The second coming of Bhuvi

From being dropped to leading the pace attack, pacer has come a long way

The second coming of Bhuvi

 Bhuvneshwar Kumar doesn’t quite fit into the conventional description of pace bowler. With his wiry frame, average height and soft demeanour belie the fact that he has been the leader of India’s pace attack in limited-overs cricket for some time now.

Typecast as someone who was effective only when the conditions allowed him to swing the ball, Bhuvneshwar has come a long way to establish himself as the all-weather bowler in the shorter format by adding several new skills over the last couple of years. This year has been particularly good for the Uttar Pradesh bowler who had to sit out almost whole of 2016 after some poor returns.

While he became only the second bowler after R Vinay Kumar to concede over 100 runs (106/1 in 10 overs) in an ODI against South Africa in 2015 when AB de Villiers, Quinton de Cock and Faf du Plessis slammed a ton each to help their team amass 438/4 in Mumbai, he was banished after another ordinary show (69/0 in eight overs) against Australia in Canberra on Jan 20 last year. It wasn’t until England visited India for a short limited-overs series at the start of this year that Bhuvneshwar got a chance to play an ODI.

Since then he has enjoyed one of the best phases of his short but eventful career, claiming 24 wickets in 20 matches (19 innings) at an average of 30.83 and an economy rate of 4.82, both are more than acceptable parameters in these days. His career bowling average in ODIs is 36.16 and economy rate is 4.87. His strike rate too has improved quite remarkably. Where his career strike rate is 44.5, he has taken just 38.3 balls to dismiss a batsman in the last 20 matches.

Lacking the pace that will blast the batsman away, Bhuvneshwar became redundant once conditions became non-conducive for bowlers. Though he has remained an integral part of the Test squad, making his presence felt whenever he gets a chance to be in the playing 11, his limited-overs career seemed to be at cross roads. Though he made his comeback at the start of the year, there was significant show to further his shorter-version cause. But a good IPL show in 2016 when he was the highest wicket-taker in the league with his team Sunrisers Hyderabad emerging champions, beating Royal Challengers Bangalore in the final strengthened his case for continuation.

Swing he has always possessed but since then he has added a good slower ball, a deceptive bouncer and an effective yorker. He has also developed an effective knuckle ball that he employed to dismiss Colin Munro in Pune. Early in his career, he would be used before the death overs could begin because of his lack of incisiveness with the old white ball which doesn’t swing much in that state. The 27-year-old, however, has now proven himself as a reliable bowler even in the death overs.        

Shikhar Dhawan knows him better than any of his Indian team-mates as they also play together in IPL for Hyderabad.          

"He has raised his bar and I feel he is at a very high level,” said Dhawan when asked about Bhuvneshwar’s evolution. “His control over the bowling is very good. Not just at the start but other variations. Even when he bowls slower ball and knuckle ball he makes sure he lands it in the right area. The way he got that left-hander out (Munro), it was because he pitched that ball in the right area and even when he comes in the death overs, he is the best bowler.

Best bowler in the world I guess, the way he bowls yorkers. I have seen him in the IPL and in the Indian team, he has bowled consistently well. He has improved a lot. And I feel that he has got a lot of belief in himself and that’s what is showing out there,” he explained.

While his value as a bowler for the team is worth its weight in gold, he has also demonstrated his batting abilities in recent times, the most significant being his unbeaten match-winning fifty against Sri Lanka in Pallekele in August when India’s defeat appeared a mere formality. Though he can’t be labelled an all-rounder like Hardik Pandya, his significance is no less.

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