We all know the story. Steve Waugh was in the company of Ricky Ponting and endeavouring to repair the early damage inflicted on Australia’s batting by South Africa during the Super Sixes stage of the 1999 World Cup in Headingley. His side was 48/3, chasing 271 when he arrived at the crease and needed to win the game in order to advance to the semi-finals.
Lance Klusener was bowling to the Australian captain, when on 56 he offered a catch to Herschelle Gibbs stationed at midwicket. It was a rather gentle tap, and Gibbs, one of the best fielders in the game, appeared to grab it easily. But, in trying to launch the ball skyward in celebration, it slipped from his grasp and thudded to the floor. “You’ve just dropped the World Cup,” was Waugh’s take on the Gibbs’ error.
Or so the legend says. According to Waugh in his autobiography, Out of My Comfort Zone, these are the words he actually said to Gibbs: “Hey, Herschelle, do you realise you’ve just cost your team the match?” Not quite as catchy is it?
But, the sentiments were largely the same. Australia ended up winning the game, of course, with Waugh unbeaten on 120 when the end came. They also went on to become 1999 World Cup champions, their second hold on the title.
The first Test of India’s 2018 tour on England begins on 1st August at Egbaston, Birmingham. It is forecast to be a hard-fought series, promising mouth-watering action as two of cricket’s best teams face off for the Pataudi Trophy. Yet, regrettably for India, the man who probably carried their chief fast-bowling hopes will take no part in that game and is doubtful for much of the series.
Bhuvneshwar Kumar, it appears, aggravated the lower-back injury he picked up at the start of the IPL during the third ODI at Leeds. As a result, he was not named in the squad for the first three Tests and will return home to India for treatment and for recuperation.
Bhuvneshwar’s current condition has been the source of some controversy regarding the management of his injury. One senior BCCI official, in a recent interview, expressed surprise at the decision to play the fast bowler though not totally fit: “The moment we are saying he has aggravated his injury, we are conceding that he wasn't fully fit. So, if he is a vital cog in our Test match scheme of things, why was he risked for an ODI?”
If, indeed, he was unnecessarily and unwisely risked in an ODI when he is such a vital member of the Test team then India might live to regret that decision. He is India’s leading option for wickets in England. So, did they just hand England the series by mismanaging his injury?
Or, could India be asked this version of Waugh’s question to Gibbs: “Hey India, do you realise you’ve just cost your team the Test series?”
The last time India played Tests in England — the 2014 tour — Bhuvneshwar was their most successful wicket-taker. The Uttar Pradesh bowler captured 19 wickets in the five games, almost a third of the English wickets to fall. And he is a better this time round, quicker and more experienced.
He is a swing bowler supreme, one of the most skillful in the game. In truth, of all the bowlers of that type going around today only James Anderson is able to match, or exceed, his eclectic mix of in and out swingers. Bhuvneshwar represented India’s largest new-ball threat. His absence means that India will find it that more difficult to make inroads with the new ball.
England’s normally greener surfaces means that the ball doesn’t age as rapidly as it does elsewhere, leading to seam and swing playing a more incisive role. India should dreadfully miss, therefore, one of the game’s premier swing bowlers when the action commences.
This is not to say that the likes of Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav, Jasprit Bumrah, and Hardik Pandya are not capable of compensating for the missing Bhuvneshwar. They are all capable seam and swing bowlers who should thrive in English conditions. It’s just that Bhuvneshwar is in a different class. He had done the business for his country in England before. Chances are he’d do it again.
Yet, uncertainty is a large part of sport. Bhuvneshwar could have been fit, played, and done poorly. A lot was expected of Virat Kohli in 2014 and he utterly disappointed everyone, including himself. History does not divulge its alternatives and so there is no way of knowing if Bhuvneshwar’s absence will be the cause of India’s loss, in the event that they do lose the series. Waugh didn’t know that Australia would go on to win that game against South Africa in 1999. He’s not clairvoyant. But, he knew that Gibbs’ error gave his side a seriously good chance of victory.
Accordingly, it is safe to surmise that Bhuvneshwar, at his best, would have posed a major threat to England’s batting. If his rehabilitation from his back injury was poorly handled then India might have committed a grave and consequential error — an error that could be the difference between winning and losing the series.