India vs South Africa: Bhuvneshwar Kumar produces hair-raising opening spell at Newlands to stamp tourists’ intent in crucial tour

Bhuvneshwar Kumar had the numbers in overseas conditions to go tom-tomming about, but nothing, nothing at all, could've prepared anyone for the exhibition of seam and swing bowling that he would showcase on Day 1 of the first Test.

Rohit Sankar, January 06, 2018

Two wins. Eight losses. Seven draws.

This is India's record in the Rainbow Nation in Test cricket. It would be safe to say that the sub-continental giants have been dwarfed by South Africa's tall fast bowlers over the years despite the visitors boasting of some spectacular batting talents.

This tour is supposed to be different. It is meant to establish that the No 1 Test side aren't a one trick pony that works in the sub-continent alone. To do that, the Indians had to make a statement, and early on in the Test series, to make people sit up and take notice.

Faf du Plessis threw them a lifeline when he opted to bat first on a green-tinged surface, going by recent history at Newlands, Cape Town, where the pitch quickens up on the second and third days.

Bhuvneshwar Kumar collected a wicket off each of his first three overs on Day 1 of the first Test. Reuters

Bhuvneshwar Kumar collected a wicket off each of his first three overs on Day 1 of the first Test. Reuters

"Looking at the amount of the grass on the wicket and the surface being not that hard, looking at our bowlers' strength, I think we would have bowled first giving ourselves a good crack with the new ball which is because they are playing one batter less. So, we wanted to exploit their batting order, unsettle them in the first 15-20 overs with the new ball", Virat Kohli swaggered at the toss, unperturbed by his opposite number's decision to bat first.

Little did du Plessis know then that this Kohli-led Indian outfit had the firepower and ammunition with the new ball to unsettle a world class top-order.

As the Newlands bubbled with excitement to welcome the best Test series in a long, long time, one man stood near his marked run-up, not smiling, eyebrows sharp and wearing a cold look — Bhuvneshwar Kumar.

The lanky seamer from Meerut was perhaps the least discussed of India's bowlers prior to the series. Pre-match talk revolved around Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma, Jasprit Bumrah and Umesh Yadav, and which of them would make the final XI. Bhuvneshwar was a certain pick. He had to be. He had the numbers in overseas conditions to go tom-tomming about, but nothing, nothing at all, could have prepared anyone for the exhibition of seam and swing bowling that he would showcase in the next thirty minutes.

Bhuvneshwar's first delivery was angling down the leg-side so much that it could have been called a wide. He followed it up with another ball down the same path, not bothering Dean Elgar, South Africa's highest Test run-scorer of 2017. The first two deliveries had no real intent, and swung further away from Elgar to Wriddhiman Saha behind the stumps.

In his third attempt, the 27-year-old seamer landed the ball in line with off-stump and took it away from the left-hander. Elgar would have watched countless videos of Bhuvneshwar swinging and seaming into and away from the batsmen, but nothing could have prepared him for this. The ball seamed away after pitching, drawing Elgar into a push and squaring him up completely as the edge carried comfortably to Saha.

South Africa were 0/1 in three balls on Day 1 of their New Year's Test at Newlands and India had stamped home their point. Not since the 39-year-old Jimmy Cook was sent back by an exuberant Kapil Dev off the first ball of the series in 1992 when South Africa first welcomed India to their backyard, had the visitors taken a wicket earlier at the start of an overseas series.

Hashim Amla was greeted with two exceptional deliveries that angled into him and seamed away at the last minute. The man with 8,580 Test runs at an average touching 50 appeared completely befuddled by Bhuvneshwar's seam movement and swing.

"As a player I feel I have grown in the past couple of years. I have improved my pace without losing on the swing. That is something I am really happy about," Bhuvneshwar had said a couple of months back.

There is something about Bhuvneshwar that makes the batsman feel that he wouldn't trouble him much. Perhaps it is his lanky frame, or his suave action, or the thought that he cannot set the pace gun on fire. But with impeccable seam position and equally good wrist position, Bhuvneshwar makes the ball talk. Adding on some extra pace has made him an asset worth raving about. In modern-day cricket, there are few better exponents of swing than James Anderson and Bhuvneshwar Kumar. And all of it was on display at Newlands on Day 1.

When he teased Aiden Markram with four balls swinging away from him, everyone, including Markram, knew that the trap was set. One of the next two balls would swing into Markram. The fifth delivery was bowled too full, allowing the young opener to drive to the boundary, albeit a touch doubtfully.

The last ball had to come into the right-hander. It did and Markram appeared completely clueless as his bat swung in one direction while he tried to sway his pad out of the way without success. The ball rapped him right in front. One look on Amla's face and Markram knew that he wouldn't be saved by a review. Bhuvneshwar had struck again.

The Mighty Hash was next, going with hard hands as the ball seamed away from him at the last moment. The resultant edge carried safely to Saha behind the stumps. Amla has had a pathetic record against the Indians in South Africa, but that had nothing to do with this ball. Make no mistake, this was fast bowling of the highest quality.



He had taken a wicket in each of his first three overs, only the third bowler to do so in the first three overs of an overseas series. A day after he was retained by Sunrisers Hyderabad in the Indian Premier League (IPL) retentions, the top wicket-taker in the last IPL season mutilated and crippled South Africa's top order with an exhilarating spell in a completely different format.

The flamboyant AB de Villiers might have taken Bhuvneshwar to the cleaners in one over with some outstanding counter-attacking cricket but this lad isn't one to back out of a tussle. He returned to send back a rampaging Quinton de Kock and nearly had his fifth when Keshav Maharaj edged to the cordon, only for Shikhar Dhawan to drop a sitter.

"I just wanted to bowl in good areas. I knew it doesn't swing too much in South Africa so I bowled in the right areas and tried to get them caught behind. Every batsman is vulnerable outside off," Bhuvneshwar stressed in the post-day talk.

It is amazing how such a simple thought process has worked wonders for a medium-pacer. He has magic in his wrists and unleashed it with fury on the hosts, stamping down India's intent on this tour and adding on to the excitement and hype around this Test series. It was a new-ball spell to behold and admire from Bhuvneshwar.

Updated Date: Jan 06, 2018

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