There was a point in time tonight when all the revelries and joys of Holi disappeared and what followed thereafter was a long-casted shadow of hypertension and apprehension after India went from sailing hammer and tongs towards victory to stammering and stuttering towards an unexpected kink which was laid out by a soaring Sam Curran.
This is not the first time that such an unexpected setback has dazzled India’s hopes in the middle of a dark-blue sky and on occasions leaving them befuddled. With all the permutations and combinations that Kohli and the management could work out, if there has been one man who kept on coming to the deliverance of India time and time again with the white ball, it was Bhuvneshwar Kumar.
This is my homage to him, the man who defied the might of the number one T20 and ODI team in the world and carved out a legacy so great that will haunt Morgan and company when they brood over this disastrous campaign in India (read the numbers that sealed the fate of the series).
It has been a while now that you played for India before this series. Right since that injury which you copped in IPL, it has been a mediocre show from the bowlers, especially with more than half the side injured. When India managed to come back in the Test series and clinch it in stunning fashion, leaving England humiliated, the next question that started doing the rounds already was who will be the bowling vanguard of India in the shorter formats of the game?
With Shami injured, Bumrah out for his wedding and Ashwin on an exile for inexplicable reasons, the eyes fell back on you. Though the hopes weren’t high enough because most of the fans have grown averse to the concept of economical bowling and are zealots of picking wickets every now and then. Well, of course, wickets will win you matches but then there are occasions when picking up a wicket needs a gazillion strategies and some incessant pressing from a bowler who can stem the run-flow in order to compel the batsman to commit the error.
When the T20 series kick-started, the Indian batters were all over the place in the first game and the bowlers couldn’t help either. In an otherwise expensive circus that the remaining bowlers managed to post, you were the only one who bowled at a miserly rate of 7.5, registering figures of 2-0-15-0.
In the game that followed, you once again pulled off an extremely economical stance that saw you slipping off 28 runs from 4 overs but the most impressive part about you in that game was how you removed Butler for a golden duck. Bowling a tad bit faster, the delivery skidded onto his knee-roll and even before he could have managed to shuffle himself, the umpire had his finger up in the air. This was a classic example of neat fast bowling, not something terribly brutal but something really fast and an absolute screamer on the stumps.
Despite a decent showdown from you in terms of economy in the third T20, the other bowlers weren’t really good enough to restrict the English batters from achieving the target. Questions were already starting to be asked. Fans started voicing their opprobrious opinions about dropping you because you aren’t Bumrah. I agree with them. You definitely aren’t Bumrah and I don’t want you to be either. You are a man who houses countless variations up your sleeves and can drift the ball miles apart in either way wherein Bumrah is more reliant on bouncers, speed and those toe-crushing yorkers. Too much of everything isn’t particularly good either, especially with Natarajan excelling handsomely in the art of bowling yorkers.
Things seemed pretty tight for you and India had to win a remaining couple of matches in order to win the series. Winning the series was still a far cry. Kohli and company were desperate to level the series in the first place and they needed someone who could lead the bowling attack in order to stymie England’s progress with the willow and who better would step up than the man who has already won countless laurels for himself? It was Bhuvneshwar Kumar.
Chasing a monumental 186, England very well seemed en route to victory, thanks to a blistering blitzkrieg from Ben Stokes and Jason Roy. Towards the end, however, it was a relentless fight from Jofra Archer that started threatening the Indian aspirations of equalizing in the series. You started your bowling on a pompous note when you claimed the crucial scalp of Jos Butler again with a slower delivery that drifted menacingly close to his off-stump, dragooning him to drag an untoward stroke that ended up in bobbling the cherry to Rahul. Despite a miff in the first go, he regained his composure and pouched a safe take to send Butler back to the pavilion.
After an incredible first spell, you were back to the attack when England seemed well in course of achieving the target, especially with Stokes firing on all cylinders. Your third over started off on a stellar note with just three runs from the first two balls. Haplessly, this was followed by a spanking from Stokes in the following delivery that saw the ball screaming to the boundary ropes. Honestly, it is not easy to regain your calm against the best all-rounder in the world after being smacked for a boundary in such a crunch situation and follow it up with a wide yorker that didn’t allow the hard-hitting southpaw to get anything more than a single. Not only did you stop there but you went to fire two consecutive yorkers at Morgan that left him flabbergasted and desperate to score a few runs in the following over. Unfortunately, the two-dot balls had a massive psychological impact on both the batters and Shardul Thakur’s next over was rewarded with two wickets in two balls and they were of Stokes and Morgan.
You came back to bowl the 19th over and in the face of a required rate of 23 runs per over, all you conceded was 10 runs, thereby making life a living blaze for the batters.
You saved your best essay for the last as it was in the final T20 where the Indian batters scorched a mammoth 224 which was followed by some impeccable fast bowling from you to leave England hobbling and flatlined at a modest 188. You started the innings with a short ball at Jason Roy, tempting him to flash at it. The delivery that followed was an absolute peach. Roy came down prancing to the middle of the track in pursuit of a sixer and the ball whizzed past him, swinging inside from quite the yonder to crash itself onto the timbre. Your next haul was once again Jos Butler, England’s most dynamic batter and whose pyrotechnics in that innings threatened to take the game away from India at that point in time.
With England scampering towards the target with minimal resistance from the bowlers, Kohli brought you back to the attack after an incredible first spell. This was also his last resort considering the way, Butler and Malan were going on at that moment. You were unlucky to start the over with a wide as it seemed to be an exceptionally tight call. Then you followed it up with a brilliant leg-cutter that was glanced down the leg side by Buttler for a single. This was ensued by a couple of sublime deliveries to Malan that saw him conceding only a single. The situation started getting difficult for the Englishmen and they had to go for a big strike in order to keep the equation going.
You smacked the deck hard with an incredible length ball that left Butler craving. Unable to preclude himself from smacking it into the stands, he ended up shooting it into the sky and the ball safely landed in the arms of Hardik Pandya, thereby sparking frenetic celebrations from Kohli which was followed by a staredown between him and Butler. The orchestrator of such a sweet moment was nevertheless you.
You came back once again in the 18th over where the damage was already done and yet all that you conceded was a frugal 7 runs which took out any hopes that England had of making a comeback.
The first ODI that saw India dominate proceedings after the dismantling of the first English partnership also saw a couple of screamers from you. The delivery with which you dismissed Moeen Ali was an absolute pearler. The ball landed outside off-stump and it swung in menacingly close to the corridor of uncertainty with some unpredictable pace that caught Moeen Ali flat-footed and the next thing that he knew was that he was already on a long walk back to the pavilion.
The second ODI was one of the worst displays that Indian bowlers have had in ages now and you were no exception either. However, India needed something special from you in the series finale and you dished that out in style.
England was chasing an imposing total of 330 and they needed to strike from the start if they wanted to have any hopes of winning the series. Jason Roy was right on top of you as he took you out for 14 runs in the opening five balls. However, he should have remembered that the calm that you possess makes you a ferocious fast bowler, always famished for glory. Easing down on his stance, he wanted to defend the last ball of you and you seeking vengeance, bombed it through his defences onto his timbre.
After a terrific and happening first over you came up with an even better second over that claimed the crucial scalp of Jonny Bairstow with another skitter. Just when Kohli once again felt threatened by an advancing Moeen Ali, he brought you back to the attack and whenever the skipper has asked something of you, you could never hesitate. You gifted Kohli with the imperative wicket of Moeen Ali who couldn’t connect with your cutter away from the stumps. However, that was still not the best thing that you did in the series. It waited and successfully endured the test of time to come out at the right moment.
It was the 48th over where you were brought back by Kohli in a desperate attempt to remove Sam Curran who was tip-toeing his way to the gates of a remarkable series victory. Despite a peach of a delivery to start the over with, you came under the cosh with a couple of unnecessary wides. However, a leader knows to find his way back even in the darkest of times. Despite two extras in that over, when the run rate demanded something close to 8 runs per over when Shardul Thakur made a hash of affairs after an 18-run over, you conceded only 4 runs to once again tip the equation in India’s favour. And when Natarajan bowled an extraordinary final over to deny the last laugh to Sam Curran, though the congratulatory rounds of applause were heaped on the young aspiring man, I smiled for you, the hero whom India never sang for.
In the era of brutal fast bowling, where taking wickets with those nasty toe-crushing yorkers, skull-clattering bouncers have become the vogue, you belong to an extremely singular category of bowlers. You are not someone who regularly ekes out fivers. You are not someone who bowls consistently at 145 clicks. You are not someone who dances and celebrates in the wildest fashion, entertaining the crowd for all other reasons than cricket. You are that candle that keeps on flickering and yet never goes out in the dark. You are that smile on the face of the hungry little kid who is overwhelmed with happiness after someone throws him a morsel of bread after starving for a week. You are that hope which can keep a man alive even in the most trying times.
Bhuvi, you are the Bhuvan of the free India who once again defied glory to the Brits, fighting tooth and nail with the three Lions and yet emerging unscathed to thump his chest and scream in silence, that he is India’s best fast bowler by a mile now.
From a crazy crazy fan of yours.