Bhuvi’s swing of fortune and fitness

Updated on Mar 31, 2021 07:33 AM IST

Kumar will look to build on the confidence gained from the limited overs series against England where he had an economy rate of 4.65 in the ODIs and conceded just 6.38 runs per over in the T20Is

Indian pacer Bhuvneshwar Kumar(BCCI)
Indian pacer Bhuvneshwar Kumar(BCCI)
ByRasesh Mandani, Mumbai

You’d think that Bhuvneshwar Kumar would be happy about picking up 10 wickets across the eight limited-overs matches against England. Or that he would be happy about his miserly economy rate of 6.38 and 4.65, respectively, in the five T20Is and three ODIs where batsmen smacked boundaries for fun in Ahmedabad and Pune. Or that he would be happy about ensuring that India didn’t feel the absence of Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami too much during an intense battle with arguably the best white-ball team in the world currently.

Yet, something else gave him more joy. “The most happy moment for me was that I went through the series fit. That itself is a reward,” Kumar said after leading India to a 2-1 ODI series win over England after the hosts won the final match defending 329 on another flat track in Pune on Sunday.

Happy might be an understatement, but Kumar is in that space right now; “happy” to play eight matches across the two series without having to pull out injured.

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Indian captain Virat Kohli reckoned it was a “no-brainer” that Kumar should have been man of the ODI series (the award was given to England’s Jonny Bairstow instead). Kumar, however, was simply pleased to be bowling again, and more importantly, while being fully fit. “I don’t look too far ahead,” Kumar told reporters after Sunday’s match. “Because it has happened in the past, when I try to plan ahead, things have not gone my way, whether it is injury or form.”

It’s not difficult to fathom why Kumar, 31, is fearful of injuries as he approaches his second decade of international cricket. On a comeback trail, Kumar had to pull out of last year’s Indian Premier League (IPL) in the UAE, holding his hip muscle during Sunrisers Hyderabad’s (SRH) match against Chennai Super Kings in early October. It led to him missing India’s entire tour of Australia, again recuperating on the sidelines. It was the latest setback in Kumar’s long injury list—he pulled his hamstring and missed matches during the 2019 ICC World Cup and has also spent time away from cricket due to problems to his lower back and sports hernia.

As he joins the SRH bio-bubble ahead of this year’s IPL, Kumar can look to build on the confidence from the England series. In the three high-scoring ODI matches, Kumar picked up six wickets at an economy rate of 4.65 even as every other bowler went for more than six an over. In the T20 series before that, he picked up four wickets and again was the most economical of the bowlers, conceding just 6.38 runs per over.

Even the hard-hitting England batsmen found it tough to score off him because Kumar has regained his swing. When the ball begins to move at the beck and call of a swing bowler, with the entire body behind it and the wrist in perfect position, it can create doubts even in the best of batting minds. It was crucial for Kumar to create that doubt because England’s batsmen were thinking boundaries all the time.

In the third ODI, for example, it didn’t matter to Kumar that Jason Roy started the first over with three fours—because those were check drives and a whip against balls where Kumar was getting the right shape. The bowler knew he had the straight inswinger in store. And Kumar duly produced it in the final ball to castle the stumps, creating a gap between Roy’s bat and pad. “I wanted to try and swing the ball, even if it meant compromising on pace. That was my aim throughout the series,” Kumar told Shardul Thakur in a chat for the Board of Control of Cricket in India’s website. “I knew if I kept swinging the ball, it will create a chance somewhere. Luckily Jason Roy got out in the first over which swung the momentum.”

Kumar picked up his SRH teammate Bairstow in the same spell with another inswinger, catching him on the crease with wicket-keeper Rishabh Pant standing up to the stumps. According to CricViz, Kumar drew a false shot with 26.3 per cent of his deliveries, the highest of any bowler on either side.

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Kumar has been through spells in his career where he has lost swing looking for an extra yard of pace. His average speed of 129.8kmph in the ODI series was proof enough that high velocity is not a prerequisite for effective swing bowling.

Kumar’s action is simple, not whippy like Bumrah. Between Kumar’s swing and Bumrah’s awkward angles delivered at a fast pace, the two had become a potent pair for India back in 2016-17. Kumar’s return to form renews hope that the two could again share India’s new ball in the T20 World Cup scheduled in India later this year. If eight overs of the Kumar-Bumrah combo are guaranteed, India can cover a lot of bases. When Kumar goes for early wickets in the powerplay, India can look to preserve one Bumrah over for the middle overs, like Mumbai Indians often do in the IPL. Both are death overs specialists and can make slogging a lot more difficult for the opposition’s power-hitters.

The upcoming seven weeks of the IPL could open up new possibilities However, India would love to hold on to Bhuvi’s swing of fortune and fitness in the T20 World Cup year.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Rasesh Mandani loves a straight drive. He has been covering cricket, the governance and business side of sport for close to two decades. He writes and video blogs for HT.

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