Bhuvneshwar Kumar hasn't been at his absolute best with the ball in the last couple of years but constant backing and trust by the new captain-coach duo of Rohit Sharma and Rahul Dravid can change fortunes for him as the pacer showed glimpses of him returning to form during his spells in the recently concluded T20Is against New Zealand.
In the last few years, Bhuvneshwar has been in and out of the Indian cricket team because of his fitness issues. Even after making comebacks, he didn't perform up to his standards and his reliable swing bowling was missing in those matches.
The Meerut-born quick played only one match for India in the 2021 T20 World Cup in the UAE. With uncertainty looming over his fitness and form, he was also set to be dropped in the T20 series against New Zealand. However, Rahul Dravid and Rohit Sharma showed faith in the experienced campaigner and convinced selectors to pick him in the squad.
Not only did they pick him in the team, Bhuvneshwar played all three matches of the series and he justified the faith shown in him by bowling good spells. The squad picked for the T20Is had the likes of Harshal Patel, Avesh Khan who did exceedingly well for their team in IPL 2021, but picking Bhuvi ahead of them in the first match shows Dravid and Sharma's belief in the skilful bowler.
Showing some signs of return to form in the T20I series, the 31-year-old pacer bowled an absolute peach of a delivery to remove Kiwi opener Daryl Mitchell, who produced some wonderful batting performances in the recently concluded World Cup. He bowled a good-length delivery outside off stump and the ball swung in swiftly after it bounced, which left Mitchell clueless. The ball swung in straight between the bat and pad and knocked off the middle stump during the first T20I.
This beautiful delivery left everyone in awe and reminded people about Kumar's debut series in 2012, where he made the white Kookaburra zip all around the Pakistani batters and picked crucial wickets. In the next matches against the Kiwis, the pacer was taken for some runs but he overall bowled with control and movement throughout the series.
When a cricketer goes through a lean phase in his career, he needs backing and support, especially from his captain and coach and going by the talks of Rahul and Rohit, they are likely to give him a long rope.
Ahead of his first full-time assignment as India captain against New Zealand, Rohit had also outlined the need for him and coach Rahul Dravid to play a "big role" in allowing individuals to play fearless cricket and instil confidence even when they don't get the desired results.
"It is very important to give guys enough assurance so that they can take chances in the middle. If it comes off, it comes off. If it doesn't, then what happens? This is where we (Dravid and Rohit) will play a huge role to give the individual enough assurance," Rohit had said.
Even former T20I captain Virat Kohli had brushed off concerns around Bhuvi's form in the lead-up to the T20 World Cup and extended his support to the pacer by lauding the economy rate. However, Kohli's words didn't match his action as the experienced bowler was dropped from India's playing XI just after one match.
Bhuvneshwar, who was the Purple Cap holder in two successive IPL seasons -- 2016 and 2017 --, only picked up three wickets in six games at an average of 54 during the second phase of IPL 2021 in the UAE. His economy rate of 7.97 was his worst in an IPL season and he also missed Sunrisers Hyderabad's final league fixture with a niggle.
However, his good performance in the recently concluded T20I series against Black Caps will give him a lot of confidence.
The cricketer's good form and fitness is a positive sign for Team India as in the current T20 setup, only Jasprit Bumrah can bowl at different junctures of the game. Like Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar also has the skill set and temperament to bowl during different phases of the game and bail out teams by picking crucial wickets. With only 11 months left for the next T20 World Cup, coach Dravid and captain Rohit would love to give Bhuvi a long run at least in the shortest format of the game.
Playing continuous competitive cricket helps fast bowlers gain their bowling rhythm. In fact in the past, Kumar himself had said that not bowling for a long time in international cricket had impacted his bowling rhythm.
"The break from international cricket did impact my rhythm. Match rhythm is totally different when it comes to bowling. I was trying everything to be in rhythm in the nets. But it can't be 100% when you compare it to a match," he said ahead of an ODI against Australia in Adelaide in 2019.
Bhuvneshwar, was one of the first players in IPL to use the knuckle ball to great advantage and add it to his variations. He has been SRH's go-to bowler at both ends of an innings. Be it picking up early wickets, or choking the opposition in death overs, Kumar has done it all in the IPL.
The next big challenge for Bhuvi is to remain niggle-free, regain his usual pace and show the world his precocious talent. Under Rohit-Rahul's constant backing and trust, the pacer would want to bring his "swing king" avatar or even become better.
A fit Bhuvneshwar in his full flow with his nagging swing bowling is a nightmare for batters but a treat to watch for lovers of fast bowling.
( 966 Words)