In the lead up to the World Twenty20, pacer Bhuvneshwar Kumar spent most of the time on the bench. Then, he was dropped from the squad for the premier tournament. The re-emergence of Ashish Nehra and the consistency of newcomer Jasprit Bumrah meant the swing bowler was not in the scheme of things.
The story seemed to be repeated in the Indian Premier League (IPL). With Nehra the senior teammate in Sunrisers Hyderabad, Bhuvneshwar against seemed likely to play the second fiddle.
However, the 36-year-old Nehra, who had made a strong India comeback, broke down with a groin injury in the team’s first IPL game against Royal Challengers Bangalore. Handed the responsibility of leading the Sunrisers attack, Bhuvneshwar, 26, has made the most of the opportunity. With eight wickets from five games (till Saturday), he is the highest Indian wicket-taker, and second overall.
Opening the attack, Bhuvneshwar has made an impact every time. His partnership with fellow pacer Mustafizur Rahman has worked well for Hyderabad.
Unlike most teams, Hyderabad don’t have an established spinner to turn to. The dependence on pace was evident before the tournament began. Nehra’s injury raised concerns whether it would weaken the bowling, but Bhuvneshwar up front and Mustafizur in the death have been solid. Along with the spinners, despite their inexperience, Sunrisers have prospered.
His standout performance came against Gujarat Lions in Rajkot on Thursday. Bhuvneshwar bowled in-form opener Aaron Finch in the first over and went on to claim four wickets as Gujarat were restricted to a low total on a slow pitch. It was chased down comfortably with Sunrisers skipper David Warner guiding the side home.
Warner’s performance so far has made their batting look very strong. With Bhuvneshwar and Mustafizur leading he bowling, Sunrisers are looking formidable.
For Bhuvneshwar, there is plenty of work still to be done. His economy rate is a worry. Against RCB in the season opener, he went for 55 runs in four overs. He has bounced back, creating wicket-taking opportunities almost every time he has been handed the ball.
With Nehra slowly recovering, the team management will have to make tough selection calls. Playing three seamers may not be ideal in Indian conditions, but with pace having given them favourable results so far, they might like to continue with it.