When Bhuvneshwar Kumar made his international debut over Pakistan last Christmas, there were sniggers on message boards on the internet, prompted by comparison between the opponent’s uncompromising culture of fast bowling and the gentle medium-pacer India had drafted in.
That winter night in Bangalore, Bhuvneshwar bent the ball this way and that and went home with figures of three for nine from four overs, better than any of Umar Gul, Mohammad Irfan or Sohail Tanvir.
After tormenting Pakistan yet again on Saturday, a display that won him the Man of the Match,
Bhuvneshwar has reappeared, perhaps reluctantly, under the spotlight. Despite the handful of matches, it is clear that he has quickly — and quietly — turned into this side’s best new-ball bowler.
In all three games at the Champions Trophy, the Uttar Pradesh player has dismissed one opening batsman inside his third over, handing India an early advantage. Colin Ingram, Chris Gayle and Nasir Jamshed — all left-handers — drove at the ball angled away from the body, only to edge behind.
“I bowl with the new ball and it swings,” he said on Saturday. “If you take wickets with the new ball, it puts the opponent under pressure.”
The 23-year-old has been deployed as some sort of super-new-ball bowler by M.S. Dhoni, and has usually sent down seven or eight overs uninterrupted at the start of the innings.
“Since I swing the ball, the captain wishes that I bowl as many overs as possible with the new ball and take as many wickets,” he explained.
“Even in tournaments in India, the ball has swung long and hence I’ve bowled long spells. I’ve taken two or three early wickets.”
Bhuvneshwar’s action is unhurried, and his gaunt frame makes his delivery appear all limbs. But he is accurate and undeniably effective. His economy rate at the Champions Trophy is a meagre 4.34, second only to Ravindra Jadeja in the side. Over in the IPL, when Chris Gayle beat seven shades out of Pune Warriors India in Bangalore, Bhuvneshwar went for 23 runs from his full quota when four of his colleagues bled more than 15 an over.
“He understands his strength — which is swing — and his shortcomings — pace for sure. So he knows he needs to be that much more accurate,” says the UP coach and former India seamer Venkatesh Prasad.
“I never tinkered with his action or technique because everything — the release, alignment, wrist position — was pretty much perfect. The one thing I always told him was that when all these things come naturally to a bowler, he tends to relax.
“If you keep getting wickets easily, somewhere down the line you’ll think it’s enough to just run up and release the ball and the rest will happen on its own. So I told him to always put in effort, run in hard and bend his back.”
For the moment though, there appears no fear of any complacency creeping in. Bhuvneshwar readily admits he needs to improve on his skill with the old ball.
“Even I know that I’m a better bowler with the new ball than the old one. So I practise with the old ball as much as I can in the nets. I talk to seniors and batsmen facing me and work out what to do.”
By the time Bhuvneshwar made his international debut, he had already played close to five years of domestic cricket, taking near 150 first-class wickets.
Dhoni understands his value to the side only too well. “He is not someone who is very quick but he bowls in very good areas,” he said at Edgbaston. “He has played just a few ODIs but he will only improve.”