When Bhuvneshwar Kumar made his international debut vs Pakistan back in December 2012, he was known for his rare ability to move the ball in both ways. His average speed then was 125-130 kmph.
When Bhuvneshwar Kumar is playing Champions Trophy in England in June, 2017, he is established as a pacer who can generate a fair amount of pace, who can tirelessly bowl at 140 kmph. Added to this speed is the venom of swing, control, and knuckleball which he has added in his armory recently: Bhuvneshwar Kumar has become the face of Indian pace bowling attack.
The 27-year-old fast bowler has, through his recent promising performances – propelled himself to the position of the spearhead of the Indian bowling attack. Having started as an out-and-out swing bowler, Kumar has taken giant strides in limited-overs cricket since the 2015 World Cup and has developed himself into an all-conditions bowler, especially vital at the death.
Bhuvneshwar started his career as a new-ball bowler in ODIs for India. Out of almost 500 overs he bowled in ODIs, 354 were inside the first 20 overs, which accounts for nearly 70% of the total overs bowled by him – a good indication of how he wasn’t considered ideal for death overs. He was very good with the new swinging ball in the aspect of both taking wickets as well as in controlling the flow of runs. Since his ODI debut in December 2012, no other bowler has bowled as many maidens as him – 45, next best being Dale Steyn’s 33. All these 45 have come within the first 20 overs of the innings, where he possesses an economy rate of 4.13. In comparison, his concedes at nearly eight in the last 15 overs of the innings.
It has been quite a transformation for Bhuvneshwar, especially post the last edition of IPL where he was the leading wicket-taker. He has taken 43 wickets in the last two editions of IPL, 11 clear of the second placed Yuzvendra Chahal and Mitchell McClenaghan. With a minimum of 25 overs bowled, Bhuvneshwar leads the list of averages (16.69) and strike rate (14.23) and has the third best economy rate (7.08).
What made Bhuvneshwar Kumar so special these days?
The extra yard or two he gained in pace has made his slower deliveries more venomous. The change of pace is not just used as a decoy before slipping in the yorker but also has been a potent wicket-taking delivery for Bhuvneshwar. How is he able to create extra pace in his bowling?
In a recent interview, the pacer from Meerut, Uttar Pradesh himself gave credit to the trainer of the Indian team, Mr. Shankar Basu who made him understand the importance of power training and to strengthen the muscles. “I always wanted to bowl fast. Even before my international debut, I wanted to increase my pace, but I had no clue how to do it and I kept training like I used to in the past. When Mr Shankar Basu became India’s trainer, he introduced power training. I used to work out in the gym before but I never felt that it had an impact on my pace. But after starting to do power training, I could see that I was getting stronger and my pace was increasing,” Bhuvneshwar told in that interview.
Power training is a full body workout. When someone does normal gym work, he works on particular areas. If someone is exercising his leg, for instance, he works on his quadriceps or hamstring. But an exercise in power training includes everything from head to toe.
His ability to execute the yorkers during the death overs and mix them up with seam-up and slower deliveries has been unparalleled amongst the current crop of Indian bowlers. With all that added to his arsenal, the pacer hasn’t lost his swing either and is as effective a bowler with the new ball – especially under the English conditions, where the ball swings more – as he is with the old one.
Previously Bhuvneshwar Kumar was known as a new ball bowler, who could move the ball around on most surfaces. Then he mastered the skill to bowl in the death overs. Nowadays, a secondary skill is slowly being worked upon and only came to the forefront in the recently concluded Indian Premier League.
Bhuvneshwar Kumar has successfully added knuckleball in his armory. During the India-Australia Test Series, he wanted to pick up this new variation. He couldn’t use the knuckleball in that Test series, but it proved to be quite handy in the IPL. Bhuvneshwar himself told in a recent interview, “It took me around one and a half to two months to just get the control right for the knuckleball. Two months is generally a short time to master any delivery or gain 100% control over it. I won’t say I have perfected the knuckleball. There is still room for improvement. I have used the ball quite a bit in the IPL, and have also taken a few wickets with it. I bowled it in a few matches at the start and had some success. When you take wickets with a new variation, your confidence increases.”
And Bhuvneshwar has started to show his magic in the ongoing Champions Trophy. Against Pakistan, he took 1 wicket and gave only 23 runs in his 5 overs. The Pak batsmen had no clue of his swing. Against Sri Lanka, though India lost the high-scoring match, Bhuvneshwar drew attention with his controlled line and length, being the pick of the bowlers.
If India is dreaming of winning the trophy this time also, one man has to be at his best. And he is none other than Bhuvneshwar Kumar.