Bhuvneshwar 2.0: From Being Dropped to Becoming Kohli’s Go-To Man

It was 25 December 2012. A lanky right-arm medium pacer from Uttar Pradesh making his debut in India colours was gearing up to open the bowling against Pakistan who were set a target of 134 runs in the 1st T20I of the series at Bengaluru. Five deliveries later, he produced a delivery that bowlers always dream of bowling on their debut.

The delivery pitched slightly outside off stump but swung back in to castle the left handed Nasir Jamshed’s middle and off-stump. It was a treat to watch as the world hadn’t seen an Indian bowler bowling a delivery like that in a long time. He was none other than India’s ace pacer at present, Bhuvneshwar Kumar.

He got two more wickets in that match. One with an outswinger that caught the edge of Ahmed Shehzad’s willow on the second delivery of the very next over and another with a huge inswinger once again that bowled out the right-handed Umar Akmal. Although India lost the match, Bhuvneshwar registered impressive figures of 3/9 in his four overs.

File photo of Bhuvneshwar Kumar.

The same story followed on his ODI debut against the same team five days later. He knocked over the off-stump of Mohammad Hafeez on the very first delivery of the innings with a delivery that swung in a long way from outside the off-stump. The result of the match was the same again as India lost. However, Bhuvneshwar once again impressed with figures of 2/27 in his 9 overs that consisted of three maidens as well.

With these two spells he had shot himself to fame within a span of a few days. However, he started fading away as quickly as he rose to prominence.

The major reason was his lack of pace and inability to pose a threat to the batsmen in absence of conditions conducive to swing. It felt like his name would be soon on the list of players who faded away into obscurity.

The arrival of bowlers like Mohammad Shami, Umesh Yadav and Varun Aaron made it further difficult for him to make it to the squad once again. Although he kept making sporadic appearances in limited-overs cricket, he was far behind in the pecking order when it came to Tests. The fast bowler didn’t play a single Test match between January 2015 and August 2016.

However, he didn’t quit. Rather, he focused on improving his pace so that he could compete with others in the frame.

Bhuvneshwar Kumar during a training session.

Bhuvneshwar Kumar to The Hindu in April this yearIf I have to put it down to one moment, I would say it was because of Test cricket in India. When the wickets are assisting spinners, it is the fast bowlers who get preferred in the team instead of medium pacers. That was the main reason behind my decision to take up the pace. I realised if I wanted to play Test cricket in India, I had to gain pace but not at the cost of swing. I was always clear I wanted to be known as a swing bowler but someone who could bowl decent pace. I worked with the same objective.

Shankar Basu, the team’s strength and fitness conditioning coach, and Bharat Arun, the bowling coach, played a huge role in Bhuvneshwar’s transformation. He underwent several months of power training under their supervision since Basu joined the Indian set-up in July 2015. And it finally helped the speedster to gain the much needed extra pace without sacrificing his key attribute of swing.

Bhuvneshwar often breaks the 140 kmph barrier now with his average speed varying between 135-140 kmph. He was no more the bowler who struggled to bowl beyond speeds of 130 kmph.

He has now become a menace for the opposition batsmen for his ability to swing the ball both ways at high speeds.

However, India have been quite slow in realising his transformation. He has started in almost every limited-overs match for India this year. He has featured in 21 ODIs and 7 T20Is since the start of this year and has been a vital cog in both their new ball and death bowling attack.

However, he has played just seven Tests since 2016 whereas the likes of Umesh and Shami have played 18 and 14 respectively. Even Ishant Sharma has played nine Tests.

While none of the other three bowlers have recorded a five-wicket haul since 2016, Bhuvneshwar has two to his name. So, that sums up the impact that the Meerut-pacer can make for India.

The results are in front of everyone now as he is reaping the rewards of his hard work. His performance in the Kolkata Test against Sri Lanka in which he accounted for 9 wickets has surely cemented his place in the Test squad for the time ahead.

Captain Kohli and the Indian think-tank have now realised that he is ready for the longer formats and the skipper had been vocal about it as well.

Virat Kohli shares a moment with Bhuvneshwar Kumar.

Virat KohliBhuvneshwar’s bowling has picked up pace, his ball is heavier than what it used to be. He grabs his chances every time he comes into the team. He’s a massive contender to start in every Test for India. He’ll be a vital part of our plans, especially overseas.

That sums up how important his role is going to be in India’s long overseas schedule next year. He boasts of an impressive overseas record in England that reveals how useful he is in those conditions. He has 18 wickets to his name in 14 ODIs played in England at an average of 26.00.

Moreover, he was also India’s highest wicket taker in the Test series when India toured England three years back. He picked up 19 wickets in five matches at an average of 26.63.

Couple it with his increased pace and India already have a lethal weapon for their overseas tours in the form of Bhuvneshwar.

(Prasenjit Dey is a freelance cricket writer. He can be reached at @Prosen02. The opinions expressed are the author’s own and The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same)

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