Since the dawn of cricket in the 1870s, Australia has more or less been a force to be reckoned with, regardless of the format. From Don Bradman to Pat Cummins, the Australian state of New South Wales itself has provided cricket with some of its biggest and most celebrated names, only further adding to the list are the big names of Tasmania, Victoria, Western Australia and Queensland.
The reason for their success? A mantra of prioritising a mindset over any skillset and instilling a belief in their youngsters that they can get the job done for the team regardless of the circumstances, pitch conditions, or weather. Now this is not to say that Australian players are not supremely talented, something that goes without saying.
India, on the other hand, has been the land of traditional talent and application style of game, where experience and performance are the key. From the days of Lala Amarnath to the current day lads like Ruturaj Gaikwad, the Indian talent has always had the knack of following traditional methods while then evolving into the other more modern routes of play.
But the tradition has seen a sharp decline recently with names like Virat Kohli, Suryakumar Yadav or Rishabh Pant, all of whom are non-traditional in so many ways, may it be the mindset (Kohli and Pant) or the style of their batting (Rishabh and SKY). The funny thing is, one name that often doesn’t come up in these conversations, possibly due to his subdued nature and plethora of injuries, is a certain Bhuvneshwar Kumar.
Now obviously putting Bhuvneshwar’s name alongside the other names here might confuse or even infuriate a lot of people but it is via his performance and nothing but his performance that he has proven time and time again how his ability to swing the ball both ways might be great but his ability to change the course of the game, however he can is also equally unprecedented.
Let’s go back to February 2013, Australia vs India, 1st test at Chennai, Australia scored 380 in the first innings, Bhuvneshwar on his test debut, would walk in to bat at #10, with Dhoni at 121(144) on the other end and India being just 26 runs ahead on a deck where 7 Indian batters had been dismissed being bowled by then.
Bhuvneshwar would go on to score 38(97), the highest by a #10 debutant for India, and add 140 runs for the 9th wicket with MS Dhoni to take the lead to 192, leading to India winning the game by 8 wickets. His bowling is a matter talked about way too often, may it be his 4/8 vs SL 2013 or his other 4/8 by SL 2017 (in the fading day 5 light might I add) or his 6fer at Lord’s 2014 to name a few but the 6fer at Lord’s wasn’t his only contribution in the Indian win.
With Rahane batting at 28, Bhuvneshwar stepped onto the field to bat when India found themselves at 145/7 while batting first. Bhuvneshwar would go on to get 36(84) in a 90-run stand for the 8th wicket with Rahane against the bowling attack of James Anderson, Stuart Broad, Liam Plunkett and Ben Stokes. India would ultimately end with 295 and Bhuvneshwar would follow it up with the aforementioned 6fer to restrict England to 319.
In the 2nd innings, Bhuvneshwar would again walk into bat in a precarious situation, India was 220/7 with a lead of 196 on day 4 with Ravindra Jadeja on the other end. Bhuvneshwar and Jadeja would go on to add 99 runs off just 100 deliveries to take India’s lead past 300 with Bhuvneshwar getting to his third test 50 in the last 4 innings ending up with 52 off 74. India would win the game by 95 runs thanks to a 7fer from Ishant Sharma and the spotlight would move rather away from the Player of the Match worthy performance (88 runs and the 6 wickets) that Bhuvneshwar had put in while batting in tough situations multiple times.
Despite his battle with the injuries and early lack of pace, Bhuvneshwar has had the X-factor that makes him probably the most valued test asset India has had in a long time, as he again showed in South Africa in 2018. To state the obvious, Bhuvneshwar would dismiss Dean Elgar, Aiden Markram and Hashim Amla within his first 15 deliveries of the game, which is just another of his usual elite spells.
But South Africa still ended up with 286 in the first innings and had India at 93/7 when Bhuvneshwar walked into bat. Just like he did at Lord’s 2014, Bhuvneshwar would have his long vigil at the crease, this time alongside Hardik Pandya in a 99-run stand for the 8th wicket, actually playing almost 60% of the deliveries in the partnership against the scary quartet of Rabada, Morkel, Philander and Steyn, scoring 25 off 86 to take India to a respectable 209, even though India would go on to lose the game, Bhuvneshwar’s spirit in the batting was undying and appreciable to say the least.
He would prove his mettle in the 3rd test at Johannesburg, yet again walking into bat at a tricky 144/7 with no one but Shami, Ishant and Bumrah in tow. Bhuvneshwar would go on to add another 43 runs with the tail, contributing 30 off 49 to take India to a respectable 187. A day later he would bowl the now unforgettable delivery to AB de Villiers that would start outside the off stump only to smash the middle and leg stump, beating de Villiers on the drive.
In the 2nd innings when the pitch had turned treacherous with Vijay, Kohli and Rahane all getting hit on the body due to the uneven bounce of the deck. Bhuvneshwar would once again walk into bat in a tricky situation with India at 148/6 and the lead at just 141 but alongside Rahane, He would go on to add a priceless 55 runs for the 7th wicket and then another 35 with Mohammad Shami for the 8th wicket.
His 76-ball 33 would be the 3rd highest for the team behind Kohli and Rahane, and India would go on to set a target of 240, ultimately winning the game by 63 runs, the same number of runs that Bhuvneshwar had scored in this game along with his 4 wickets, that would win him the well-deserved player of the match award.
Ultimately, there are a lot of performances that would make Bhuvneshwar Kumar the talking point in several discussions and these are just a few. His 45-run stand with Jadeja in the 2018 Asia Cup final, or his 65-run stand with Virat Kohli in Cape Town in 2018, just to name a couple.
But safe to say, when it comes to playing for India, it has rarely been all about skills or strengths for Bhuvneshwar, but more about staying your ground whether walking into bat at 400/8 or 100/7, whether it is the pace and bounce of the Rabada and Morkel or it is the swing and accuracy of the Anderson and Broad, Kumar has tackled them all in a career that tells the tale of fight, the fight that we often relate with the Aussies.
Turning 34 today, we don’t know if we will ever see him back in the Indian colours but what one can attest to with certainty is the fact that a match-winner like Bhuvneshwar is very rare to be found and often goes under-appreciated going by the crowd opinion of him.