Talk about death bowling specialists and a name that readily comes to mind is Bhuvneshwar Kumar. His ability to swing the ball sent shockwaves through the opposition camp when he stepped on the field for his first Test on 22 February against Australia. Since then, he has been a key man in the Indian pace attack. Well, he grabbed the eyeballs when as a 19-year-old, he bowled Sachin Tendulkar for a duck in first-class cricket, following it up with a wicket in the very first over that he bowled on his T20 debut against Pakistan in 2012.
The Meerut-born lad had made an ideal start and was the pick of the bowlers in the tour of England in 2014, picking up 19 wickets in five Tests and also contributing handsomely with the bat. But unfortunately, he was hampered by an ankle injury and could not command the ball the way he used to after he returned to the fray.
Bhuvneshwar had an arduous 2015 when he was criticised to have lost his ability to swing the ball. However, he is still considered as one of the finest cricketers in India, who can turn things around when the occasion arises. He didn't play a part in the Sri Lanka and South Africa series in 2015 due to persistent niggles and indifferent form. Subsequently, though he had a chance to get his career back on track though, when he led Uttar Pradesh in the Ranji Trophy.
"He always works hard in the nets and also in the gym and I feel that’s something that is important for the fast bowlers, to keep themselves fit and also take the break in the best possible manner," said the then India captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni, who was more than happy with the Uttar Pradesh pacer's show against the UAE in the Asia Cup in 2016.
One of the primary strengths of the 27-year-old has been his ability to have variations, but compared to an impressive 2013, when he took 28 wickets at an average of 34 in ODIs, the following year saw his bowling average and wickets count in the format drop to 45.35 and 14 respectively.
“If anybody tells me to bowl at 140 kmph, I would not love to do so because when you bowl at that pace, there are big chances of the ball not swinging enough,” explained Bhuvneshwar during the time he was under scrutiny. To be honest, accepting and learning from mistakes has been another of his strengths.
Also, Bhuvneshwar carries himself in as modest a way as possible. It is rare that Bhuvneshwar will ever get carried away with his celebrations. It is his result-driven approach that sets him apart from the rest of the lot. Now his eyes will be on getting back to where he belongs, without injuries or omissions.
He is a player who shimmers even more when under pressure, losing no time to hit the right line and length. Here's an example: England needed 22 runs off the last over in the second ODI of the series in Cuttack last month to remain in the ODI series against India. Captain Virat Kohli did not hesitate to give Bhuvneshwar the ball. He had a successful IPL season in 2016, where he bowled brilliantly in the 'death' overs, clinching the purple cap for the most wickets. In the second ODI against England, he vindicated the captain's faith in him, conceding just six runs and scripted India's 15-run win.
“IPL helped my bowling at 'death'. At Sunrisers Hyderabad, I had to bowl a lot at the 'death and I was bringing that mindset into international cricket. Tried to do the same thing in Cuttack,” said the pacer.
Bhuvneshwar got rich praise from one of the stalwarts of Indian cricket too.
"I am truly pleased to have watched Kumar's bowling and it's key reason is his controlled swing bowling on this wicket. The pitches in India are generally not conducive for swing bowling. Still, Kumar has been able to move the ball both the ways with a perfect balance. Being able to control the swing of the ball is most important for any medium pacer. Kumar has been able to do that consistently. He is the best swing bowler in India now," Zaheer Khan declared after Bhuvneshwar scalped five New Zealand players cheaply in the second Test at Eden Gardens in 2016.
As far as his place in Kohli's starting eleven is concerned, provided he remains fit, Bhuvneshwar has to grind for one in the current side with Umesh Yadav and Ishant Sharma in contention, especially if India decide to with three spinners and two pacers. Bhuvneshwar would be a certainty in the side if India go with three pacers and two spinners as they did in the one-off Test against Bangladesh.
Bhuvneshwar could well be the team's new-ball and old-ball firearm in the upcoming series, and he has a chance to excel under favourable conditions. He is a threat to the openers with his change of pace and can sense exactly what the opposition have planned. He will target bowling in the right areas, concentrating on the correct line and length.
This is a chance for Bhuvneshwar to rekindle faith, and answer the doubters who had thought he had lost his edge at an early age.