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SK Flashback: When Bhuvneshwar Kumar made his Test debut

The young swing sensation made his Test debut in a match that has since become part of folklore.

Bhuvi made his Test debut after dashing performances in the shorter formats

February 22nd, 2013. In the searing heat of Chennai, one of Test cricket’s great rivalries began a new chapter. Since the turn of the millennium, India and Australia had served up some of the greatest Test encounters ever. There were stories of underdogs rising from the dead, and of heroes asserting their dominance.

In 2013, however, things had changed for both sides. A Test series in Australia had proven to be Rahul Dravid’s swansong, and this particular encounter was expectedly going to be Tendulkar’s last outing in whites against the Aussies. For more than a decade, the only team in international cricket that had stood up to the mighty Australians was at its most vulnerable state – being reborn. 

Since the Australians had conquered their final frontier in 2004, they too had gone through a phase of rebirth. The old guard had retired, and a new generation was eager to write its history in the annals of Test cricket. The excitement was palpable.

Amidst all of the intensity of a Border-Gavaskar Test series, a lanky young lad from Uttar Pradesh was about to make his Test debut. The expectations were high. The debutant, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, had taken a wicket with his first delivery in ODIs, and in his first over in T20Is.

Uttar Pradesh had already produced a few swing sensations in RP Singh and Praveen Kumar. Both had failed to live up to expectations. Thus, it was only expected that the expectations on Bhuvi’s shoulders were higher than those of his predecessors. 

England v India: 1st Investec Test - Day Two : News Photo
Coming from a long line of swing bowlers from Uttar Pradesh, expectations were high on Bhuvneshwar

Uneventful spell with the ball

Bhuvneshwar had a bowling action smooth as butter, and although he was not express pace, he could move the ball both ways which is a dangerous proposition for batsmen. Unfortunately for young Bhuvi, there was to be no swashbuckling introduction to Test cricket, unlike the impact he made on his debut in the shorter formats.

The toss was won by Australia, who predictably chose to bat first. Bhuvneshwar opened the bowling for the hosts, but his first spell only lasted four overs. He swung the ball, but could make no impact. Dhoni had also gone in with three spinners – Ashwin, Jadeja and Harbhajan, stating clearly that the pitch was going to take turn from the first day. 

Clearly, there wasn’t much for the debutant to do with the ball. India bowled out Australia for 380 by lunch on the second day, with the morning session being extended. In reply, India found themselves in early trouble at 12/2, having lost both openers within the first six overs. It was only due to the brilliance of Tendulkar and Kohli, that India recovered to 182/3 by the end of the second day.

Extra Cover: SK Flashback: When India beat South Africa for the first time in a World Cup match (2015)

Fine batting display

Day three brought more challenges for the Men in Blue with wickets falling at regular intervals, and despite centuries from Kohli and Dhoni, India had only still matched Australia’s first innings total. With Dhoni unbeaten on 121 and India holding a slender 26-run lead, the debutant walked out to bat. 

A lot still depended on how big a lead India could muster. Bhuvi stoically defended the bolts send down by Starc and Pattinson, and carefully negated the delightful spin of Nathan Lyon. From being stranded on 121 with no dependable batsmen left, Dhoni marched on to his highest Test score and soon, to his maiden double century in Tests, all in the company of a 23-year-old Test debutant.

Game-changing partnership

While Bhuvi held the fort at one end, Dhoni let fly from the other. The captain showed scant regard for the Aussie quicks who had got so much purchase from a dead wicket and then, brutalised Lyon’s spin on a turning wicket. Mahi batted in a manner few ever had before him, and by the time he was done, spectators were left wondering if they had just witnessed the best Test innings by an Indian. 

The debutant provided able support as Dhoni scripted a magnificent 224.

The contribution of the debutant must not be forgotten given Dhoni’s magnificent innings. Had Bhuvneshwar Kumar fallen cheaply, Dhoni might have well been stranded with India having only a slender lead. The young medium pacer had also had a forgettable outing with the ball, having bowled 13 overs for 52 runs and no wicket.

Being the least bowled and the most expensive bowler for India, it spoke volumes of his temperament that he stood up to a strong Australian bowling attack.

Even after Dhoni was dismissed, Bhuvi took the lead in shepherding Ishant during a last wicket 26-run partnership, helping India get to 572. Admittedly, Captain Cool had provided the pyrotechnics towards the end of the innings, but having walked in at 406/8 and being the last man out at 572, Bhuvneshwar won a lot of hearts and got India a hard-earned 192 run lead.

This proved monumental in India winning the match as they had to chase a target of only 50 runs in the fourth innings.

Despite having a forgettable debut with the ball, the 23-year-old proved his temperament at the highest level with a fighting rearguard innings with the bat. Four years on, with another Australia tour of India slated to begin, Bhuvneshwar is still not a regular fixture in the Test side.

Yet, with a bowling average of 29.69 and an economy of 2.94, he has definitely exorcised the demons of his first experience of bowling in Tests.

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