New Delhi: It has been a decade but Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s debut in what was the last bilateral series between India and Pakistan, seems like yesterday.
The very second delivery of his international career swung away and after pitching viciously tailed in to disturb opener Nasir Jamshed’s timber.
Bhuvneshwar has not bowled such a delivery in the last two years.
Now that he is expected to lead the Indian attack at the T20 World Cup, his own performance at the death overs is under the scanner.
There were some good spells but against good teams, that magic or ‘x-factor’ has been distinctly missing.
He has, since that wicket-taking delivery, played 78 T20Is and a career economy rate of 7.02 appears more than decent but what has proved to be the Meerut man’s undoing is handling the responsibility during the death overs.
Since 2021, Bhuvneshwar has played 23 T20I games for India and has got only 15 wickets from them.
But that’s not the biggest worry. The biggest factor is the 159 deliveries he has bowled at the death (between overs 17 to 20th) and the 266 runs that he has conceded at an economy rate of 10.03.
He has conceded 23 extras but more importantly has been smashed for 20 fours and 12 sixes in those 23 innings.
These are the numbers which are far from satisfactory. In fact, scary, because Bhuvneshwar will be the leader of a rag-tag Indian attack at the T20 World Cup with the team management still unsure how Mohammed Shami would shape up.
Harbhajan Singh, a member of the 2007 T20 World Cup team feels, that on current form and skill-sets, Deepak Chahar should be picked ahead of Bhuvneshwar.
He reckons that having both of them in the same squad will make the attack look a bit uni-dimensional.
Harbhajan in fact did an analysis of each of the bowlers going into World Cup.
Missing Jasprit Bumrah
“Jassi (Bumrah’s nickname) is the only Indian bowler, who can take pitch out of equation because of the accuracy rate of his blockhole deliveries,” Harbhajan explained why the bowling attack wouldn’t be as effective as it could have been with Bumrah.
“To bowl yorkers, you need certain skills and it has nothing to do with the track. Yes, Jassi also gets hit but he will get hit only twice may be out of 10 balls. That’s why he is exceptional,” he elaborated.
Deepak Chahar vs Bhuvneshwar Kumar debate
With Shami’s recovery post Covid, still being monitored, Chahar’s incisive bowling at the start is something that can only get India wickets, feels the ‘turbanator’.
“Deepak Chahar is the only bowler, who can get the ball to swing up-front and both ways and looks like getting 2-3 wickets in Powerplay.
“His inswinger is as lethal as his outswing and he can even get to move in non-conducive conditions. At this stage, where we stand today, Deepak is a better-skilled bowler in present scenario compared to Bhuvneshwar.
“Bhuvi has loads of experience and he will pull off games but 8-10 runs in 19th over doesn’t hurt but moment it is 15 and above, the match slips away. So Deepak would be my choice.”
Arshdeep has courage but needs experience
Arshdeep Singh’s is still a fledgling career but among the three bowlers in the main quad, he had the most decent economy rate of 8.03 since 2021. He has conceded 166 runs in 121 balls and in the death overs has gone for only four sixes.
South Africa series played on placid tracks
“Look, Arsh is a fine talent and one for the future. Also if you are left-arm seamer, you will create those angles that can trouble batters. But he does need some assistance from the track where he can pitch it up and the ball does a bit off the track,” said Harbhajan.
“He is still very raw and needs to bowl a lot in various pressure situations before he becomes battle-hardened. Just to expect that he will be able to execute each of the six balls as per plans under pressure would be being unfair to a youngster.
But he has the temperament and skills but would need a seasoned bowler around him.”
Decoding Harshal Patel’s issues
Harshal Patel after an astounding 51 wickets from two IPL seasons (32 in 2021 and 19 in 2022) had become the toast of the nation with his variation of dipping slower deliveries.
But a look at Harshal’s death overs stats for India will make anyone shudder.
He has bowled 172 balls in 21 innings at the death since his debut and has conceded 312 runs at an economy rate of 10.88 but more importantly has been hit for more sixes than fours, managing just 13 wickets.
In fact, batters have hit 25 maximums off his deliveries along with 16 boundaries.
What has actually gone wrong with Harshal, who has otherwise been pretty regular bowling at least three of his quota of four overs between 15th to 20th in an innings for RCB in IPL?
“Harshal probably has a better slower delivery than any Indian bowlers who play T20. But there is a rider. For Harshal Patel’s slower delivery to be effective, the pitch needs to grip and hold up (in common lingo, balls needs to stop and come).
“If you see Harshal’s performance in the 2021 IPL, where first leg was played by RCB in Chennai and then in UAE. Now in Chennai, the Chepauk surface is very tacky and ball will hold up.
“Bring the best T20 batter at Chepauk even today when Harshal’s form is a bit on the wane. He will be unplayable in the 16th, 18th or 20th over. The slower ones will grip and not sit up nicely,” he stated.
Harbhajan explained that a slower delivery factors – the grip either from back of the hand or like off-break as per a bowler’s wish and the slowness of the track.
“But check the pitch in Mohali, Guwahati or Indore, these were true batting tracks. Harshal’s slower ones aren’t holding up.
“The ball is coming nicely and at a height where the batter can hit him between deep square leg to deep mid-wicket or even straight with enough time at their disposal.
“Even batters are doing their homework and will come hard at you. Remember one IPL match in Mumbai where Jaddu (Jadeja) literally smashed the skin out of the ball when Harshal was bowling,” he explained.
And Harbhajan feels that use of slower ball on Australian tracks where the ball will not grip, can make it difficult for Harshal as batters are already expecting a full pitched slower one from him.
“The full pitched slower one might not work at MCG, SCG or Adelaide as the balls don’t grip on these surfaces. In case of slow bumper, all the Aussie grounds have big side boundaries and there are chances that you will need extra explosive strength to clear those and can be caught,” he said.
He has the x-factor and he can go for a lot of runs as his inexperience may lead him to be a bit wayward with his line and length but not many in world cricket are blessed with 150 clicks speed and if he can at least get 3-4 menacing deliveries in a two-over spell, at least a wicket or two could be assured.
Umran is going as a net bowler but Harbhajan won’t mind if Chetan Sharma and Rahul Dravid make a leap of faith and include him in case of Mohammed Shami is unavailable.
“I think entire country is praying for Shami but we need contingency ready, if he is unavailable.”