SK Flashback: Bhuvneshwar Kumar swings his way into the Indian team
2012 was spiralling to a close. The vestiges of India’s memorable Test team had been dismembered during the 0-4 whitewash in Australia earlier in the year. They failed to make the Asia Cup ODI final and were not able to enter the semi-finals of the World T20 in Sri Lanka. To make matters worse, MS Dhoni’s side lost a home Test series to England after 28 years.
Pakistan were arriving on their shores for an ice-breaker tour of 2 T20Is and 3 ODIs. Though the morale within the country was understandably low, the prospect of taking on their arch-rivals kept the juices flowing.
Exactly four years ago in Bangalore (as it was called then), the visitors won the toss and opted to bat in the first T20I. India rode on the back of a solid opening partnership between Gautam Gambhir and Ajinkya Rahane to reach 77/0 shortly after the halfway mark.
But, a soft dismissal and a needless run-out dented their progress. The wheels then began to fall off with the Pakistani bowlers tearing the middle-order apart. Eventually, the hosts had to settle for 133 as the collapse saw a cacophony of single-digit scores.
Defending a below par target, India needed some early blows to get back into the contest. Unlike the opposition side who had brought with them a surprise weapon in the 7 ft 1 inch tall Mohammad Irfan and a mystery spinner in Saeed Ajmal, there was not much of an X-factor in their attack barring an unbeknownst 22-year old.
The breathtaking spell and its aftermath
Like he would often do for his state side of Uttar Pradesh, Bhuvneshwar Kumar took the new-ball straightaway. A slew of away-going deliveries kept Nasir Jamshed on his toes. Suddenly, out of nowhere, one swung in sharply to breach the left-hander's defence and cannon onto the woodwork. He had smartly set the batsman up before preying on the noticeable gap between bat and pad.
The Meerut-born seamer’s next over turned out to be even more eventful. He tempted Ahmed Shehzad by getting one to swerve away from him and induced the outside edge. Pakistan were now in huge trouble with both their openers back in the dressing room. In walked the mercurial Umar Akmal.
After unleashing a booming in-swinger which did a bit too much, Bhuvneshwar kept the batsman guessing by adhering to his preferred template. Upon taking the ball away from the batsman repeatedly, the right-armer produced an unplayable delivery. From slightly wider off the crease, he generated outrageous swing with his perfect wrist-position while the ball hit the seam to jag back viciously.
Akmal did not have a clue and played within the line even as his middle stump was knocked out. Halfway through his spell, Bhuvneshwar’s figures read 2-0-3-3. Though his next two overs did not fetch him another wicket, he gave away only six more runs.
Despite his best efforts, Mohammad Hafeez and Shoaib Malik dashed India’s hopes to help Pakistan sneak past the finishing line in the last-over thriller. But, not before, Bhuvneshwar had lit up the arena with his mesmerising spell.
The seamer would later go on to say, “Any Indian cricketer playing against Pakistan would be excited. Like any other debutant, I was a bit nervous but there was no pressure to perform. I played it like a normal match. The seniors came to me and told me play this like a normal match. Obviously, he (Dhoni) must have thought that I am not a surprise package and would have expected me to perform well.” The series eventually ended 1-1 with the home team turning the tables in the second T20I in Ahmedabad.
The years have rolled by with Indian cricket heading in a completely different direction. Bhuvneshwar now has Test match-winning five-wicket hauls in Lord’s, St Lucia and Eden Gardens to his name alongside a Man of the Match performance against the same Pakistan side in India’s victorious 2013 Champions Trophy campaign.
Pertinently, it all started for him in a period which had been marked by turbulence and trepidation for the Indian team. On December 25th of 2012, the slender seamer’s magical spell helped lift the spirits of his countrymen by offering a glimpse into a much better future.
Brief Scores: India – 133/9 from 20 overs (Gambhir 43, Rahane 42, Gul 3/21, Ajmal 2/25); Pakistan – 134/5 from 19.4 overs (Hafeez 61, Malik 57*, Bhuvneshwar 3/9)
Result: Pakistan won by five wickets with two balls remaining