The Purple Cap sits well on Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s head. 23 wickets in 16 matches capped a good season, where he and his team Sunrisers Hyderabad lifted the IPL trophy.
It was also a culmination of the turnaround in the Meerut’s pacer’s fortunes. In and out of the Indian Test, one-day and as well as the Twenty20 teams for reasons of form and fitness, Bhuvneshwar was struggling to hold onto his own after a stellar performance in England against England in 2015.
So much so that Stuart Binny was preferred over him in the Test matches at home against South Africa last year. And he was released to play Ranji trophy for Uttar Pradesh.
He made a comeback in the Asia Cup early this year. Then he failed make it to the playing XI in the World Twenty20 that was held in India.
Sunday, though, was a day to cherish for Bhuvneshwar, who put the shutters on the Royal Challengers Bangalore run chase with a succession of yorkers.
Kumar’s last over on Sunday encapsulated the way he has bowling right through the tournament. The equation was in favour of Sunrisers Hyderabad but still Kumar had to be near perfect to get them past the rope. He kept every delivery full. The first was a low full toss that Chris Jordan could only thwart towards long-on. The next ball was another low full toss that was scooped over short fine-leg for two runs. A yorker followed. Then two more fuller deliveries. In all six deliveries, Kumar was boringly accurate.
What also needs to be highlighted is the fitness Kumar has shown in the IPL. A fractured left thumb ruled him out of the tour of Australia earlier this year after being named the replacement for Mohammed Shami. He could play just one match in the Asia Cup before travelling as the 16th member of the World Twenty20 squad and not get a game. To come out of that disappointment and play every match in a tiring tournament like IPL takes a lot of will.
But it isn’t sheer will that has given Kumar a new life. Clarity of thought of what needs to be done in various situations has been a major reason behind Kumar’s success. “I just had to keep myself composed. Getting yorkers right is the best way. Warner just said to keep my cool and bowl the Yorkers,” Kumar said after the final.
Bhuvneshwar’s love affair with the ball isn’t difficult to understand given he was born in Meerut, a hub of cricket equipment manufacturers in India. After Praveen Kumar, incidentally also from Meerut, he is also the one of the best natural swingers of the ball. It’s an asset in Test cricket but not as much in the shortest format of the game where matches are played out on batting pitches.
Working within limits
Kumar doesn’t have strong shoulders too and hence always hovered around the 130 km/hr mark. But then he started focusing more on speed as a result of which his control over the ball reduced and that swing had vanished. It briefly made him look pedestrian. Former Zimbabwe captain Heath Streak, an effective swing bowler of his time, had then called for Kumar to work within his limits.
“Working within the perimeter of what he’s got will make him better. And maybe working on variation and accuracy. You can’t turn him into a (Umesh) Yadav and an (Varun) Aaron but he has got the skill to swing the ball. It’s horses for courses, maybe tougher for those in Indian conditions but brilliant when you have people like that in England or New Zealand or other places where swing can play a big role,” Streak had said during the tour of Bangladesh last year.
Kumar did just that. Not compromising on his natural swing, he quickly learnt the variations needed to survive in a highly competitive tournament like the IPL and finished with 23 wickets at an economy of 7.42. He has normally bowled his first two overs in the Powerplay alright but Sunrisers Hyderabad won the IPL for his relentless pursuit of death bowling excellence — a good mix of yorkers and slower deliveries. It bailed them out against KKR in the eliminator. It again came to their rescue in Sunday’s final.
Yorkers and the advice of bowling captain Ashish Nehra has given Kumar another identity. He was already a fine seamer. Now he is a great death bowler as well.