Bhuvneshwar Kumar stood like an umpire and watched his fellow India pacers at the nets on Tuesday. He acted as the seniormost bowler in the team, something that would have pleased MS Dhoni.
With Zaheer Khan out of the ODI set up, Bhuvneshwar (23) has become the default pace spearhead. And considering that he made his debut late last year, it’s pretty impressive. While seamers from both sides took a beating in the India-Australia series, only Bhuvneshwar went for less than run-a-ball. Even his overall economy rate of 4.43 from 29 ODIs is better than most former and current India seamers. Someone like Zaheer has a career economy rate of 4.95; Javagal Srinath and Venkatesh Prasad proved more expensive even in the days that had only 15 overs of field restrictions and no free-hits.
For Bhuvneshwar, it’s a maiden homecoming as India and West Indies square off in the series-decider on Wednesday. He knows the conditions better than anyone else, having bowled Uttar Pradesh to many wins in the Ranji Trophy at the Green Park.
“I played so much Ranji Trophy here but to come back and represent India makes me really proud. I know these conditions well. This wicket has something for everyone. The morning conditions will help me and the other seamers. I need to get breakthroughs for my skipper,” he said. Kanpur’s morning fog in winters is attributed to the Ganga, which flows not too far from the stadium. “Even if the pitch flattens out later, the 9am start will help bowlers.”
There is no doubt Bhuvneshwar the new ball bowler has earned the respect of top-order batsmen happy to see him off while targeting the rest. Bhuvneshwar relies on swing and control. He shares a sound understanding with Dhoni. In Visak-hapatnam, Dhoni came up to the stumps in just his second over to encourage wicket-to-wicket bowling. And four balls later, Johnson Charles, cramped for room and unable to use his feet, swatted one back to the bowler. Bhuvneshwar has a set plan: bowl to a six-three or seven-two off-side field and keep it tight; if there’s swing in the offing, good. He doesn’t mix up his pace or bowl variations either. There’s simplicity in his method, and it’s been working.
If there is one criticism of Dhoni and Bhuvneshwar, it’s their inability to finish off an innings. At the death, Dhoni tends to rely more on spinners, and now Mohammad Shami. In 24 ODIs, Bhuvneshwar has bowled his quota of 10 overs only six times. “It all depends on the wicket. There could be a day when I am needed to bowl all 10 overs. It doesn’t matter who is taking the wickets as long as the team wins. My captain trusts me when he needs me.”