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Bhuvneshwar Kumar - the best all format bowler in the world?
He may not possess the most effortless bowling action like the great James Anderson. He may not strike the most fear into opposition batsmen like the potent Mitchell Starc. Furthermore, he may not have the mystery or guile of a spinner like Sunil Narine. However, you cannot deny that at this moment, there may be no more consistent and effective bowler than Bhuvneshwar Kumar. Coming to fame when getting Sachin Tendulkar out in the Ranji Trophy, Kumar was stereotyped as a swing bowler with little pace. After an injury sustained on the Australian tour of 2014, his comeback saw him not able to rediscover his strength and a tough time lie in wait for the boy from Meerut. One wondered whether his career would become a carbon copy of Praveen Kumar, not just because of the surname, but where a spectacular tour of England would be the highlight. Despite those predictions, no one expected Kumar to have the mental resolve he has subsequently shown in the last few years.
At the time where he lost his ability to swing the ball into the right hander, he was in a real dilemma. Something he had worked on his whole career to be his biggest strength had now evaded him. In normal circumstances, one would forgive a player to feel down about the situation and understand if his career went down the drain. Kumar took this as an opportunity to improve, a quality which has so far stayed with him throughout his career. He knew the road back would be long and there would be many doubters who could easily get in the way of his goal. In 2015, he worked on his pace, which meant he had to become stronger physically. Once he had developed the speed, he now had to combine the guile of swing with it and that was an extremely difficult process. By the turn of the year in 2016, he was ready to make his comeback into the national team and the difference in the bowler was clear to see. Another key aspect in his improvement as a bowler has been his stunning rise as a capable lower order batsman. He could always get the odd 20 or 30 runs the team may require when their backs are against the wall. But, the consistency was missing. This all changed in one night against Sri Lanka, where India were in severe trouble and staring in the face of an embarrassing defeat. Along with the inspirational MS Dhoni, he scored his first one day fifty to guide India to an incredible victory. Since then, his form as an all rounder has just gone through the roof.
I have criticised the IPL in the past for its adverse effect on the way Indians perceive test cricket, but one positive has been the way Kumar has developed into a world class bowler. Being given the responsibility of leading the attack for Sunrisers Hyderabad could easily seem like a daunting prospect to most, but he has taken to like a duck to water. That responsibility has seen him having to bowl at the death and required him to develop new skills such as a slower ball and a yorker. Hours and hours of work in the nets have been the recipe to success in the IPL and luckily for India, he has been able to transfer that onto the international stage. He has overtaken both Mohammed Shami and Umesh Yadav in the ODI and T20 formats to become the leader of the bowling group. Even test cricket has seen the fruits of that hard work and even if he hasn’t always been backed by the team management, Kumar has nonetheless tried to improve every facet of his performance. This was evident in the final test match of the recently concluded series against South Africa, where he was awarded the Man of the Match award for his stellar return from being dropped.
The limited overs series begins in a few days and all the talk so far has been about the genius AB De Villiers being ruled out of the first three matches. Pundits and journalists alike feel that this is India’s big chance to build on the momentum gained from the spectacular victory at the Wanderers. Little do they know that India do not need injuries to opposition players to help them, they have an ace in their pack in the form of Bhuvneshwar Kumar.