Even as a one-year-old, Bhuvneshwar Kumar only wanted a cricket ball as a toy. “I would try to buy him other stuff, but he never wanted anything other than a cricket bat and ball,” recalls his mother, Indresh. “My neighbours in our Bulandshahr house used to call him ‘Mohalla’s Sachin Tendulkar’, but I had no idea about Tendulkar as cricket was a distant dream for people like us.”
Bhuvneshwar’s craze for the game was such that even his maternal grandfather chided him, telling his mother: “Tera chora ek din maari ankh phodega, jab dekho cricket he khele hai (Your son will one day damage my eyes, all he does is play cricket).”His father, Kiran Pal Singh, recalls, "We began believing in his cricketing ability when he told us one day that he has been selected in the Uttar Pradesh under-15 team and that his picture would be published in the paper the next day.
“I wanted him to play volleyball and kabbadi, like I did in my schooldays, but he was interested only in cricket. I never stopped him from playing as in the beginning I thought it was for fun. Now, when I see him on TV in India colours, I feel proud and pray to god for his and his team’s success,” adds Singh, who was PRO to DIG, Meerut.
NO CRICKET TALK
Neither Bhuvi nor his parents talk about cricket when he is home as it’s time for video games. “He behaves like a kid even today, Bittu keeps playing video games whenever he is at home,” says his mother. “We read about his cricket only in the newspapers.”She was in seventh heaven when Bhuvneshwar bought her gold bracelets after the first IPL season. "I never expected such a gift from my little son; it is the most precious thing for me."
Bhuvneshwar was quite popular with friends in Meerut’s Ganga Nagar locality because of his swing bowling. Still, his passion for the game would have been restricted to ‘mohalla’ level but for sister Rekha taking him to the Victoria Park ground, requesting coach Sanjay Rastogi to take him as a trainee.
Rastogi says, “He was like any other 11-year-old, and started playing on the junior nets from the next day. He was quite thin, and never looked like a pace bowler. But within two days, he impressed everyone with his ability to swing the ball both ways.”However, Bhuvi’s career had a shaky start as fever kept him out of the league games for the UP under-15 team. But he was selected for the knockout matches, after almost a month. In his very first match, he took five wickets to help UP progress, and continued to impress as a swing bowler in all age-group events.
KNOWING HIS LEVEL
The crucial aspect of Bhuvneshwar’s cricket was that he was a good thinker of the game. From the start, he never thought of becoming a quick bowler, but only focused on swing. “He maintains line and length and that’s the key to his success,” says Rastogi.
If Glenn McGrath was his idol, Bhuvi had an ideal senior to look up to in fellow UP swing bowler Praveen Kumar. At the Victoria Park nets, Kumar helped Bhuvneshwar grasp the nuances of swing bowling.
“By then, PK had played for India and he was an inspiration to every cricketer here. For Bhuvi, he was the best man to learn from,” recalls Rastogi.
IN THE ARENA
Bhuvneshwar’s senior career began in 2007 when Ranji skipper Mohd Kaif and coach Gyanendra Pandey persuaded the selectors to include the 17-year-old in the squad. “I was confident of Bhuvi’s success and he proved me right the next season when he emerged the highest wicket-taker for UP with 31 wickets in nine matches,” recalls Pandey. “He has never looked back.”
Kaif says Bhuvneshwar knew his limitations and was very focused. “He is a disciplined guy, the early to be bed and early to rise kind, who never compromised on his bowling.”
Bhuvneshwar made a sensational start at the international level, returning a magical 4-0-9-3 on T20 debut against Pakistan in 2012, and then taking a wicket with the first delivery in ODI a week later, also against Pakistan in Chennai. Although India lost by six wickets, his 2/27 was the best figures by an India bowler in that game.
He has also proved his ability with the bat. His lower order efforts during last year’s Test series in England built on the base he had laid by scoring 3,000 plus runs in domestic cricket, including a century and 14 half-centuries.
No wonder, India are praying that Bhuvneshwar is fit to swing it like only he can at the World Cup.