Bhuvneshwar Kumar: A prospective Bowling all-rounder for overseas tests
Since Kapil Dev has hanged his boots, Indian cricket is on a lookout to find a genuine bowling all-rounder. But no one has seemed to come close to fill that position. Though there have been brief stays and players like Irfan Pathan surfaced for some time but then faded eventually.
Recently, Hardik Pandya's emergence at the International scene has once again revived the hopes for India but it's too early for any revelation. His multi-ability prowess is well proven in limited overs format but he still has a lot to prove in Test cricket. He hasn't delivered much or lived up to the expectations with the ball.
India is a strong batting side but has always struggled in the past to get wickets in the overseas conditions. Though he is a regular member in the limited overs team, he still needs to work a lot to establish himself in the Test cricket. People are eagerly looking towards him to find out if he can be the player who was awaited for long.
At present, Bhuvneshwar Kumar is another player in the picture who has the ability to perform the role of a fast-bowling all-rounder for India in overseas tests. In bowling, out of 37 innings in 21 test matches that he has played for India, he has picked 63 wickets with the average and the economy of 26.05 and 2.94 respectively. In batting, he has scored 552 runs with an average of 22.08.
Bhuvi has been doing this job for some time now but not as a designated all-rounder. His contributions with the ball in Test matches have been significant, both home and away. But we often overlook his contributions with the bat while batting down the order. In almost every important series that he has been a part of, he has shown signs of turning into a full-time all-rounder.
Throwing light on Bhuvi's overseas performances in test
His low batting average could be deceitful but some of his batting contributions in overseas Test matches have come in dreadful time. He has unfortunately missed this year, but on his last tour to England in 2014, when India was down and beaten, Bhuvneshwar Kumar emerged as a savior in several dire situations. He scored 247 runs in 10 innings of 5 test matches and was the 4th highest runs getter from India in that series, only after Murali Vijay, Ajinkya Rahane, and MS Dhoni.
While contributing with the ball, he sprung up as the highest wicket-taker from the Indian side and ended his tally at 19 wickets in the series.
His contributions were instrumental in India's win at Lord's. His scores of 36 and 52 in the respective first and the second innings, and the career's best figures of 6 wickets for 82 runs in the first innings helped India to register the win at Lord's after 28 years.
Earlier, in the Nottingham test, he had managed to score 58 and 63 in the first and the second innings of the match. He also picked 5 wickets for 82 runs in the first innings to help India draw the first test match of the series.
Although he only got to play two tests out of the three on India's tour to South Africa earlier this year(2018), he was impactful with his contributions. He was adjudged 'Man of the Match' for his all-round performance in the last test at Johannesburg. He scored crucial 30 and 33 in first and the second innings and picked 4 wickets in the match.
Earlier in the Capetown test, after scoring crucial runs, he picked 4 important wickets in the first innings and 2 in the second. In total, he scored 101 runs and picked 10 wickets in 4 innings of the series. Despite playing in only 2 test matches, he was 4th highest run-getter after Virat Kohli, Hardik Pandya, and Murali Vijay, who played all the 3 games.
Complementing his superior bowling skills, he showed early signs of his batting abilities. In his debut test in Chennai against Australia in 2013, he stood up to the occasion and made a record-breaking partnership of 140 runs for the 9th wicket with the former Indian captain MS Dhoni.
He also holds the record for the highest score at Test debut by a number 10 batsman. He has delivered a few more all-round performances in the sub-continent conditions and has proven his abilities time and again.
How well has Hardik Pandya fared till date?
Hardik Pandya has a less impressive record with the ball on overseas tours. He has played only 10 Tests and has a relatively small career span than Bhuvi.
On the tour to South Africa earlier this year, he could only pick three wickets in three test matches against South Africa and scored 119 runs in 6 innings, out of which 93 were scored in the first inning of the Capetown test.
Presently, on his tour to England, he has shown colors with the bat but hasn't impacted much with the ball. He was wicketless in the first test in Birmingham. However, his five-wicket haul and run a ball fifty in the second innings of the Nottingham test at Trent Bridge has somewhat reinstated trust in him.
In 17 innings of 10 test matches that he has played for India, he has just picked 16 wickets. Before Nottingham test, he was averaging 39.30 in bowling with the tally of 10 wickets.
He was under a severe scrutiny from past cricketers for not delivering as per the standards. Sighting his insipid bowling performances, fast Bowling legend and West Indian great Michael Holding passed a remark stating that Hardik Pandya is unable to perform as required and is not consistent. He went on and said that he doesn't seem anywhere close to Kapil Dev and India should look out for someone who can contribute a lot more to the team.
Hardik Pandya is a match winner and his prowess in limited overs cricket has made a mark of its own. He is an aggressive batsman and can hit sixes and powerful boundaries with ease and flair. But he misses a punch in bowling skills. At least for now.
He is a regular member in the team for India in limited over's format and the captain Virat Kohli has extended his faith by inducting him in the Test team. He has played every single game since his debut.
Before making his test debut, he had only played 17 first-class games. Hence, he immensely lacks in experience and is basically learning on the go. Therefore, it could be a reason why he hasn't impacted the game yet in the way an all-rounder should. There is no denying that he is trying hard to fit in the Test team and delivering the best he can.
But in either of the two, Bhuvneshwar holds an edge. Bhuvneshwar Kumar shot to fame when he dismissed the great Sachin Tendulkar in a first-class game on duck for the first time. He later flabbergasted everyone with his bowling skills on his ODI debut against Pakistan. His magical swing bowling has troubled batsmen all around the world. He became the strike bowler for India across all formats soon after his arrival at the International cricket in 2012.
Moreover, he has lived up to the occasion with bat whenever the team needed him. His match-saving hundred(120*) in a Duleep Trophy game against the North zone to keep them at bay is considered as one of the finest knocks under pressure in the domestic tournaments. His batting expertise is well known in the domestic circuit and he has shown the signs of the same in the Tests a few times.
Perhaps Bhuvneshwar has no match for Hardik's flair in batting but he sits way above in bowling. This uncanny bowler from Meerut can make the bowl talk on any given day. Unlike Pandya, he weaves his innings through singles and occasional boundaries. He pushes the ball with the straight bat and picks gaps to construct his innings. He may not be a brisk scorer but definitely keeps the scoreboard ticking. He fits the requirement of a Test match all-rounder better than his counterpart.
Hardik Pandya is a new talent and is definitely a player in making. More exposure to domestic cricket will probably shape him into an all-rounder that India has been looking for. But sighting the present need, Bhuvneshwar Kumar can bring the balance to the side. On the upcoming tour to Australia later this year, his selection as an all-rounder in the team can provide the leverage to the team to go with an extra batsman in tests. It will deepen both bowling and the batting and will definitely enhance the chances of winning Tests abroad.