Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s pursuit of cricketing excellence

July 23, 2014

(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters)

Barely tipping the scale at 57 kilograms (a bit more than 125 pounds), Bhuvneshwar Kumar is the antithesis of a fast bowler. In fact, he isn’t one. At best, his pace is military medium.

At 24, Kumar looks like he came straight out of junior college, and if not for his India colours, the guards at Lord’s probably wouldn’t let him enter. He has a frail build, shy disposition and an almost apologetic expression every time he beats a batsman. They are a far cry from a classic menacing fast bowler that India hopes he’ll one day become. But scratch the surface and his boyish charm gives way to a relentless desire to make him count every time he walks on to the grounds.

It’s too early to say that Kumar has turned the corner, but it’s fascinating to watch the honest effort and commitment he has brought into his game. It’s an elusive state of being — being a complete athlete — and yet every professional athlete seeks it in his own sport. Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s quest is infectious.

He not only swings the ball both ways to keep batsmen guessing, he wields his willow with the assurance of a middle-order batsman. And he has a safe pair of hands in the outfield. Kumar is good in all the three departments of the game, but what he’s seeking is excellence in each of them.

Kumar doesn’t have the sheer speed to hustle a top-order batsman. In fact, the lack of it rather perplexes a batsman, who often realizes too late how much he achieves with the ball. The pace may be harmless, but his length and movement, in the air and off the pitch, leave even the most accomplished batsmen baffled. With his nagging line and probing length, he made English batsmen look almost club class in their own backyard.

The irony is not lost on English bowlers like James Anderson and Stuart Broad — two fine examples of aggressive swing bowling — who have been beaten at their own game of using the art of swing on the green-lively pitches they grew up on. And the Lord’s pitch, in the last Test, was the greenest one has seen in past several decades. While bowling for the first time at the Lord’s in a Test match, Kumar showed remarkable maturity in reading the pitch and the notorious slope of the ground and used it with devastating effect.

In the two Test matches so far, Kumar leads the wicket tally on both sides with 11 wickets, with two magnificent bursts of 5 for 82 at Trent and 6 for 82 at Lord’s. At the game’s most hallowed theatre, Lord’s, he produced a vicious spell of swing bowling to clean up the top four batsmen of England. In fact, seven of his 11 victims were either top or middle-order batsmen. Clearly, he has hunger for the big wickets and relishes the battle against the established batsmen.

For a number nine batsman, Kumar shows impressive technique and temperament. The way his bat comes down and meets the ball with its full face, the way he leaves the ball marginally outside the off stump and those classy flowing cover drives. They show that he’s no pushover as a batsman. In fact, he enjoys his batting, irrespective of the match situation, and puts a serious price to his wicket. His scores of 58, 63, 36 and 52 in the last two Tests will make any middle-order batsman proud, especially the circumstances in which they came.

Not to take away any credit from Ishant Sharma’s sterling match-winning effort of 7 for 74 at Lord’s but Kumar’s fine efforts with the ball in the earlier innings must have surely spurred him on.

What lies ahead for Kumar is difficult to predict but his purity of intent and honesty of effort make for the right ingredients that often translate into greater glory.

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