Indian fast bowlers like Indian tigers have got to be counted as a threateningly endangered species. The eyes go far and wide, but India do not seem to have players who would make you take notice with their bowling abilities. The last lines lament a lack of outrageous talent. We don’t have the Rohit Sharmas, the Kohlis and the Rahanes in fast bowling. However, India does possess the kind who don’t mind toiling hard even when most factors seem unfavourable.
Bhuvneshwar Kumar, the latest Test debutant and Indian fast bowler, is one such player. Ever since he set his foot onto the international arena, he has only gone from strength to strength. India has never been known for its fast bowlers. Beyond Kapil Dev, Javagal Srinath and Zaheer Khan, not many would have elicited a discussion in the opposition strategy rooms.
After Ganguly became captain however, things did change for the better in Indian cricket. He had this effectual way of backing people; of making them feel better about themselves. The ultimate effect was a bunch of not so deadly fast bowlers who had become more than the sum of their individual parts. It was also the age in which analysis gained prominence and teams started having a separate analyst to scout for the opposition’s weaknesses. So plans were well laid out and bowlers bowled to their strengths. Team India under Ganguly fared splendidly on foreign soils.
Zaheer ably filled up the spearhead’s role for some years, and his omission by selectors called for the forging of a new combination. In scouting for replacements, Dhoni and selectors stopped at Bhuvi.
Kumar had been around in the IPL too but never grabbed too many eyeballs. He made his debut against Pakistan, where the Indian batsmen and Pakistani bowlers generated maximum excitement. This thin, typically Indian looking lad though had everyone off their seats when he amazingly accounted for 3 Pakistani batsmen, all out to prodigiously swinging balls. One thing was clear at the very outset – the boy from Uttar Pradesh had the ability to swing the ball to his tunes (much like Irfan Pathan in his early days).
Many compared him with his state-mate, Praveen Kumar. The release action of both bowlers looks similar and both can make the ball dart around as per their wish. There is one glaring difference though. Praveen was an extremely volatile character (BCCI suspended him for a month recently for misconduct) and sometimes allowed immature natural instincts to overflow from bowling to his behavior too. Bhuvneshwar is quite the opposite. Even the clatter of disturbed stumps – heavenly music to every fast bowler’s ears – draws extremely understated celebration from Bhuvi (6 of his 16 international victims have been out bowled).
Being a fast bowler in India is tough. Nathan Lyon would tell you better. An Australian spinner after all faces equally tough ordeals as an Indian pace bowler. The pitches all over the country make you feel utmost unwanted, and then there are confidence shattering, outrageously talented batsmen all over the country. If you do manage to absorb all this, make it to the international arena and still trouble batsmen, you can look forward to the future. Bhuvneshwar certainly deserves credit.
India tour South Africa later this year, and Kumar should find those conditions allies. Swing and accurate line with length happen to be his forte; lack of pace – the lacuna. However, even as a medium pace swing bowler, Bhuvi can look to gain prominence. He doesn’t even have to struggle much for inspiration as the next foreign land India tour offers it in ample amount. Shaun Pollock himself was never exclusively a pace bowler. And yet with Allan Donald, he forged a devastating combo that agonized the best in the business. Pollock’s main weapon was line. With his masterly control, he would always ask questions around the off stump, and players the world over didn’t have too many answers.
Bhuvneshwar too relies on line primarily. His stock ball is the one which darts back in from off and middle stump for a right hander. But, as Ed Cowan discovered painstakingly in the last Test in Hyderabad, Kumar can use the ball that moves the other way to good effect too. His first Test wicket – David Warner – came off an astounding ball that moved sharply back into the left-hander, touching the inside edge and disturbing the timber. Kumar also seems quite adept at maintaining a simple and consistent line without trying too many variations. That might sound easy, but when so many things meander in a player’s head, it becomes tough to resist the urge to wander away from a single line.
Swing and line might be Bhuvi’s buddies, but he also possesses that elusive quality not often found in Indian bowlers – the ability to wield the bat. He even has a first class century to his name. Add to this agile and sharp fielding skills and he surely is someone with a lot of promise.
Indian fast bowlers might never become the demons that we get to see in some other countries. With some work and with his captain’s backing (which he has had in plenty till now), Bhuvi might well go on to become a bowler who, in his own way, could dictate terms to the opposition. Nuwan Kulasekara is one similar bowler in modern times who has had an efficacious stint without being too big on pace.
At the moment, Bhuvneshwar looks a brilliant prospect who should be ably groomed by his team management for tough battles ahead. The best thing about Bhuvi is his awareness and a happy acceptance of strengths as well as limitations. His progress ahead might well see India be assured about an area which has always been a weak spot.
Published with permission from The Rational Pie.