231 runs to win, around 2 hours of play and 25-30 overs left in the day.
That’s how the Kolkata Test match was poised when Virat Kohli opted to declare and send the visitors in close to tea on day 5 of the first Test.
Prospects for a result looked bleak. For Sri Lanka to win, they would have had to bat out of their skins and go into T20 mode. For India to win, they needed a miracle. 10 wickets in 25-30 overs in Test cricket is near impossible and it seemed that a Lankan victory looked more likely than an Indian one.
Over 0.5 – Bhuvneshwar Kumar to Sadeera Samarawickrama
A sharp inswinger from the Meerut seamer after four outswingers and Samarawickrama is struck on the pads although height saves him from the umpire raising his fingers.
Over 0.6 – Bhuvneshwar Kumar to Sadeera Samarawickrama
Another outswinger, this time back of the length and inviting the opener to cut. He gives in and unleashes a smashing cut, but only finds the inside edge as the ball ricocheted off his bat onto the stumps to leave Lanka at 0/1.
By tea on Day 5, Sri Lanka were 8/2, struggling but still firm favorites to draw the Test.
In his first ball after the break, Bhuvneshwar delivered another cracker of a delivery that seamed away from Thirimanne and caught his outside edge en route to gully where Rahane clung on to a regulation catch.
Lanka were still in it.
Bhuvneshwar’s first spell read 7-5-3-2.
Next time he came onto bowl, Lanka were 69/5, shaky but still looking likely to draw the Test.
— Rohit Sharma (@ImRo45) November 20, 2017
And then Bhuvneshwar chose the moment to go all out on the attack. He nipped one back into Dickwella, and eked out an inside edge only for Saha to grass a catch.
But the first ball next over he had his man. Dickwella shuffled across once again and this time the Sunrisers Hyderabad seamer landed it on the middle stump and rapped his pads. Next ball, h had Dilruwan Perera trapped in front but a review saved the Lankan all-rounder. His joy did not last long, though, as Bhuvneshwar seamed one into him and had his stump in tatters next over. At 75/7 and Bhuvneshwar breathing fire, Sri Lanka were suddenly reeling. An over later the umpires convened to check the lights and declared it poor enough to abandon play, saving Sri Lanka the blushes of what would have been an embarrassing loss.
One man stood at the helm of all this. Bhuvneshwar Kumar.
— ICC (@ICC) November 20, 2017
The Meerut seamer had picked up a four-wicket haul in the first innings as well, dismissing both the openers and setting up India for a fine response with the ball.
Over the last couple of years, the value of this swing bowler has been grossly underestimated. Virat Kohli had openly stated his desire for quicker men in the Test team and this meant a medium pacer like Bhuvneshwar found himself sidelined. But this young man isn’t one to be written off. Grit and determination are his forte and the seamer responded by working on his pace while not compromising on swing.
— Boria Majumdar (@BoriaMajumdar) November 20, 2017
“If 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 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”, Bhuvneshwar had said in an interview earlier this year.
The returns are there for everyone to see. Since 2016, no India seamer, save Bhuvneshwar, has picked up a five-wicket haul in Test. The immaculate swing bowler has two to his name. His average, economy and strike rate are all better than the other three bowlers in the Indian Test team – Mohammad Shami, Umesh Yadav and Ishant Sharma.
However, it is worth noting that he has played less than half the number of matches as compared to Umesh Yadav and Mohammad Shami. Kohli’s insistence on pace means that more often than not Bhuvneshwar is left to carry drinks.
It would have been interesting to see if Bhuvneshwar would have played this Kolkata Test if not for the green-tinged wicket rolled out in preparation for the South African series.
India are set for a long overseas season and the importance of Bhuvneshwar cannot be stressed enough. He was the sole shining light in India’s Test team during their disastrous England tour three years back. If anything, he has only improved since then and should now be a certainty in the starting XI irrespective of conditions.