India lost the first ODI by a huge margin of 141 runs. As it happens with such a short series, Dhoni made a few changes straight up after the first loss that included replacing two quick bowlers —Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Mohit Sharma.
While Mohit’s exclusion didn’t cause much concern, Bhuvneshwar’s ouster must ring the alarm bells, for he’s been dropped for the second time in the last five ODIs. In 2013, India won six ODI series, bilateral or otherwise, in a row and while the top three batsmen walked away with most of the credit for the team’s superlative form, Bhuvneshwar’s contribution was perhaps ignored.
As much as it was about scoring a lot of runs, it was equally about restricting the opposition to a manageable total. Removing the openers is a good way to put the team on course for that and Bhuvneshwar did just that. His ability to come close to the stumps and swing the ball both ways in the air helped him plot most of his dismissals.
Being an opener, I can tell you with some authority that once the ball starts moving in the air and off the surface, cricket ceases to be a batsman’s game. In today’s day and age, most batsmen are conditioned to pick the line and play through it because of perfect batting conditions almost everywhere, but once the ball starts moving, playing through the line becomes a risky option.
While swing made batsmen watchful, being close to the stumps denied them any angles to maneuver. The swing that was Bhuvneshwar’s best friend has recently turned its back on him. The ball is no longer swinging the way it used to and hence wickets have deserted him too. While the ball is still coming out right (seam upright) from his hand, the swing has disappeared. He’s also shortened his length a little bit to avoid getting hit off the front foot.
This could either be a byproduct of not getting the swing or the lack of swing could be the result of shortening the length. The longer the ball stays in the air, the more chances it has to move and hence shortening the length is a counterproductive move for a swing bowler.
Lack of pace hurts
Bhuvneshwar’s lack of pace doesn’t allow him to be an effective bowler in the death overs and if he stops taking wickets with the new ball, he’ll increasingly find himself on the sidelines. In order to rediscover the swing, he would do well to have a look at South Africa’s premier fast bowler—Dale Steyn.
He’s not only extremely quick, but also gets the ball to move away from the right-handed batsman appreciably, which makes him more lethal with the new ball. While it’s impossible for Bhuvneshwar to bowl as fast as Steyn, for you’re either a fast bowler or you are not, and Bhuvneshwar isn’t fast, it is still possible to replicate Steyn’s swing.
The secret to Steyn’s swing is in his wrist position, which tilts towards his right at the time of release. Dropping the wrist slightly to the right allows him to release the ball with the seam pointing towards the gully region. On the contrary, Bhuvneshwar releases the ball with the seam pointing absolutely upright and that limits the swing he generates. Initially, Bhuvneshwar used to tilt his wrist to the left and hence got prodigious inswing. It might be a good idea for him to revisit those videos. Bhuvneshwar’s success is imperative to India’s success.