It’s a weird old summer in England where the red Dukes Test ball is swinging less and going soft quickly and the white Kookaburra is not only swinging, it is swinging for longer than usual. It is quaint that such an integral part of the contest is not homogenised but also strange that such little research on such an integral part of a professional sport is available in the public sphere. Its practitioners are almost resigned to be at the mercy of the batch of balls they get.
“Honestly I don’t know that [why the ball is swinging],” Bhuvneshwar Kumar said after helping India complete a 2-0 T20I series win against England. “Because I’ve been here quite a few times and it didn’t swing in the last few series I’ve played here.
“So yes, even I was very surprised that the white ball is swinging and swinging for a long period of time, especially in the T20 format. And that there’s more bounce in the wicket as well. So yes, when the ball swings you enjoy more. But honestly, I don’t know if I’m swinging it, [if it is] some conditions or it’s the ball, but yes, I’m glad it’s swinging.”
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Not surprisingly, Bhuvneshwar right now is a kid in a toy store. The ball is swinging for him and swinging for long. Accordingly he is 6-1-25-4 after two matches. He admitted he is tempted to show off and bowl inswing-outswing-inswing-outswing but that’s not how you get wickets. And there are very few in contemporary cricket who know how to make use of the swinging ball better than Bhuvneshwar.
“If the ball swings, which is my strength, I look to attack,” Bhuvneshwar said. “Batsmen attack on flat wickets, they play their shots there, but it swung in these two matches, and I have been on the attack. But it is important to not get ahead of yourself. You feel like bowling one inswinger, one outswinger, one inswinger, but it is important to control that urge. Bowl consistently and set the batsman up.”
Even in T20 cricket, you can apparently do that. In the first T20I, the non-striker Jos Buttler watched him bowl four straight outswingers to Jason Roy. The last of those got Roy a single. It brought Buttler on strike. The first ball to Buttler was a big inswinger, castling him. In the second, he didn’t need a set-up. Starting off with a slip in place, he bowled the perfect outswinger first and up and took Roy’s edge.
Twice in two matches Bhuvneshwar Kumar saw the back of Jos Buttler•Getty Images
When Buttler and Dawid Malan started to walk at him in a bid to thwart the swing, Bhuvneshwar didn’t mind bringing the wicketkeeper up. And he had Buttler for a second time this series.
Bowling so well was a distant thought when people wondered if it was curtains for Bhuvneshwar when he struggled in the T20 World Cup. Aspersions were cast on his commitment, replacements looked readily available, but when India saw he had come back to full fitness, they had no second thoughts in going back to Bhuvneshwar. But did he doubt himself ever?
“After an injury, you know you have to do well when you come back,” Bhuvneshwar said. “There’s no other option. I always felt there will be at least one chance to come back. I knew I would give it 100% then but there is no guarantee the results will be good.
“Because when you get injured, you get frustrated. There is some disappointment. It is not strictly doubts but you are not in a good frame of mind. Luckily I got a chance and did well. Of course the way the captain and the coach have backed me, it is good… if they backed me and I am doing well, they also must be feeling good that the player they backed is doing well.”
In this mood, with the ball swinging, it is a miracle the captain has been able to take the ball off him and bowl him for just three overs in each of the matches.