By Satej Paknikar Opening Doorz Editorial | February 01, 2021

England’s tour of India begins with the First Test at Chennai on Friday, February 05. The squad for the first two Test matches has been announced. Ishant Sharma is promptly back after his injury, so is Jasprit Bumrah. The heroes of the historic series-winning Gabba Test, Mohammad Siraj and Shardul Thakur have rightfully retained their places. Umesh Yadav and Mohammed Shami are still injured.

One name though that could have been included, or has probably been forgotten, is Bhuvneshwar Kumar. People have a perception that he is still injured. Then what is he doing playing in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy and taking wickets for Uttar Pradesh? It has been observed that even when fit, he has been consistently ignored for selection in Test matches and painted as an ODI or T20 specialist.

The curious case of Bhuvneshwar Kumar

“Bowled him! First ball. An in swinger. An error in judgement and he strikes with his first ball in One Day Internationals. What a sight for a young fast bowler” These are present India Head Coach Ravi Shastri words while in the commentary box when a young Bhuvneshwar Kumar sent Mohammad Hafeez’s off stump cart-wheeling with a big inswinger on the very first ball of his ODI career.

That wicket was an indication of the skill this young bowler from Meerut, Uttar Pradesh, possessed. A few days before this (December 25, 2012), Bhuvneshwar had made a stunning T20 international debut as well with figures of 3-9 in four overs against Pakistan.

Within three months, On February 22, 2013, he made his Test debut in the Border-Gavaskar Trophy held in India. He ended the series with six wickets at an average of 22.83. In the first Test match in Chennai on a turning pitch, Bhuvneshwar made 38 runs batting at number 10. His score of 38 is the highest score by an Indian at Number 10 on debut in Test matches. This was a hint of his batting ability as well. His Test career then took off during India’s tour of England in 2014 where he ended up as India’s ‘Player of the Series’ with 247 runs and 19 wickets to his name. After such an illustrious start to his Test career, why is he no longer considered as a first choice Test bowler?

Ravi Shastri should know his abilities; he was the one who almost fell off his chair when Bhuvi bowled that magical first ball in his first ODI. He is now the head coach as well!

In the last eight years since his debut, Bhuvi has risen through the ranks and become one of India’s leading bowlers in Limited Overs cricket, but his Test career is still in first gear. Reasons may be many; some may say that he has been frequently injured while others will say that he hasn’t been given enough opportunities to establish his place in the Test team. If one tracks Bhuvi’s Test career, you will find that in whatever opportunities he has been given, he has performed well with both bat and ball and in the outfield as well!

Indian Cricket Bhuvneshwar Kumar
Bhuvneshwar Kumar has been a consistent bowler in Test cricket.

Some interesting statistics

Here are more interesting figures which show Bhuvi’s is indeed a curious case. After that splendid England tour (after being India’s Player of the Series), Bhuvi was left out of the first three Test matches against Australia in the Border-Gavaskar Trophy Down Under in 2014-15. However, the team management played him in the 4th Test on a placid Sydney wicket where he returned with match figures of 50 runs with the bat and 1-168 with the ball. That Test match ended in a draw which saw him dropped in the one-off Test match against Bangladesh in June 2015, and then from the tour of Sri-Lanka in August for a three-Test Series.

The next Series was South Africa’s tour of India which consisted of three T20 Internationals, five ODI’s and four Test matches. Well, good news! They chose Bhuvi to bowl the white ball on pata wickets (where bowlers who are supposed to be death-over specialists are chosen). Not surprisingly, like the others, Bhuvi also got hammered in that ODI series though he did end up as India’s leading wicket taker! However, he was conveniently ignored for the four-Tests.

The West Indies Tour was next (2016). Though Bhuvi played only two out of the four Tests on that tour, he picked up figures of 6-46 in the Third Test! His mysterious selection seesaw continued on New Zealand’s tour of India where they dropped him again for the First Test in Kanpur. He made a comeback in the Second Test in Kolkata, contributing with figures of 6-76 in the match. Shockingly, he was left out of the Third Test in Indore.

Some more interesting statistics

England came to India in November 2016, for a Five-Test Series and eventually got hammered 4-0. In that series as well, Bhuvi got only one game, which was the Mumbai Test. He bowled economically in that game which India won comfortably!

The Border Gavaskar Trophy of 2017, held in India saw Bhuvi playing only one match out of four Tests played—the last match at Dharamshala. That November, as Sri Lanka toured India for a Three-match Test series, the First Test at Kolkata saw Bhuvi delivering one of his best Test bowling performances in his career. India got bowled out for 172 in their first innings on a green Eden Gardens wicket but Bhuvi, along with all the Indian bowlers, bowled brilliantly taking 4-88 in the First innings. He backed it up with a stunning spell of 4-8 in the second innings which almost won India that game which was so very well set up by Captain Virat Kohli with a brilliant century on day Five. The match ended in a draw.

Indian Cricket Bhuvneshwar Kumar
It’s surprising to note that coach Ravi Shastri is quite on Bhuvneshwar Kumar.

The year 2018 was supposed to be a landmark year, with Test series in South Africa, England and Australia. This was the opportunity for Bhuvi to cement his place in the Test squad and he started on a brilliant note in the First innings of the First Test match on day one opening the bowling against South Africa in Cape Town. Within the space of a few balls, he knocked off the top three South African batsmen to have them reeling at 12-3. He ended with 4-87 in the first innings. He also proved why he is more than handy with the bat by putting on a crucial 99- run eight wicket partnership with Hardik Pandya to take India from 92-7 to a respectable total of 209. He ended with match figures of 6-120. Shockingly, after that Cape Town Test match, which India lost by 72 runs, the team management haven’t played Bhuvi in a Test till date!

With 63 Test wickets to his name from a mere 21 Test matches, at a decent bowling average of 26.09, Bhuvi should be an automatic choice. His ODI record stands at 114 matches for 132 wickets at 34.60. This should be a basic indicator as to why a genuine swing and wicket-taking bowler like Bhuvneshwar Kumar needs to be given more chances at the Test level.

Ravi Shastri should know better, he is the coach and he was also the one who almost fell off his chair when in the commentary box.

(Satej Paknikar, all of 18 years, is a young cricket enthusiast from D G Ruparel College in Mumbai, representative of the millions of young cricketers who play wherever and whenever they can. He is also game to tweet, write and discuss cricket, with statistics to back his point. Satej, who has had formal coaching stints in the western suburbs of Mumbai, is a self motivated left-handed bowler by choice in a batsman’s world).

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