What’s up with Bhuvneshwar Kumar? What is the status of the injury that put him out of the England Test series? How did he suddenly turn up in Alur, on the outskirts of Bangalore, for an India A one-day match? Once there, how did he go?
He’s 28 now, and six years old in international cricket.
Once upon a time, when just 18, he dismissed Sachin Tendulkar for a duck. It was a Ranji Trophy game in January 2009. Kumar sent the ball fizzing through the morning air in Hyderabad. Full. And then cut in to hit bat, pad and into the silly mid-on’s hands. It was Tendulkar’s first duck in domestic cricket.
He was bound to be watched after that, he was bound to be tracked. He’s still being watched, being tracked. Even after 21 Tests, 87 ODIs and 29 T20Is. And after 182 international wickets.
Midway through this year’s IPL, the stress on his lower back became public knowledge. And since then it has been a muddle game of how much he can play and how much he should rest. He missed a few fixtures, and made a few appearances as well. The injury aggravated during the third match of the ODI leg of the tour of England, and he was ruled out of the first three Tests.
It was a big blow for India, their best swing bowler was not going to play in the best swing-bowling conditions in the world. Even on the previous tour of 2014, Kumar was India’s leading wicket-taker as they lost 3-1. But while he had picked those 19 wickets on the back of his primary skill – swing – he’s a far more lethal bowler now, faster, cannier.
In the last few seasons, he’s added to his armoury more cutters, a sharp bouncer, a mean yorker, reverse swing and, more importantly, 10kph or so of pace. He is at the peak of his powers, that’s for sure.
But even as India pulled one back after the defeats at Headingley and Lord’s, he was more than 8000 kilometres away, recovering at the National Cricket Academy. He trained with the India A side, and to check his fitness levels, he was drafted in for the inconsequential clash – a match for the third place against South Africa A in the quadrangular series.
The Indians batted first, and scored 275-7. He didn’t have to swing it there.
Change of ends, and Kumar bowled his first six overs on a trot, which included one maiden and two wickets – Theunis de Bruyn and Khaya Zondo. Not bad.
Kumar bowled with good pace, got the ball to move and looked in no evident discomfort. By the 32nd over of the innings – South Africa lasted 37.1, all out for 151 – he was done with nine.
That’s not how star bowlers operate. That’s not how he is usually used. It’s hard to believe that the plan vis-à-vis Kumar was independent of the team’s plan for the match. It didn’t matter, perhaps. He ended with 3-33. Maybe that was the more important thing, along with the fact that he bowled nine overs without pulling up.
In his second spell, his in-swinger hit Sisanda Magala in front. The team was convinced, and so was Kumar. But the umpire was yet to raise his finger. The second appeal came out of desperation, almost. He wanted the wicket irrespective of how irrelevant it was in terms of the bigger picture. The umpire seemed more convinced and gave the batsman out.
He walked away to deep square-leg, far away from the action. Lost in his thoughts. But for the 100-odd gathered at the ground, it was a rush to be closer to the star attraction. They cheered, they said something or the other, they hooted. No reaction.
Someone from the crowd yelled, “Bhuvi bhai, will you join RCB?” – that’s the local IPL team, a team that might have Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers, but have never won the tournament. And never had a strong enough fast-bowling unit. Kumar can help.
‘Bhuvi bhai’ didn’t bother to reply.
Will he get a call-up for the final Test? It can’t be ruled out, but might depend largely on how the fourth Test, in Southampton, goes. If it’s 2-2, especially on the back of the show at Trent Bridge, India might not worry too much, and allow him more time to recover. If not, who knows. On the evidence, he’s ready. Just deep in thought.