If, like in football, ‘assists’ were recorded for performances in cricket, Bhuvneshwar Kumar would have more to show for than 10-1-38-0 — his stats from the first ODI that obscure more than they reveal.
If someone who has never watched him bowl were to deduce his efficacy from numbers alone, the easiest finding would be of him being a ‘holding’ bowler who ‘keeps it tight’.
While it’s true that he’s niggardly — his economy-rate in ODIs and T20s are 4.67 and 6.22 respectively — Bhuvneshwar is much more than just that.
Against Dwayne Smith and Dwayne Bravo, for instance, in the aforementioned match, he went all out to ensnare them, pursuing a plan to its logical conclusion. Right from his first ball, he kept banging out a length on the middle-and-off stumps and got it to curve away, viciously and ever so regularly. It’s the kind of stuff that forms the cornerstone of the Glenn McGrath seam-bowling manual.
That prissy accuracy, backed up by genuine swing, got both openers swishing and missing more often than not.
Bravo, evidently restless at not feeling bat on ball while Bhuvneshwar was operating, took his chances against Mohammed Shami, and as it so often happens, was consumed by him. The scorecard wouldn’t show that, but that was a clear assist for Bhuvneshwar.
Since his limited-overs debut in late 2012 against Pakistan, Bhuvneshwar has been India’s comfort food. His wristy, prodigious swing — regardless of the conditions — and courageous lower middle-order batting have come to be seen as a matter of fact: for colleagues and fans alike, it’s a given he would deliver, and even when he doesn’t, he doesn’t fail spectacularly.
At 24, he has already acquired the reputation of being a bankable cricketer. It also helps he doesn’t indulge in trash-talking on or off the field. Suresh Raina, his captain at Uttar Pradesh, rates his work-ethic very highly.
Eager to learn
“He should be a key member of the team in times to come,” Raina had said two years ago. “The best part about him is his attitude. He is a disciplined guy and is always eager to learn.”
India skipper M.S. Dhoni knows all too well that Bhuvneshwar is one of the few cricketers he needn’t spend time worrying about.
“He knows his limitations really well, and that’s why he has been quite consistent. He mixes it up well. If there is some assistance [from the wicket], he is someone who makes sure he gets that,” said Dhoni after the match, adding that he was looking at deploying him at the back-end too.
“When the ball is swinging well, we’re looking to get wickets off his bowling. We have not used too much of him in the slog, but that’s something we’d like to do”.
Sometime ago, Uttar Pradesh coach Venkatesh Prasad had lauded Bhuvneshwar’s smartness. “He adapts quickly. One doesn’t need to tell him too much. Not only is he aware of his responsibilities, but also he is quick to put plans into action.”
Glimpse of alacrity
Bhuvneshwar offered a glimpse of such alacrity while bowling at Smith on Wednesday. Realising that Smith’s forceful punts against his out-swingers were paying off, he switched to in-swing, and had a long-on in place factoring the batsman’s adventurousness. While the ploy didn’t work, it certainly reflected an alert brain at work.
In less than two years, the wiry lad from Meerut has become a key component of the Indian team.
Much will be expected of Bhuvneshwar at the World Cup next year, but given his equanimity, it’s safe to assume that the enormity of the occasion wouldn’t daunt him.