Bhuvneshwar Kumar last played a T20I game in the home series against South Africa four months back. Since then he has been in and out of the T20 and ODI side. At times he has come as a replacement for injured candidates in the bowling line-up, and at times, hasn’t even made it to the playing eleven. There was a time when he was India’s primary new ball bowler, but the emergence and influx of other pacers has made Bhuvneshwar take a back seat. Some claimed that he had lost his swing and he was no longer a new-ball threat to opponents while some stressed he was paying too much attention on increasing his pace.
But that didn’t demotivate Kumar the bowler; instead he used his time off the Indian team and focused on the practice drills to prepare himself. The result - Kumar emerged as a revived bowler in his first outing after a reasonable layoff. “It feels great to get back to playing (in the XI),” he told BCCI.TV, after picking up two wickets for just eight runs in his four overs. “When we went 3-0 up, I did get a feeling that I could get a game against UAE. The team management wanted to give a game to the ones who hadn’t played for some time so that every individual is prepared if and when the situation arises.
“To be honest, I was nervous when I walked out to bowl since I was playing after a long gap. I did feel a bit of butterflies before entering the ground. I don’t know about the others but I do feel nervous if I play a match after a long time. Even if it is a club match or a Ranji Trophy match, I get a bit nervous but that feeling vanishes the moment I enter the ground. Once I enter the ground, I know about my processes and the goals I have to achieve on a given day. Even tonight, when I crossed that boundary rope, I felt a lot more confident. I just wanted to make the most of the opportunity that I had got. I was waiting for this opportunity for a long time.”
For the medium pacer, to play after a gap and get back to bowling like in his prime wasn’t easy. The process was difficult and needed a lot of preparation mentally and physically. For Bhuvneshwar, the practice sessions and his regular regime held utmost importance given the circumstances. “It is difficult to keep performing for your team, but it is a bigger challenge to perform when you are playing after a gap. When you don’t play, your practice sessions and preparations become very important. You have to keep yourself fit and always be in the mental zone that you might get a game very soon. I am really satisfied with the way I have been preparing myself over the last few months. I am very happy with my performance tonight and I am glad that all that hard work has paid off in some way.”
He delved into details of how he prepared himself in the nets to keep himself in good stead. “How much ever you bowl in the nets and go through your drills in the practice sessions, nothing can beat match practice. Since I wasn’t getting a game, I was trying to create match situations and conditions in my practice sessions so that when I would actually go out to bowl in a match, I would be better prepared. I wanted to give my practice sessions a match kind of a feeling be it bowling with the new ball or bowling at the death. If I am in the playing eleven, I know that I am supposed to bowl with the new ball and then bowl at the death. At that time, I know my role in the team could be labeled as a main bowler.”
Elaborating further, he said he had received a lot of support from senior pacer Ashish Nehra, who keeps pepping him up with words of confidence and advice. “I keep speaking to Nehra about bowling with the new ball and being mentally prepared for the games. He has been really supportive throughout the Asia Cup and has motivated me to be prepared for the challenge. I remember him walking up to me and asking me to be mentally fresh. He just told me that I was the best judge about my own preparations when I am not playing any games. He said, ‘Bhuvi, if you feel you have to bowl for an hour then go for it, and if you feel you shouldn’t bowl at all, then don’t bowl’. He asked me to do what I felt right. He even told me that it gets really difficult for a bowler when he is not playing any games and get back to his rhythm. When senior players like him talk about such things you really get motivated.”
Captain MS Dhoni was all praise for the medium pacer and was happy with the way he had performed even after he hadn’t had much of match practice. “He is a hardworking guy and he works hard in the nets and in the gym and that is something that is important for the fast bowlers,” Dhoni said. “Fast bowlers have to keep themselves fit and take the break in the best possible manner if you are not in the playing eleven. I feel the break has helped him increase the pace, and at the same time, it has not affected his swing bowling which is the key. That is a big positive sign for us. He is still someone who can bowl consistently in a particular line and length. Bhuvneshwar coming good gives us that extra option if Mohammad Shami doesn’t get fit. He is somebody who can straightaway come in and start doing the work for the team.”
It was a good night out for the medium pacer. He bowled at the right areas and kept the UAE batsmen under check and it was a case of a job well planned for Bhuvneshwar. “If the last two matches are to be taken into consideration, there wasn’t much grass on the pitch but there was still something in it for the new ball bowlers. I wanted to judge the conditions tonight and see if there was anything at all for the new ball bowlers.
“I could figure out that it was swinging a bit in the first two balls and after that my plan was to make the batsmen play as much as possible. This performance will boost my mental confidence and if and when I get a chance to play in the future, I will remember that I had done well in my previous outing.”
His exploits with the new ball when swing on offer and his ability to keep a tab on the run-rate at the death is well known. Bhuvneshwar looked to further polish his skills but at the same time add one key aspect to his bowling. “I want to work on my slower deliveries. I know I can bowl a yorker at the death, but if I can bowl a slower ball as well then it can prove to be an advantage for me. I want to develop a good slower delivery and I am working on the same at the moment.”