Isn't it gratifying to see a gentle medium pacer, who can swing a bit, topping the bowling charts of the IPL wear the purple cap this season? And that too again! In fact, this time round Bhuvneshwar Kumar seems have been latched onto the cap for good.
He was the highest wicket taker of the IPL last season with 23 wickets and played a huge role in Sunrisers Hyderabad’s first title. This year as well, he is back with the same intensity and vigour, the same skill and substance, bowling with plan and purpose, swinging the new ball and coming to bowl perfect yorkers in the death overs. He has already taken 15 wickets in this edition and looks all set to add more to his tally.
Against Kings XI Punjab on Monday, the wiped out half the opposition, finishing with career best T20 figures of 5/19.
Even during SRH’s match against Kolkata on 15 April, which his team lost, Bhuvi, as he is fondly called, bowled a magnificent spell to pick up 3 wickets for just 20 runs. To truly understand the impact of his spell, one needs to deduct the four overs that Bhuvi bowled at an average of a miserly five runs an over. Since KKR scored 172 runs, the rest of the 152 came in the 16 overs bowled by the other SRH bowlers, at an average of 9.5 runs per over.
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A Rough Start
One can safely say that this genial cricketer from Meerut is one of the most improved bowlers in recent times, especially in limited-overs cricket. His career almost followed the footsteps of Praveen Kumar and they both brought almost the same kind of ability and skill with them. When there is grass on the wicket, there is some moisture available and the sky is overcast, bowlers like them come into their own. Just like Praveen, when Bhuvi burst onto the international cricket scene, he carried invariably the same reputation as his senior from the same city. He could swing the new ball both ways at a gentle pace. Mix this with the conditions which suit his ability and he becomes lethal.
But unlike Praveen, Bhuvi didn’t allow his journey to stop and failures to hinder his growth.
After an impressive debut, Bhuvi became somewhat one-dimensional and predictable. Experts believed that he could only be effective in certain conditions and that too only with the new ball. At his pace, he started getting hit all over the ground, especially in the commonly found, batting friendly conditions.
Bhuvi took all this in his stride and tried to add a few more kmph to his pace. In the process, for a while, he lost his most potent weapon - his swing of the ball.
In between, opportunities for him also dried up. But Bhuvi didn’t dwell on any of this.
He bowled long spells in the nets to maintain his rhythm and did his best in the gym to add some bulk to his body, a rather essential element to gathering some extra pace.
The Return of Bhuvi
After all the changes, IPL 2016 proved to be the perfect launching pad for Bhuvi 2.0. His effectiveness with the new ball enhanced manifolds with that added pace and with time, he became a cunning customer with perfectly pitched yorkers and well-disguised slower ones. All this while, a certain Ashish Nehra was always whispering in his ear, advising, guiding and mentoring him. For Bhuvi, Nehra proved to be a new ball partner with all the skills of a bowling coach.
Bhuvi’s 23 wicket haul in the last IPL was instrumental in helping his team earn the title at the end of the season. But Bhuvi had to wait for his return to international cricket. Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav and Ishant Sharma became the top three choices for Indian selectors.
His first chance of the season came in Saint Lucia against West Indies in 2016. Playing a Test match after a year and a half, Bhuvi broke the back of the Windies batting and paved the way for India’s win. His second spell with the second new ball on the fourth day of the match spanned 11.4 overs, and was peppered with 6 maidens, 16 runs and 5 wickets.
After this impressive performance, India started their home season and in Our conditions three seamers was luxury that the team could not always afford. Soon enough, Bhuvi was back on the bench, serving drinks and smiling. And suddenly out of nowhere and completely unexpectedly, a green wicket was rolled out against the Kiwis for the second match of the Test series in Kolkata. Bhuvi came in and again picked up five wickets, setting up another victory for India.
Unfortunately, after this match he was ruled out of the series with a side strain. Just before the start of the IPL, Bhuvi got his third chance of the season in Dharamsala. He bowled with pace and aggression and some of the Aussies were caught running for cover.
And now this inspiring run in the IPL.
Just after this six-week long T20 festival, India will be travelling to England to defend their Champions Trophy title. And just like the last time, Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s role will be key. With extra pace, more variety and experience of failure and success, one can expect the smiling assassin to do the job entrusted to him.