By Khurram Habib
New Delhi, March 22 (IANS) Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s return to top-flight cricket from thigh injury, sustained in IPL 2020, appears sudden and smooth due to his performance in the recent T20 series against England. But behind the success has been significant amount of work and some doubts on whether he will be fit prior to IPL 2021.
The right-arm pacer, who was the most economical bowler across the two sides with a rate of 6.38 an over, simulated match conditions and put in the hard yards while practicing his variations and swing bowling at a Noida ground.
Ahead of the Indian Premier League 2020 edition, he practiced for close to two months in Noida. He was ruled out of IPL due to thigh muscle injury during a match in the league phase of the cash-rich tournament, but post recuperation, he returned for about a fortnight’s practice — about a week before Mushtaq Ali T20s as well as a week ahead of Vijay Hazare one-dayers.
“I think this performance (in T20Is vs England) is a reward for his commitment. After playing 10-12 years of cricket, you tend to think it is okay to just go and bowl in the match. But even before the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy or Vijay Hazare Trophy, he would come daily after confirming the practice timings. And to bowl for an hour and 40-45 minutes – that shows commitment,” said Tanmay Srivastava, the former UP Ranji Trophy player, who is now coaching at the Wonders Cricket Club where Bhuvneshwar practiced alongside Karan Sharma and Unmukt Chand.
Srivastava says the bowling session would be wound up with variations. “At the end of every bowling session, he would practice yorkers, bowl wide outside the off-stump, slower balls and would try variations. This would last for about 15-20 minutes to half an hour,” he said.
“In practice he used to bowl a lot. First half an hour, it would be running and fitness, then 10-12 overs of bowling and then half an hour of batting,” said coach PC Sharma, who runs the academy.
Sharma revealed that simulating match conditions was the key to get him into mental shape for matches.
“The focus was on swing and wicket-to-wicket bowling — the way you bowl in the match. He used to set fields and bowl at the batsmen. He bowled with full rhythm after recovering,” said Sharma.
Srivastava feels consistency in following the process makes Bhuvneshwar different from others.
“I think it is his process that he retains throughout the year and it doesn’t change much. The small things he does which others take for granted after reaching a level, focussing on yorkers outside the off-stump, slower balls; first practicing with the new ball, then practicing for slogs. That is what makes him different. To bowl for an hour and 45 minutes and then bat. That is why he is consistent. Everyone wants him to be the key bowler,” said Srivastava, who also helped him with batting especially against leg-spin.
Bhuvneshwar’s most recent weapon in the arsenal is the knuckle ball which he can bowl even with the new ball. It is something he has been bowling and perfecting for the last couple of years.
“The knuckle ball with the new ball is his most effective ball. That is what I found great. He has been bowling it for some time. But to do the same after returning from injury, I thought his preparation was very good. The confidence is showing,” added Srivastava.
Uttar Pradesh captain Karan Sharma says that when he faced him at the nets, he never felt that Bhuvneshwar was trying to preserve himself.
“I didn’t feel like even 1 per cent that he is coming back from injury. Or he is taking extra care. I never felt he was coming back from injury. There was no taping, no injury. In the nets also, he was never like ‘I won’t bowl today, or I won’t do that today’. It was never like that,” said Karan who felt that the bowler is back to his old self, being more of a line-and-length bowler.
Bhuvneshwar, in recent times, was believed to be trying to add some extra yards to his pace rather than what had been forte earlier – accuracy, variations and swing.
“Line and length has been the biggest focus. Doesn’t do much extra. Doesn’t try many bouncers. He is back to swinging and variations,” said Karan.