India pacer Bhuvneshwar Kumar has excelled on the current tour of South Africa.(AP)
India pacer Bhuvneshwar Kumar has excelled on the current tour of South Africa.(AP)

Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s pace change shows South Africa’s short-ball tactics flawed

Bhuvneshwar Kumar became the first Indian bowler to claim five-wicket hauls in all three formats with a match-winning 5/24 in the first T20 against South Africa at Johannesburg.
By Khurram Habib | Hindustan Times, Johannesburg
UPDATED ON FEB 19, 2018 11:23 PM IST

There is probably something about the white cricket balls rolling out of the manufacturers’ these days or perhaps the placidity of surfaces that is making life miserable for the seamers, who like to strike first up by moving the ball.

Bowlers like Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Tim Southee, Trent Boult and Mohammad Amir aren’t getting the prodigious swing they have been known for -- at least beyond their first couple of overs.

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On flat decks, these swing bowlers have been blunted even if they haven’t yet become fodder for the batsmen.

Fewer early strikes

If numbers are any indication, over the past two years – since January 1, 2016 – these four bowlers have taken 54% of their wickets in ODI cricket only after 10 overs.

If you remove Amir and Bhuvneshwar, who have almost an equal number of wickets pre-10 and post-10, then the percentages become even more skewed.

Especially in the case of New Zealand swing bowler Boult, who, with the red cherry has troubled even the likes of Sachin Tendulkar. He is considered the best among the lot, getting to bowl in seam-friendly home conditions where he has got most wickets. But over the period mentioned above he has got only 42% of his wickets in the first 10 overs. There have been instances when the Kiwis have brought either Boult or Southee as first or second change.

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In fact, many of Amir’s early wickets, even Bhuvi’s sometimes, have come only in the first couple of overs, when the ball still swings a bit.

So, when the ball isn’t doing anything or the tracks have been turned into sheets of glass, what do bowlers do?

Bhuvi’s tricks

While the Proteas struggled throughout the ODI series and in Sunday’s T20, trying to unnerve India with short-pitched deliveries, the India pacers have been better in understanding the requirements.

According to India skipper Virat Kohli, the surface at Wanderers on Sunday was a gun of a wicket. India ended with a target SA skipper JP Duminy thought could still have been chased on that surface.

But Bhuvneshwar had some skills up his sleeve for the flat bed.

“The important thing is how you mix your deliveries according to the wicket. For instance, today we bowled a lot of slow balls. It was part of our strategy on this wicket, to do away with pace and make it difficult for the batsmen to score,” he said.

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South Africa opener Reeza Hendricks, who made 70, found Bhuvneshwar the most difficult bowler to face.

“He (Bhuvneshwar) was just consistent in his areas which was pretty much giving us nothing to score off. So, we had to be happy with ones and twos at that time,” Hendricks said.

Though Duminy thinks he could counter the Indian batsmen with short-pitched deliveries and Hendricks said it was the captain’s suggestion and they all bought into it, there were suggestions from other quarters that the Proteas have been bowling without any thought and banking on India’s old reputation of being suspect against short balls.

While the inexperienced pacers were being hammered by the India openers, the injured Dale Steyn tweeted, “Maybe a change of pace guys.”

It was only after wrist-spinner Tabraiz Shamsi came on that sanity returned to the South Africa camp.

Steyn was effusive in his praise for Bhuvneshwar. “Never seen Bhuvi bowl that before, great skill. Wow!” he tweeted.

After the failure in the one-day series, where he averaged 100.5 picking just two wickets, Bhuvneshwar showed he always finds tricks to counter conditions, making him an asset to the team.

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