“Kumar off late has played the role of an all-rounder even in the limited-overs cricket. Co-incidently, most of the times has had Dhoni on the other end when Kumar is up for something special with the bat”.
The high profile India’s tour of South Africa begins with the hosts batting first. India have never won a series in the Rainbow nation and fast and bouncy tracks have always troubled them and that makes the South Africans the undisputed favourites. Dean Elgar faces first delivery and Bhuvenshwar Kumar is with the ball. The pacer begins with two poor balls. The third one is his comeback which breaks the tough nut called Elgar. He edges and Wriddhiman Saha behind the wickets makes no mistake; South Africa are 0 for 1 in 0.3 overs.
Kumar ensured the dream start only bettered with time on the first day of the opening Test in Cape Town. He struck in his next two consecutive overs, dismissed the other opener Aiden Markram and their best Test batsman Hashim Amla for a mere five and three runs respectively. He was well supported by the rest of the attack inclusive of Mohammed Shami, Hardik Pandya, Jasprit Bumrah and Ravichandran Ashwin. While Kumar finished with four wickets to his name in the first innings, the other wickets were shared between the other guys, who claimed at least one each. Kumar added two more to his tally in the next innings and finished with figures of 6 for 120.
Apart from his contributions with the ball, Kumar, as a batsman proved to be even more vital among some of the biggest names in the Indian team. On a seaming and moving track, when the likes of Virat Kohli, Cheteshwara Pujara, Rohit Sharma, Murali Vijay and other main batsmen in the team failed against the ferocious Proteas pace attack, Kumar survived for 86 balls in India’s first innings. While his score of 38 runs might not seem like a huge total, the grit and determination with which he held the line-up at one end eventually aided Hardik Pandya to go all blazing. Pandya and Kumar posted 99 runs for the eighth wicket before Kumar was dismissed.
Even during India’s chase of 208 runs, Kumar exhibited his batting prowess, while the other batsmen came off as nothing but an utter disappointment. With almost one and a half days in hand, it seemed like India’s best chance to win the Test. Having considered their recent win record, the World No. 1 side should have completed the task, provided their batsmen stuck to their respective roles. Following their first dismissal at 30 for 1, the wickets fell like nine pins. There seemed hope when Kohli and Rohit batted but Vernon Philander broke their 32-runs stand.
Kumar walked in at 82 for 7 and there was nobody who had expected India to make a miraculous U-turn from there back into the game. Kumar once again survived the likes of Kagiso Rabada, Philander and Morne Morkel and this time he had Ashwin with him on the other side. The two slowly and gradually marched ahead and just one runs before their 50-run stand, Ashwin was sent back to the pavilion. Eventually, the Indian team was bowled out for 135 runs but their lone warrior, Kumar remained untouched at 13 off 41 balls.
To bring more perspective to Kumar’s role in the Cape Town Test, he was India’s best bowler and at the same time, he was also their best performer with the bat too. Although his scores did not give that away, one must notice the number of balls he had faced. He played 127 balls in total that was more than any other Indian batsmen in the first Test. The least Kumar would have expected after displaying an all-round show in the Cape Town Test was the fact that he could have taken his place in the second Test for granted.
However, the Indian skipper had other ideas. Going against the basic law of “no team would drop their best player from the first game in the following game, which was a must-win for them,” Kohli chose to axe Kumar from the side, saying Centurion would look for extra pace and bounce and hence Ishant Sharma would be a better option. While Ishant justified his selection with some crucial wickets, the captain certainly missed Kumar’s batting ability down the order when he was involved in a lone battle.
India lost the Test and hence suffered a series defeat too with another Test to go. Kohli had been severely criticised for ignoring India’s most dependable overseas batsmen Ajinkya Rahane in the first two Tests and Kumar in the second. Ahead of the dead rubber in Wanderers, the venue where India have never lost a Test, Kohli brought in both the players.
Kumar’s knock in India’s first innings turned out to be like a slap in the skipper’s face that would have made him regret for dropping Kumar in the must-win Centurion Test. The openers failed, yet again before the duo of Kohli and Pujara stabilised India’s innings with their 84-run stand for the third wicket. South Africa’s young and raw pacer dismissed Kohli for the second consecutive time and from there on began India’s usual collapse. At 144 for 6, Kumar walked in.
The pitch that offered unpredictable bounce, the batsmen were even hit a couple of times, in situations like those, Kumar was the batsman along with the likes of Kohli, Pujara and Rahane, who had managed to survive for a long time. In the first innings, he scored crucial 30 runs off 49 balls followed by more vital runs (33) off 76 balls in the second innings, where he shared a healthy 55-run stand with Rahane to only frustrate the bowlers and post a competitive target of 241 for their bowlers to defend.
Kumar in the two Tests he has batted in the series has faced 252 balls overall against Rohit’s 190 balls and KL Rahul’s 191 balls in as many Tests. While Dhawan who played only in the first Test, had faced only 33 balls to Kumar’s 127 balls in the same Test. The player who came out as the worst of all in comparison to Kumar was Pandya. Kumar certainly has done more in this Test to deserve the tag of an all-rounder than the former. Pandya, who has been picked in the side as a fast-bowling all-rounder, has survived only 173 balls in the three Tests and has picked only three wickets. Meanwhile, Kumar, who has played one less Test, has played way more deliveries than Pandya (252) and has picked more wickets too (9).
But, this was not the first instant when Kumar has displayed his batting skills in testing conditions. In the 2014 India’s tour of England, the most forgettable tour of Kohli’s career, Kumar had truly shown glimpses of being a batting all-rounder. In the Nottingham and Lord’s Test where Kohli had played only 72 deliveries in total, Kumar 442 balls in fast English track against the destructive pair of James Anderson and Stuart Broad. That tour, Kumar had more runs than some of the top-order batsmen like Kohli, Dhawan and Gautam Gambhir. he was also India’s best bowler with 19 wickets in five Tests, same as England’s Stuart Broad.
In fact, Kumar had given away his card of being a promising all-rounder on his debut Test in 2013. Kumar’s maiden Test came against Australia in Chennai. The first time when he bowled, he failed to impress as he went wicket-less in the first innings. Australia posted a decent total of 380 runs. However, the first time he batted in the whites, he went on to score a brilliant 97-ball 38. The same innings where Dhoni scored a double hundred, Kohli a hundred, Sachin Tendulkar an 81 and Kumar made his mark as he shared a 140-run stand with the skipper (Dhoni) to frustrate the Aussies some more. Their ninth wicket stand meant India reached a mammoth total of 572. Kumar never got to ball again in the Test and his maiden Test was always remembered for Kumar, the batsman.
Kumar off late has played the role of an all-rounder even in the limited-overs cricket. Co-incidently, most of the times has had Dhoni on the other end when Kumar is up for something special with the bat. With 21 Tests and 81 ODIs under his belt, India must start considering Kumar as an all-rounder. He has proven himself for that role in quite a few instances now. With Kumar being picked as an all-rounder, Kohli will have the freedom to make a choice to exclude Pandya if he is not delivering and get an extra spinner or pacer, depending on the conditions.