match against Pakistan in the Asia Cup 2014, his last two-wicket haul came in November against West Indies at home and before that against Sri Lanka at Port of Spain in July or else he has been picking single wickets in most matches since October, 2013.
What went wrong?
When the likes of Zaheer Khan and Ashish Nehra had broken into the international scene, seniors like Javagal Srinath and Venkatesh Prasad were still playing. Zaheer and Nehra were well guided by Srinath and Prasad, i.e., the pressure didn’t come to youngsters like to the duo. When Irfan Pathan and Lakshmipathy Balaji had made their debut, there were Anil Kumble and Ajit Agarkar. Kumble might not have been a pacer, but it is common knowledge how influential he can be as a mentor (he has guided the Mumbai Indians to Indian Premier League (IPL) and Champions League T20 wins last season).
After Zaheer and Nehra’s debut, 29 fast bowlers have played for India, including Irfan and Balaji. The list also includes the likes of RP Singh, S Sreesanth, Munaf Patel, Ishant Sharma, R Vinay Kumar, Umesh Yadav, Varun Aaron, Mohammed Shami and Bhuvneshwar. And we are not even counting the all-rounders like Stuart Binny. It clearly shows that India do produce fast bowlers, but what is the reason behind most of them failing?
A good potential like Sreesanth had destroyed his career by getting involved in spot-fixing and other disciplinary issues. Ishant, who leads the pace bowling department when Zaheer isn’t playing, has not performed as was expected from him. Moreover, he doesn’t want to be regarded as the senior bowler. For the likes of Yadav, Aaron and Vinay Kumar, they are yet to be shaped and molded in the best shape for international games.
For the last one year, the way Shami and Bhuvneshwar have performed for India, no other bowlers have. As a result, they have almost always opened the bowling for the team, even if Ishant has been there. However, the problem lies in the duo not receiving guidance from the likes of Zaheer. Zaheer had been away from the international circuit and had only returned during the tour to South Africa.
Shami, on the other hand, has played fewer of ODI games than Bhuvneshwar, but has emerged as a better bowler. This can be due to Shami being mentored by Wasim Akram at the Kolkata Knight Riders till last season. He also has the advantage of being a faster bowler.
As for Bhuvneshwar, he looks up to Praveen Kumar, who last played an ODI for India in March 2012, who has been rebuked time and over for his on-field behavior. Allan Donald was the head coach of Pune Warriors India when Bhuvneshwar played for them. However, a poor season had affected them more and players like Bhuvneshwar hardly got a chance to bloom.
What should be done?
The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) should take the responsibility of shaping young bowlers like Bhuvneshwar. India should take a lesson out of Australia’s book: Cricket Australia (CA) had hired Craig McDermott has their bowling coach and, of late, Shane Warne as the spin bowling coach. They exactly know how to keep their bowlers at their very best, and we saw how Ryan Harris, Mitchell Johnson, Peter Siddle and Nathan Lyon performing commendably under their capable supervision. Someone like Zaheer, Manoj Prabhakar, TA Sekar or Kumble should be approached by BCCI to help the young Indian players to perform better.
Having said that, it also depends on the player whether they want to be taught and whether they want to learn.
(Sudatta Mukherjee is a reporter with CricketCountry. Other than writing on cricket, she spends penning random thoughts on her blog and produces weekly posts on new food joints at Whopping Weekends. She played Table Tennis for University of Calcutta. When she is not writing, you will catch her at a movie theatre or watching some English serial on her laptop. Her Twitter id is @blackrosegal)