October 27, 2017
Bhuvneshwar Kumar knows what he’s not. He is not express pace with the ball and reckons he is not best suited to club the ball in limited-overs cricket. Between this wide spectrum of cricketers, he’s found himself a happy place, in the low 80s of the mph speed gun, from where he runs his hoodwink job.
His principal livelihood is an endangered art form as his once co-operative friend (the white ball) now stubbornly refuses to deviate in the air. Yet when planets realign and some clouds move in place, a chance reacquaintance is possible. Then Bhuvneshwar Kumar transforms from a genial medium-pacer to a sinister prophet of destruction. In Kolkata, Bhuvneshwar knew he was that. It took him all of one delivery to be convinced. “As soon as I bowled the first ball, I knew there was some swing on the wicket,” he said after his game changing opening spell that read 6-2-9-2. It was an exhibition of swing bowling that Virat Kohli termed “unplayable” and for a change, David Warner would have agreed.
India were defending 253 on an Eden Gardens surface that offered some bounce. By metrics of modern ODI cricket in India, it was grossly under-par. Quick early wickets was their only way of coming back. “In modern-day cricket, 252 was not a big total to defend,” Bhuvneshwar said. “But we knew if we had to win, we have to keep taking wickets. That’s what we were talking about [in the change of innings] There was no bad mood, no one was upset when we got out for 250. All the captain and management wanted was to believe each other and believe in our abilities and that’s what we did.”
In Sri Lanka that wicket-taking responsibility at the top had fallen to Jasprit Bumrah with Bhuvneshwar playing the run regulator. The latter had returned home with five wickets in the ODI series, all of which had come in one innings. So there were some doubts about his efficacy as a new white-ball bowler, especially with Umesh Yadav and Mohammed Shami returning to the ODI helm for this series.
But this was Eden Gardens, a venue where Bhuvneshwar had suckerpunched New Zealand in a Test in 2016 under fading lights. On Thursday (September 21), the capricious Kolkata weather helped him and spruced the pitch during a short spurt of rain before the close of India’s innings. Who knows, when the white ball would swing next, so Bhuvneshwar made most of it when it did.
Hilton Cartwright will have seen good days in his cricket career. Today was not one of them. Bhuvneshwar toyed with him, bowling an inswinger and following that with an away swinger. The middle of Cartwright’s bat went unused before the coup de grace was administered with an equally subtle variation that forced the young batsman into guessing one swing, when it really was the other. Bhuvneshwar moved wide of the crease, forcing Cartwright into anticipating a delivery coming in with the angle. Yet it wasn’t, and the youngster played outside the line and was knocked over.
But if the Australian batting order truly had to crumble, then Warner had to go. Bhuvneshwar put in a no-frills approach for his IPL captain. There were no set-ups, no two or three-card tricks. Just the good ol’ outswingers one after the other, each playing on the batsman’s ego. Having scored a solitary run from eight deliveries, Warner pushed at one and got a thick edge to a strategically placed widish second slip. There should have been another wicket in the spell to an identical delivery but Rohit Sharma spilled a low catch at first slip to reprieve Travis Head.
The bowler’s deconstruction of the spell, hours later, was as as simple as his methods. “I bowl outswingers to him [Warner], in Tests also I mostly bowl outswingers to him, so I knew there is a good chance I can get him out with outswingers. That’s how I planned. And for Cartwright, there was a normal plan, bowling to the top of off stump and bowling outswingers to him.”
Bhuvneshwar’s strikes at the top, once again threw up batsmen tasked with rebuilding jobs against the wrist spin of Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal. For a second game running, they combined to take five wickets between themselves, with Hardik Pandya adding two. When Bhuvneshwar was next given a ball, India needed only wicket to close the game. He needed only one ball for that task