It is a bit of an irony that it was a bowler, and Bhuvneshwar Kumar at that, who was unable to lend his shoulder to the Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH) wheel in the Indian Premier League (IPL) Eliminator against Delhi Capitals (DC) in Visakhapatnam on Wednesday. Of course, he had two wickets to show in his final over in which he conceded a mere seven runs, but he had already conceded 35.
It was not the bowling that characterises him. It surely was not the bowling in keeping with his reputation as a dangerous bowler at either end of an innings. A Bhuvneshwar Kumar, functioning close to his known capacity, would not have allowed a young batsman like Prithvi Shaw to cane his bowling quite ruthlessly.
With the senior seamers conceding 27 runs in his first two overs in the Powerplay, Sunrisers Hyderabad found it hard to keep the Delhi Capitals batsmen from taking their team over the line, notwithstanding his own team staging a fightback and taking the game into the final over. Yet, if there was one bowler who came up short on Wednesday, it was him.
To be fair, not one of the Sunrisers Hyderabad batsmen who got starts kicked on to play a decisive innings. Wriddhiman Saha was the only recognised batsman who fell early. Martin Guptill, Manish Pandey, Kane Williamson, and Vijay Shankar each went past the 25-run mark and Mohammad Nabi got 20. But with 36 off 19 deliveries, Guptill was the team’s highest scorer.
Despite that Sunrisers Hyderabad had the bowling to stop Delhi Capitals short of the 163-run target. All it needed was for them to bowl to potential and keep the stroke-players from Delhi in check. But that was not to be as Shikhar Dhawan picked up two boundaries in Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s first over before Prithvi Shaw took over the task of decimating the attack.
For the second successive season, one of Sunrisers Hyderabad’s biggest weapons did not fire to capacity. Having claimed nine wickets in 2018 when he played many games with a back injury, Bhuvneshwar Kumar finished with 13 wickets this time, going as many as seven matches without a wicket. Delve deeper and you will find that he had just four scalps with the new ball this season.
And, he was not as lethal in the final overs as is his wont. Sunrisers Hyderabad made it as far as the Eliminator this season, but it is hard to imagine India making much progress in the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 in England and Wales if he does not find the right line and length early on in the tournament. More so with the selectors having picked just three specialist seam and swing bowlers.
Bhuvneshwar Kumar will have some work to do with Indian bowling coach B Arun if he is not to spend another World Cup largely on the sidelines. Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav and Mohit Sharma stole a march on him in 2015 when he got to play but one game against the UAE. He has come a long way since and, hopefully, the low returns in IPL will not impact his showing for India.
It was not as if Bhuvneshwar Kumar was not trying. He was probably trying too hard, the burden of captaincy in Kane Williamson’s absence perhaps serving as a distraction in the early games. There were seven games in which he conceded less than 30 runs in his quota of overs but there were disturbing signs too.
He did not bowl his full quota of four overs in the match against Royal Challengers Bangalore, but that could be because the visiting side was bowled out for 113 in 19.3 overs and did not need him to finish it. However, in nearly half the games that he played this season, he was more expensive than usual. He improved after conceding 72 runs in four overs in the death in the first two games.
Did the batsmen come better prepared to face him? Are his skills not at the level he would wish them to be? Or, is it that he not as fit as he could be? To be honest, the answer is not just one thing but a combination of these factors — and perhaps some more. It is possible that the batsmen have been able to spot his slower one better this season than before.
It will be a matter of concern that Bhuvneshwar Kumar was not as effective this season. Of course, a number of catches were dropped off his bowling but the nagging yorkers that he could bowl almost at will in the death were missing. “I am not worried as I am not missing the yorkers by a big margin,” he said early in the season.
The good thing is that Bhuvneshwar has stayed fearless and has not let the rising average, economy rate, and strike rate worry him much. He continued with enthusiasm and hope in every step, couching any diminishing confidence in his own abilities. It showcased his intense desire to battle the demons in his mind.
Yes, he is a thinking bowler and it can be expected that he will reinvent his bowling, perhaps adding something new to make him lethal all over again. The challenge will be to refrain from over-thinking in the wake of the low IPL returns that were a far cry from the time he claimed 23 wickets in 2016 and 26 in 2017. He must find ways to enjoy bowling and have fun all over again.