cricket India

Fading force to genial prophet of doom with the swinging ball

Bhuvneshwar Kumar knows what he’s not. He’s not a ‘140+ bowler’, now a unique specialisation among quicks in T20 cricket. He doesn’t test out different areas of a cricket pitch with his lengths. What he is, however, is canny and accurate. Hand him a ball that swings, he’s also a genial prophet of doom.

England’s openers as it is have had problems and poor numbers against Bhuvneshwar. To compound that, they’ve had to confront him against a white Kookaburra happy to do his bidding. In Southampton, Jason Roy struggled to lay bat to an array of outswingers before Jos Buttler got the inswinger first-up and lost his stumps. Today in Birmingham, Roy nicked off to the outswinger to the very first ball of the innings while the England captain followed suit in the next over, falling to Bhuvneshwar for the fifth time in T20Is.

For a while and through the T20 World Cup, PowerPlay bowling inefficacy had been one of India’s bugbears. Since the Sri Lanka T20Is in March, Bhuvneshwar has 10 PowerPlay wickets at an economy under 5. It has coincided with an upturn in India’s fortunes in the format. The swinging white balls, in the South Africa series, and again here in England have been a factor.

“I’ve been here quite a few times but it didn’t swing in the last few series I’ve played here,” he said after a Man of the Match winning performance at Edgbaston on Saturday (July 9). “Yes, even I was a bit surprised that the white ball is swinging and is swinging for a long period of time, especially in the T20 format. There’s a bit more bounce in the wicket as well. So when the ball is swinging, you enjoy it more. Honestly, I don’t know if I’m swinging it, some conditions or if it’s the ball. But I’m glad it’s swinging more.”

There is a caveat to swing. Not all swing bowlers are necessarily successful. For swing needs to be married with control and a sense of restraint that comes with experience. “If it swings, which is my strength, I can get on to the attack. You see batsmen attacking when the wicket is flat. They play all the shots. Both these matches, the ball has swung and I was able to play to my strength. Then there are more chances of getting wickets.

“But it’s important to keep it in control because when the ball is moving, you feel like bowling ‘one in, one out, one in, one out’. You have to control that urge and bowl consistently in one line and work on setting batters up,” he added.

Bhuvneshwar’s renaissance as a white-ball bowler is music to India’s ears as they look to right the wrongs of UAE, 2021. As recently as at the end of IPL 2021, he was considered a fading force. He was 31 and the injuries – to the Back, side, hamstring, groin, thigh – had piled on. Finishing with six wickets from 11 games in the season at an economy of 7.97 – his worst in the IPL – led Sunrisers Hyderabad to release him. They did sign him at the IPL 2022 auction but at a cut price of INR 4.2 crores at a time when specialist bowlers were the flavour of the auction.

Amid the dwindling of his stocks though, Bhuvneshwar had shown glimpses of his brilliance and why he boasts a T20 economy of 7.15. In the series-deciding fifth T20I against England in Ahmedabad last year, he dismissed Roy and Buttler again and finished with figures of 2 for 15 in a 224-plays-188 game. He still had it, he just needed the injury curse to lift off and allow him a consistent run of games.

“I never thought that was that for me [during the time out from the side],” Bhuvneshwar said. “But yes, I was working with the trainers, physios and doing my thing. Of course, when you are out of the game, you are never confident.

“After the injury, I knew I had to come back and do well. There were no options. I felt I would get matches, and I wanted to give my 100% in them. But there’s no guarantee you’d do well. When you have had injuries, you have… not doubt, but you are left frustrated and disappointed. You’re not in the best mental state. You keep thinking about wanting to do well on a comeback. Luckily I got a chance again, I did well. Of course, I was backed by the captain and coach. And it feels good to come good on that backing. Luckily I came back and am playing for India again.”

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