Bhuvneshwar Kumar (L) and Deepak Chahar. (BCCI/Getty)
Bhuvneshwar Kumar (L) and Deepak Chahar. (BCCI/Getty)

India vs Sri Lanka: Swing trendsetters Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Deepak Chahar combine with an eye on the World Cup

  • The Sri Lanka series will see Deepak Chahar and Bhuvneshwar Kumar, two bowlers with the rare ability to use swing to deadly effect in T20s, operate in tandem.
By Rasesh Mandani, Mumbai
UPDATED ON JUL 14, 2021 10:52 PM IST

India has got two genuine swing bowlers in Sri Lanka.

They may be perfectly suited to operate with the red Dukes ball under overcast English skies, but they will have to make do with the white kookaburra in the upcoming white-ball series starting July 18 in Sri Lanka.

The white ball doesn't swing much, but a bowler like Chahar still finds a way to make the ball sway in the air even in sub-continental conditions. As per Cricviz, his swing movement in T20I powerplays is the best for an Indian (1.2 degrees). Kumar (1) is close at his heels, followed by Shardul Thakur (0.9) and Mohammed Siraj (0.8). Chahar makes optimum use of that swing to pick up wickets. Since 2016 in all T20's, he has taken the most wickets (64) of all seamers in the first six overs of an innings. In IPL, of the ten bowlers to have taken more than 40 powerplay wickets, the CSK bowler delivers with the best strike rate (21.9).

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Kumar did a similar job 2013 onwards before injuries became a constant irritant, preventing him from completing tours and tournaments in the past three years. What bowlers like Chahar and Kumar do is challenge the hypothesis that swing bowlers have little hope in T20s.

“The way modern day T20 is growing, you need trendsetters with all skill sets,” says Chennai Super Kings bowling coach Laxmipathy Balaji. “It is not just about variations and pace. Every department has its own limits and each one has its own identity. Whenever Deepak gets early wickets, he sets the tone for the entire innings.”

Chahar did that twice in the curtailed IPL this year, through two 4-wicket hauls, opening up the match, making the ball swing in either direction. Balaji says Chahar has benefited working under MS Dhoni who looks to use him as “a wicket-taking option”.

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Kumar too seemed to have rediscovered his mojo against England. Earlier this year, he picked up 10 wickets in eight matches across the two white ball formats. “He had started looking like the Bhuvi of old by the end of the series,” said Ajit Agarkar in a virtual interaction. “He gives you a different dimension as a bowler. The white ball swings very little…an over, maybe two if you are lucky.”

OLD BALL SKILLS

Chahar had to sit out in each match of that England series where he saw the more experienced Kumar win back his new ball role. Kumar doesn’t score over Chahar in experience alone. Over the years, despite being predominantly a swing bowler, Kumar has mastered the art of bowling effectively at the death with accurate yorkers and his own specialty, the knuckleball. Sunrisers Hyderabad always preserves two of his overs against the slog in the IPL.

In Chahar's case, there are days when CSK bowls out his entire quota at the start of the innings. In the 2021 IPL, more than 80 percent of his bowling was in the powerplay. “Deepak too wants to get in the three areas of play,” says Balaji. “But the balance of the attack allows MS to bowl Deepak out. When the captain sees the ball swinging, he wants to attack even more. Sometimes, Deepak’s skills become a double-edged sword for him.”

On days when there is no swing - and that’s not uncommon in the sub-continent - although Balaji says sometimes it also has to do with the bowler’s action or him being out of rhythm, the old ball skills become equally important. “If you have a good defensive game with the old ball, you give options to the leadership group. When you are not swinging, the captain becomes comfortable in giving you the ball in other phases. That’s how you can bowl out your 24 balls. That’s what Bhuvi developed, Zak (Zaheer Khan), Irfan (Pathan) did in the past," Balaji says.

“Last two-three years Deepak has worked a lot in finding solutions to what happens when a batsman goes after him, or when the ball has become semi new. He is also keen to prove people wrong that he is a one-dimensional bowler.”

Although Kumar is the favourite for the World Cup, Balaji says it’s good for India to have identical replacements in fast bowling, where an injury is always round the corner. “Although both Deepak and Bhuvi are in the fray, I think Deepak will benefit immensely from Bhuvi’s experience in Sri Lanka,” he says.

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