Bhuvneshwar Kumar is picking up a rare knack these days. Something that has no real cricketing explanation behind it. He tends to pick up a five-wicket haul every time he comes back into the Indian team after sitting out for one or more matches in a series.
It happened in West Indies in August 2016, when he made it to the team in the third Test of the series and picked five West Indian wickets to celebrate the occasion. In September 2016 after coming back home, Kumar spent the first match of the series carrying drinks. In the 2nd Test in Kolkata, he came back and again picked five wickets in a match winning performance for his team. On Sunday, after going wicketless against Sri Lanka for first three games of the series and then spending the fourth match on the bench, Kumar came back to pick another five-wicket haul.
Before Sunday, Kumar hadn’t made much of an impact on the series with the ball. Although, just like most bowlers who take their batting seriously, his first ODI fifty in the third match of the series would have given him more satisfaction than a five-for. He had bowled a few tidy spells especially in the death overs but his problems started at the top. A few aggressive starts from the unorthodox Niroshan Dickwella blunted his impact at the top of the innings, an area where he has generally thrived throughout his career.
This time Kumar seemed to have come with a plan for Dickwella. The India pacer bowled a kunckle ball to the Sri Lankan opener in his second over of the match and had him mistime a shot straight back for an easy return catch. On subcontinent pitches, where there is no swing or seam movement on offer, you must be prepared to experiment early on.
Bowling cutters and slower balls with a shiny new ball isn’t easy and comes with a lot of practice. Perhaps it’s something Kumar spent some extra in the nets on during his time off the field. It’s this diligence that has always set Kumar apart from his peers in his career. Any layoff gives him time to think about his game and practice specific skills to come back a slightly improved bowler.
The knuckle ball fetched Kumar another wicket in fourth over when Dilshan Munaweera mistimed the ball while attempting to lift one over Kohli’s head at mid off. Kohli completed a smart catch as he backpedalled and managed to keep his eyes on the ball throughout its flight.
Sri Lanka managed to rebuild the innings with some quick runs off Upul Tharanga’s flashing blade and patient consolidation by Lahiru Thirimanne and Angelo Mathews. But throughout this series, Sri Lanka have struggled to deliver the knockout punch both with the bat and ball after and the same tale was about to be repeated in the final act of the tragedy for the home team.
Kumar came back in the 39th over with Sri Lanka looking to get some quick runs and was straightaway looking to dig it in short and exploit the two paced nature of the pitch. Kumar may not be the fastest in the world but a well-directed bouncer always appears to come a tad faster to the batsman.
This is an area where Kumar has come up by leaps and bounds in his career. There was a time when his captains used to get ten straight overs out of him with the new ball knowing that he may not have much to contribute with an old ball in hand.
Now, with an extra yard of pace, a deep understanding of his own game, and a rare ability to read the batsman and the match situation, Kumar is one of the best in the world when it comes to bowling at the death. Of course, all those hard yards done at the IPL have helped too.
The fifth ball of Kumar’s comeback over was a beauty that came in with the angle from around the wicket to left handed Thirimanne and dipped in further to take the inside edge and knock his stumps. A well-set batsman was dismissed at a crucial juncture of the game and Sri Lanka’s hopes of setting a challenging target for the first time in the series took a dent.
Fast bowlers these days talk about the importance of not getting predictable in the death overs given that the batsmen have become really creative. Kumar’s stock delivery is the full and straight yorker but he throws in a generous serving of wide yorkers, slow bouncers, and length balls too. Occasionally when he misses his radar, he serves a high full toss, like he did to Siriwardana in the 48th over, but as it often happens, a sucker punch often does more damage.
In the final over of the innings, Kumar prized out the fifth wicket by committing the sin of bowling a regulation length ball in the slog overs. Malinga’s eyes lit up when he saw it, and despite giving it a full thump, he couldn’t clear the fielder on the boundary where KL Rahul completed a comfortable catch and it was another match winning performance from India’s unassuming baby-faced assassin. Warning bells are ringing loud and clear across the cricket world. Beware of a well-rested Bhuvi.
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Kohli will leave the tour after the first of four Tests, due to start in Adelaide on 17 December, for the birth of his first child.
The Twenty20 tournament opens Thursday without spectators, but under the close scrutiny of the ICC anti-corruption officials, the national board and the sports ministry.
Right, that will be it. Huge appeal for LBW by Bumrah, he bowled it full and straight. Zampa departs. That also means that India have won by 13 runs. They will take some positives from this game into the T20I series and have avoided a clean sweep in the ODI series, the scoreline reading 2-1.