11 June, 2017 - London
India vs South Africa Champions Trophy 2017 (a virtual knockout for both teams)
India won the toss and put South Africa in to bat on a perfectly good surface despite knowing that the Proteas love to bat first in high pressure games. In Quinton de Kock and Hashim Amla, they had two of the most successful openers in the 50-over format in recent times — two batsmen accustomed to finding boundaries at ease and relieving the pressure on each other with surgical shots that pierce the small gaps in the field.
Bhuvneshwar Kumar opened the bowling for India and continued from one end for five successive overs, giving away just one boundary and a total of merely 18 runs. It was no game-changing spell at first sight. There was nothing spectacular or outrageous about the spell to write home about, but in a knockout game, South Africa would have loved a blazing start. Bhuvneshwar had denied them that with his impeccable lines, especially to de Kock, who was barely given any room to free his arms. He didn't have any wicket in the opening spell to show for his efforts, but it turned out to be a crucial factor in compounding South Africa's knockout woes.
25 October, 2017 - Pune
India vs New Zealand (a loss would mean India lose the series)
New Zealand won the toss and opted to bat first on what was touted to be a pretty good batting wicket. Their game plan was simple and crystal clear for everyone to see. The Black Caps had altered their batting line-up to unleash Colin Munro on Jasprit Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar early on and to push Tom Latham down in order to tackle the spinners. The tactic had reaped rich rewards in Mumbai and there was no reason for it to fail this time around.
But Bhuvneshwar had other ideas.
His first three balls to Munro were all different and put the aggressive opener in two minds. A short-of-length first ball that swung in was followed by a fullish delivery on off-stump and a short delivery on the body. In the next over, Munro took him to the cleaners with a stepped-out shot over the bowler's head for six. But two balls later, the Meerut seamer who shot to fame by dismissing Sachin Tendulkar for his first and only duck in First Class cricket, bowled a classic outswinger to eke out an outside edge off Martin Guptill’s bat. The catch was pouched and India had an early breakthrough.
The seamer had a clear plan against the Kiwi skipper, Kane Williamson, as well. Bhuvneshwar kept bowling at the stumps, cutting out any room that the Black Caps No 3 would have loved early on in his innings. A maiden from Bumrah followed by four more dots from Bhuvneshwar put Williamson in strife and sent him back in the very next over. Yet, the Munro threat loomed large, especially considering the fact that he had the cushion of Ross Taylor and Latham following him.
However, the unperturbed swing bowler was never in doubt as to what to do. He delivered a hat-trick of short balls from around the wicket to Munro and the batsman failed to connect and find gaps. With his fourth, he came back over the stumps and unleashed the Zaheer Khan-special knuckle ball that found the batsman's inside edge and ricocheted off his back pad onto the stumps.
That is the sort of impact Bhuvneshwar has had early in the innings in limited-overs cricket. He bowls the right lines, barely gives anything away, frustrates the batsmen and brings about a dismissal. Classic, old school fast-bowling, but very effective.
Even when the Ravi Shastri-Virat Kohli combo put more than required emphasis on the pace gun, Bhuvneshwar stood untouched in spite of their preferences. Not since Zaheer had India been lucky enough to have a consistent fast bowler, capable of bowling anytime in the innings. More than anything, Bhuvneshwar's new ball spells were indispensable for India.
Since the 2015 World Cup, no fast bowler, save Mohammad Amir, has bowled with a better economy rate in the first 10 overs in ODIs. Combine this with the fact that he is an exceptional death bowler and you have a near complete package.
Since the 2015 WC in overs 1-10:
- Bhuvi's economy 4.23, bettered only by Amir's 4.18
- Guptill - more sixes than anyone else (34)#INDvNZ
— The Cricket Prof. (@CricProf) October 25, 2017
While the Meerut seamer is all about containing and frustrating batsmen, there is no dearth of wicket-taking deliveries up his sleeve. Apart from the ability to swing the ball either way, Bhuvneshwar can nail the slower ball, the yorker and the knuckle ball. With a slew of such praiseworthy skills, the quick bowler has made himself a vital lynchpin in India's limited-overs squad under Kohli.
25 October, 2017 - Pune India vs New Zealand
New Zealand resuscitated their innings through Henry Nicholls and Colin de Grandhomme after Taylor and Latham failed to repeat their antics in Mumbai. The left-handed Nicholls was timing the spinners quite well while de Grandhomme, true to his image, kept playing the big hits. This was a redemption stand — one thatwas gaining momentum rapidly and threatening to replicate what Latham and Taylor did at Mumbai with immense success.
As such, it was no surprise when Kohli turned to his trusted bowler to break the association. The swing bowler took just five balls to break the budding partnership. Coming around the wicket to the southpaw, Nicholls, Bhuvneshwar bowled that teasing length outside off and forced the ball back in, going past the bat and rattling the stumps. It wasn't just Nicholls' death knell. New Zealand were falling with him, losing their grip on the game yet again to a Bhuvneshwar beauty. The lanky seamer returned in the death overs, to mix up his slower balls and yorkers, tormenting the Kiwi tailenders.
Bhuvneshwar wasn't running in and bowling what his arm desired. He was bowling what he had planned, plotted and replayed in his mind a hundred times. Little had gone wrong in the past few months for the pace bowler because he knew what he wanted to bowl and how to deliver it with minimal fault. He wasn't zeroing in on becoming a new ball bowler like Mitchell Starc, a death bowler like his partner Jasprit Bumrah or a middle-over specialist like Hasan Ali. He was greedy, and wanted it all. He changed his plans, altered his angle, manipulated the field and conjured the dismissal of the batsman. There was clarity in thinking, bowling and execution.
The year 2017 has been wonderful to Bhuvneshwar. The purple cap hardly ever left the Sunrisers Hyderabad bowler all through the IPL season, as he finished with 26 wickets in 14 games with a best of 5/19. In ODIs, he picked up 24 wickets in 20 games at a remarkable economy of 4.82, second only to Kagiso Rabada amongst fast bowlers. Even when he struggled to pick up wickets, the control never left him and he kept piling on the pressure from one end. During the Sri Lankan ODI series, he went three matches without a single wicket before grabbing a five-for in the final game to cap off a fine series for India.
When he hasn't contributed much with the ball, he has stepped up with the bat. At Mumbai in the first ODI against New Zealand, Bhuvneshwar walked in at No 8 with India in a spot of bother at 238/6. In his 32-run association in 20 minutes with Kohli, Bhuvneshwar smashed 26 runs in 15 balls, including two fours and as many sixes. The final total wouldn't prove to be enough against a rampant Latham and an exuberant Taylor, but he had given a late surge to an innings lacking in direction.
Dare say @BhuviOfficial will find a bat sponsor after that display
— Mitchell McClenaghan (@Mitch_Savage) October 22, 2017
"That's my nature [being calm and confident], and whatever you practice you try to replicate that. I never try to do anything different. It's the way I bowl, with the new ball, I swing it. It wasn't happening today, so I just tried to bowl in good areas, got two wickets and that gave me confidence. Things get easier for you when you're confident. There's no easy route to success, but with confidence, you can do those good things better. I'm not muscular, but thanks to the trainer, introducing player-specific training, I feel much confident and stronger when it comes to fitness compared to two years back," Bhuvneshwar had revealed at the post-match presentation ceremony in Pune while collecting his Man of the Match award.
He may not India’s quickest or best bowler, most fit player or most useful all-rounder, but when it matters, more often than not, the Meerut boy has stepped up and delivered and that's all Kohli will seek from his go-to-man in limited-overs cricket.