India were starved for swing bowlers since the retirement of the legendary Kapil Dev when a young 22 year old from Meerut turned up in a T20 match at Bangalore against arch-rivals Pakistan and swung the ball prodigiously to finish with figures of 3/9 in his four overs.
He was so good on his T20 debut that Kapil Dev commented, “I haven’t seen a bowler like Bhuvneshwar in a long time. What stands out even more is that he swung the ball both ways.”
That young bowler has grown into this Indian team, added a yard or two of pace and now is one of the senior most Indian pace bowlers in limited-overs cricket.
But what he hasn’t lost is his ability to swing the new ball either way. Not many bowlers in modern day cricket do that on a consistent basis. Mohammad Amir, James Anderson and Mitchell Starc come to mind but Bhuvneshwar Kumar is probably the most old-school among these four.
He doesn’t have the express pace or late swing, just good old conventional outswing and inswing. “I first realised I could swing the ball when I was playing at the under-15 level for Uttar Pradesh. I got the ball to swing into the batsman. I’ve never changed my wrist position”, Bhuvneshwar talks of his ability to move the ball around.
Wrist position is quite important in generating the right amount of swing and having control over it. What works for Bhuvneshwar Kumar is his clear-cut knowledge about his own bowling. Even when he added pace to his repertoire, Bhuvneshwar knew exactly when to cut down on it and rely on his ability to move the ball.
People talk of Irfan Pathan and rue the fact that he lost his swing and pace over the years. When Bhuvneshwar Kumar added a yard of pace, critics feared he would lose out on his ability to swing the ball. But this Meerut boy is his own mentor. Patience, composure and maturity are his virtues and he weathered the criticisms to emerge out on top.
On Thursday, against Australia, India had lost their way after a good start, on a two-paced wicket, and had to be content with 252 on the board. The Aussie top order packs a punch with the likes of David Warner, Steven Smith, Travis Head and Glenn Maxwell.
India badly needed their seam bowlers to step up and provide them with a good, solid start. Since the pitch would slow down considerably later, Australia needed to attack up front to stay ahead of the race. Putting a leash on Warner and co was the primary task for Bhuvneshwar and his new ball partner, Jasprit Bumrah.
Bhuvneshwar did that exceptionally well. He moved the ball around, in the air and off the seam, to put Hilton Cartwright and David Warner in a strife. Cartwright, in particular, looked completely at sea against Bhuvneshwar Kumar. The seamer moved the ball away a couple of times before bringing one back in that beat Cartwright’s clueless forward push and castled the off-stump.
He had a different plan to David Warner, though. Being his teammate in Sunrisers Hyderabad in the IPL, Bhuvneshwar knew exactly where not to ball to Warner. He shortened his length up a touch and beat Warner with extra bounce outside the off-stump. While Warner was anticipating the swing, Bhuvneshwar gave him little of that early on.
After four such deliveries, the swing bowler in him rose up and delivered a crack-jacker of a ball, one that was pitched up on middle-stump and moved away to catch Warner’s edge enroute to second slip. The Australian opener, normally an exceptional player of seam and swing bowling, looked baffled by Bhuvneshwar’s control and movement.
He was pretty honest when he admitted in an interview that he had gone astray during the South African series. “In the South Africa series, my pace increased but swing reduced. There were a few reasons for that. Conditions or a fault in technique. Then I worked on my technique, spoke to my coaches (Sanjay Rastogi) in Meerut, and kept practising. The conditions didn’t suit swing. I am a swing bowler but I would also need the conditions, the wickets, to support my skill. In that age (of Ashish Nehra), spinners had support from good wickets. After that, I realised that even I was at fault because I was moving away from the basics.”
By the time the IPL arrived, Sanjay Rastogi had corrected where Bhuvneshwar was going wrong. His ball releasing point was an issue and with the help of older videos, the coach and his ardent student sat down to iron out the flaws. It worked out pretty well as Bhuvneshwar won the purple cap in the IPL with 26 wickets in 14 matches at an average of 14.19. More than the mere numbers, he had found his confidence and mojo back. That worked in his favour in Indian colours too.
At Kolkata against the Aussies, Bhuvneshwar Kumar was right on the money ball after ball. He had by now mastered the art of mixing up the effort balls with his natural swinging deliveries. With Cartwright and Warner back in the hut and Aussies at 9/2, Bhuvneshwar had his tails up.
He out relentless pressure on Steven Smith and Travis Head and even had the latter edging a peach of a delivery to first slip, only to see Rohit Sharma grass a regulation catch. Even as Bumrah continued to gift boundaries, Bhuvneshwar kept beating the bat with his swing deliveries. His first spell ended with figures of 6-2-9-2, exceptional considering the pressure India was in at the start of the Aussie innings.
If Pat Cummins and Nathan Coulter-Nile entertained with pace and seam movement, Bhuvneshwar Kumar delighted with his exhibition of classy old-school swing bowling of the highest standard on a juicy Eden Gardens wicket. Swing bowling isn’t dead as long as this man has that brand new ball in hand.