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Massive banana swing, a clueless Mohammad Hafeez and a shattered set of stumps. Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s ODI debut in Chennai lives in the hearts of most Indian fans for he did what few Indian pacers have managed to do before him. That swing is his forte is well known, but he has managed to also build quite a reputation as an intelligent bowler.
His lack of pace is compensated by a shrewd attention to variation, exceptional control and nagging lines. With the new ball, Bhuvneshwar could do magic and in the death, he nails his yorkers with utmost ease.
All is not rosy of late, though, with Bhuvneshwar’s inability to pick up wickets frequently enough derailing India’s World Cup plans in the fast bowling department, spearheaded by the immaculate Jasprit Bumrah. Such has been Bumrah’s effect that Bhuvneshwar has survived in his company without hogging much attention for his lack of wickets.
With Khaleel Ahmed putting on a compelling show in the series against West Indies, the pressure on Bhuvneshwar is on the upswing. In 2018, Bhuvneshwar has taken 11 wickets in 14 matches at 48.81. More worrying is his strike rate, which is at 55.0, worse than that of Kedar Jadhav, Shardul Thakur and Mohammad Shami aside from the regulars – Bumrah, Kuldeep, Jadeja and Chahal.
Bhuvneshwar’s ability to pick up wickets was never in question despite an average strike rate over his entire career. He was economical, exceptional with the new ball and in the death and was an automatic choice in the ODI side. Yet, of late, the yorkers aren’t in place in the death and he has leaked runs.
In the three matches he played this series, Bhuvneshwar conceded more than six an over twice and managed to pick up just three wickets. Bumrah has been scintillating on the other hand but without adequate support from the other end, he could struggle once bigger clashes come up.
One constant worry with Bhuvneshwar of late is his tendency to resort to a back of a length channel. Being a swing bowler, he is expected to go fuller in search of swing but has inclined to landing it shorter. Given his pace, Bhuvneshwar’s lackadaisical approach is proving to be fodder for batsmen looking to race away in the Powerplay overs.
Bhuvneshwar is a completely different bowler when he finds his length. At Thiruvananthapuram, in the final ODI, with the ball moving about, Bhuvneshwar troubled West Indies batsmen by landing it fuller. He wasn’t generating extravagant movement but managed to outfox Kieron Powell with a tactful plan.
Even when he wasn’t finding too much movement, Bhuvneshwar’s fuller length posed problems. At his pace, his focus ought to be on finding late movement but several times this year he has tended to go back of a length with the odd bouncer. The bouncer is a decent weapon in his armoury but Bhuvneshwar has somehow overused it, slightly moving away from what has worked for him in international cricket.
The lack of wickets has perhaps contributed its bit in piling the pressure on Bhuvneshwar, the death bowler. The yorkers, which he used to nail with little difficulty, are turning into full tosses and he is missing his length quite often in the final flourish, and in the process leaking far too many runs.
While Bumrah’s pressure has kept India in the game in the death, Bhuvneshwar has been leaking steadily which is a definite cause for concern given that India do not have a definite back-up bowler identified yet, although one might say Khaleel is well on his way to seal a World Cup spot.
At the moment, Bhuvneshwar wouldn’t walk into India’s ODI XI. That Kohli and the management are prepared to dispense of options that aren’t yielding what they desire was evident when they sat out Chahal for a few matches this series. While the legspinner has been far more penetrative with the ball, Bhuvneshwar has been listless aside from the odd performance every now and then.
Bowlers who thrive in ODIs today are all wicket-takers. Leaking runs isn’t a huge concern anymore as long as you manage to get regular breakthroughs. Bhuvneshwar, though, hasn’t been able to do that and the lack of wickets is bound to hurt him when Hardik Pandya, who has a pretty similar strike rate to Bhuvneshwa since the last World Cup, returns to the fold.