Shashwat Kumar was in Mumbai to witness a terrific death-bowling display from Bhuvneshwar Kumar – a display that showed that the seamer is indispensable to India’s T20I setup.
A few years ago, this particular point would not have warranted a discussion. Even in recent times, he has struggled to remain fit for large durations of time and be as penetrative as he once was. Even at the 2021 T20 World Cup, Bhuvneshwar played only a solitary game (returning wicketless against Pakistan) before being replaced by Mohammed Shami.
He entered IPL 2022 with plenty to prove.
This season, Bhuvneshwar hasn’t produced particularly eye-catching numbers. 12 wickets in 13 matches is hardly the sort of form that makes people sit up and take notice. What must not be overlooked, though, is the impact that he has had at various junctures and why someone of his ilk should never be defined by numbers alone.
Bhuvneshwar has an impressive economy rate of 8.6 in the death overs, the fourth-best in this season’s IPL (minimum 50 balls bowled). Against the Mumbai Indians, that came to the fore vividly. The 2020 IPL champions required 19 runs off the final two overs. Tim David had been sent packing after carting 26 runs off the 18th over but with Ramandeep Singh and R Sanjay Yadav at the crease, the target wasn’t beyond the realms of possibility. The final over was also due to be bowled by either Fazalhaq Farooqi or Umran Malik. Bhuvneshwar, though, rendered that conversation moot.
He bowled a wicket maiden. In the 19th over of a T20. He also showcased his full entire repertoire of deliveries. There were yorkers, there was a slower bouncer, and a cutter angled across the batter. SRH won that game by three runs, indicating how Bhuvneshwar had won his side the game in that penultimate over.
He hasn’t just been effective at the death, though. In the powerplay he has been frugal, too. He has only picked up three wickets but has swung the ball prodigiously – he boasts the fifth-best economy rate in the powerplay in 2022 (minimum 50 balls bowled). When talking about overall economy rate this season, he sits in ninth spot. Among capped Indian pacers, his economy rate is the second-best – behind only Umesh Yadav. Among fast bowlers, his economy rate is the third-best behind Mohsin Khan and Umesh.
Bhuvneshwar, courtesy of his vast skill-set, has the ability to bowl in different stages of innings and be just as miserly. He might not pick up as many wickets as he once did, but he still has the tactical nous to stay a step ahead of the batters. He rarely ships more than 30 runs in his allotted quota. Since the start of 2021, he has completed his quota of four overs 10 times in 16 outings and conceded more than 30 runs only thrice.
This new version of Bhuvneshwar, unlike previous avatars, might not be as eye-catching at first but he’s making the job of those around him easier. In fact, he let people into his mindset post his heroic display against Mumbai, saying that he knows his job is to keep building pressure. Not because it could lead to wickets for him, but also because it could help the other bowlers take wickets.
Bhuvneshwar might not leap off the page as an archetypal T20 bowler. He doesn’t have the pace of Umran. Nor does he have a searing yorker like Bumrah. He doesn’t have a slower delivery like Harshal Patel either. Yet, he always finds a way to do what his team needs.
He can swing the ball at the start, he can curb the run-flow in the middle overs and he can force batters into mistakes at the death. It is, in many ways, what you would want from any T20 bowler. Maybe then, he has become indispensable to India’s T20I setup. Sheer numbers won’t say so. His performances and overall value certainly do.