Bhuvneshwar Kumar could very well go down as one of those bowlers who couldn’t quite meet their expectations and convert their dreams into reality because of the nagging injuries that took away a lot of time in and in-betweens. But he returns, just in time, in a year where his presence is vital.
When Bhuvneshwar Kumar limped mid-way in the over, bowling against one of the best hitters, MS Dhoni, it was not just a big blow for the Sunrisers Hyderabad, it was a big blow for the Indian team. The Uttar Pradesh pacer isn’t in the IPL to prove himself, at least, anymore. His talents have met every corner of the world, seen every country that India have toured and more importantly, has had words of appreciation from every single cricketer - past, present and future - in world cricket.
As dramatic as it would sound, his sudden falling to the ground and then limping back to the dressing room was a heartbreaking sign, not because it was the first time he was injured but because he was already 31, not too far away from passing his prime, which then meant that a comeback for him in the national team would be a daunting task, especially with Deepak Chahar staying on-road, in-line with the expectations.
It was in the Delhi Capitals match, where Bhuvi showed the entire world that, in terms of pure skill-set, he was right up there, in a league unmatched in the world. He could swing the ball either ways, he could bowl a menacing yorker and at the same time, bat as well as a top-order batsman. More importantly, he would be a miser, a real miser, when it came to runs, which made him one of the best bowlers in the world before injuries. His spell against Prithvi Shaw defines it all.
Ball one - starts off from well outside the off-stump, slowly jagging back into the top of the off-stump. Ball two - starts similarly but the ball ends up shaping itself away and still moving off the surface, prompting Shaw to leave the ball but with an iota of doubt. Ball three - comes sharply outside the off-stump and stays true to its line. And the fifth ball, the ball which finally set it all right - swings away from Shaw after pitching within the middle-stump, taking the outside edge.
“Look at that seam position,” utters Danny Morrison on-air as he goes gaga over the delivery, that is Bhuvneshwar Kumar.
Despite not having a slinging action, despite not having a pace that could err the speed-o-meter, despite not having a menacing bouncer, Bhuvneshwar would hit all the chords that would perfectly hit the harmony. It would synchronise itself into a beat and would start humming on its own, on its way to the batsmen. This made him special, this made him Virat Kohli’s go-to-bowler before Bumrah made his debut.
But even in Bumrah’s presence, even with the threat that Bumrah has to offer, when Bhuvneshwar walked off with an injury in the 2019 World Cup, the Indian bowling suffered. It suffered because there wasn’t any genuine swing-bowler who could move the ball either way, there wasn’t a bowler who even in the sweetest of tunes would set up the batsman.
That’s what forced the selectors to pick him in the West Indies series, even when his fitness was well debated and certainly well discussed amongst the experts. He wasn’t that fit and enigmatic bowler he was, during the debut series against Pakistan. He was mellow, a bit easy and more importantly, well experienced now.
"I still feel great and happy that Bhuvneshwar has regained fitness because he's such an important bowler, especially in white-ball cricket for India. Apart from Jasprit Bumrah, if there's anyone in that Indian bowling line-up who has got the experience of bowling not only with the new ball but also at the death." As VVS Laxman rightly points out here, Bhuvi’s return comes as real happy news for a T20 team, which has all spots right on.
Having played 43 T20Is, Bhuvi’s records speak for itself - an average of 26.53, not as deadly as Bumrah’s 20.25 but still not as bad as Mohammed Shami’s 35.66. But more importantly, it is the economy section that makes him more enticing, bowling in the powerplay and in the death, he only concedes 7.04 runs an over. If you chuck the numbers out of the window, you will understand his relevance more - he is Kohli’s go-to-man, even when there is Jasprit Bumrah, even when there is Mohammed Shami because the experience takes precedence.
Forget T20Is, Bhuvi’s record in T20 cricket too is exemplary, with 48 of his IPL wickets have come in the first six overs, where he conceded at 6.01. If that doesn’t tell you stuff, nothing really can. Combine that with 48 wickets in over 238 overs bowled, he is one of the best in that department. Now not just that, when the ball seemingly has been beaten to its pulp and when the batsmen are standing as Brobdingnagians, 66 wickets at an average of 18.7 and a strike-rate of 12.2 certainly paints the fitting picture.
The 31-year-old’s absence was very much felt during the 2019 World Cup and more importantly, was felt every time India were under the pump in T20Is. His vision and skills are unwavering and unparalleled in world cricket. There could never be one as multi-dimensional as him, he’s pretty much the power tool in the tool kit - can do it all. So his return surely chimed as a piece of good news, not just for Kohli but all the Indian fans, who wanted to see his return.
“Bhuvneshwar Kumar is shaping up well, he’s worked really hard in the nets. He’s a smart operator with the ball and he brings that element on the field, which is vital for us. He wants to contribute to many more Indian victories. We want our best bowlers to be there in the World T20, he’s one of them and hopefully, he can build himself strongly till the World T20,” Kohli stated in the pre-game press conference.
When the Indian team does walk out during the first T20I to take the field, all eyes and focus won’t certainly be on Virat Kohli but on Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who marks his return for the first time since December 11, 2019. And that too in the absence of Jasprit Bumrah, he is sure to take the spotlight - at least amongst the bowlers!