Is Bhuvneshwar Kumar experiencing the death over blues?
Come the World Cup, India will need the pacer to be at his absolute best in the crunch overs
Towards the business end of a T20 innings, a lot hinges on the penultimate over; the over No. 19. Particularly in the second innings, each time the match goes deep, the 19th over comes into focus.
So why is such importance being attached to these 6 balls which constitute only 2.5 % of the match? India's two Super 4 matches (against Pakistan and Sri Lanka), which led to their elimination from the Asia Cup, illustrated just why it matters so much.
India employed the experienced Bhuvneshwar Kumar to bowl the 19th over in both those games. He had 26 and 21 runs to play with. The hope was that the seasoned pro could restrict the opposition to single-digit returns, and offer a bigger buffer to the younger Arshdeep Singh in the final over.
Kumar tried twice and failed twice, giving away 19 and 14 runs. Even though Arshdeep’s yorkers kept India in the contest till the penultimate ball in both the matches, 7 runs were never going to be enough.
The manner of India’s defeats, ahead of the World Cup, would have got the data crunchers in the team room working overtime. Having 10-11 runs per over to defend in the final four overs, they would have liked to steal a win in at least one of the two matches.
But captain Rohit Sharma was not going to blame Kumar for the losses. “Bhuvi has been playing for so many years, has been winning games for us in the death overs, so one or two games…we shouldn't be judgmental," he said.
Sharma wasn’t speaking without basis. Kumar’s effectiveness may get lost under the weight of Jasprit Bumrah’s dazzling performances, but he has been India’s 19th over specialist for a number of years. And India’s supply line runs thin when it comes to playing these critical roles. Economy rates (ER) matter more than wickets at the late stage, unless the wicket is that of a power-hitter on the charge. T20I data of the last five years (minimum 36 balls) doesn't have Indian bowlers topping the economy charts.
The most economical 19th over bowlers (min 36 balls) in T20Is are Sheldon Cottrell (ER 5.61), Pat Cummins (5.83), Anrich Nortje (6.00) and the inimitable Dwayne Bravo (6.83). Kumar (9.62) is expensive but he also picks up more wickets (12) than anyone else in the world. Had he got any of Asif Ali, Khushdil Shah, Bhanuka Rajapaksa or Dasun Shanaka in those 19th overs at Dubai, it could have put brakes on the run chase. But his two poor outings (8-70-1) in an already depleted bowling attack - Jasprit Bumrah and Harshal Patel were injured – added to India’s woes.
BHUVI GETTING PREDICTABLE AT DEATH?
Kumar is peerless in the powerplay because of his ability to swing the new ball. But whether his effectiveness at the death is on the wane is difficult to ascertain. Pakistan great Wasim Akram has, for one, bemoaned Kumar’s lack of pace.
India may want to see the UP pacer expand his bowling plans, to remain effective on true bouncy Australian pitches. Kumar has been relying on his wide line yorkers with an off-side heavy field in the final overs, but those plans came a cropper in the Asia Cup. Given his medium pace, directing some of his yorkers on the stumps like Arshdeep or trusting his slower balls more like Harshal, could make him less predictable.
BUMRAH AND HARSHAL’S RETURN CRUCIAL
India’s other best bets are Bumrah and Harshal, both recovering from injuries. Amongst the younger lot, only 23-year-old Arshdeep has shown promise.
Familiarity with pressure-cooker situations becomes vital when bowlers are under the pump. Kumar leads the way in bowling the crucial 19th over for India; he has bowled 129 balls. No.2 on the list is Bumrah (48 balls, ER 7.87, 3 wickets) followed by Harshal (36 balls, ER 8.5, 2 wickets).
Bumrah bowls the 20th over more frequently for India. Interestingly, during the same time span in IPL, Bumrah has better 19th over numbers to Kumar – ER 8.38, 18 wickets to ER 8.72, 11 wickets.
A look at a wider data set – final five overs, also show Kumar being used the most frequently - 343 balls, ER 9.34, 27 wickets. Bumrah comes next (208 balls, ER 7.73, 12 wkts) followed by out-of-favour Shardul Thakur (191 balls, ER 8.92, 21 wkts) and Harshal (151, ER 10.68, 11 wkts). Thakur’s name also features in the top five list of most used Indian bowlers for the 19th and 20th over. But the Mumbai pacer hasn’t enjoyed the faith of the new team management, featuring in only one T20I after last year’s World Cup.
Arshdeep stands out as the most economical (ER 7.18) of all Indian bowlers. Although the sample size is smaller (91 balls), the dearth of death bowling options makes him a favourite to make the World Cup squad of 15. The Punjab Kings left-armer’s returns bowling the 20th over are impressive too - ER 8.40, 5 wkts in T20Is and ER 7.24, 8 wkts in IPL.