Bhuvneshwar - Meerut's scissors
Things Meerut is known for -
- SG cricket balls and other sports-goods manufacturing. Generation after generation of workers are handed down the skill to make SG balls, the only hand-stitched ball used in international cricket.
- Revdi - the sweet with sesame seeds and lots of sugar.
- Crime rate, much higher than India's average.
- The closest thing to Tarantino in India - filmmaker and musician Vishal Bhardwaj, who also does a lot of Shakespeare adaptations, grew up playing with guns and musical instruments alike.
And the scissors. The famous Meerut Ki Kainchi, which has now got itself a Geographical Indicator tag to protect it from poor imitation. They are sharp, smooth, deft of movement, crisp with the 'kich-khach' sound tailors love. Saadat Hasan Manto, the great writer known for his short stories, wrote about this temptress in the 1940s Bollywood whom he didn't name. The book was called Meerut Ki Kainchi.
The two 'scissors' Meerut (a town in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh) has given Indian cricket of late can swing the SG and Duke ball sharp. We might as well give the 'Kumar Scissors' a Geographical Indicator. Praveen Kumar and Bhuvneshwar Kumar are pretty deft, modest to the outside world, not willing to discuss their craft openly, and with their pace around 130kmph or 80mph and a drivable length they tempt batsmen fatally. Praveen is currently Indian cricket's big loss, due to a combination of fitness and attitude issues and poor luck, but this new pair seems to be built of sturdier metal.
A lot of nurture and care has gone into Bhuvneshwar. His family moved to Meerut from a village. His father was a cop and his mother didn't know the Meerut ways, although Meerut itself is a small town. Bhuvneshwar's sister was at times a friend, at times a parent to him. She would go to the parent-teachers meet at school, and make sure the parents didn't get a wind of all school complaints against him. Bhuvneshwar wasn't the brightest student, but he was pretty clever with the ball.
When the young Bhuvneshwar told his parents he wanted to join a cricket club, they just gawked. They knew cricket existed, they knew who Sachin Tendulkar was, but they didn't really know what cricket was. They still put together enough to get him in. He had to lug his kit bag one kilometre to the nearest auto rickshaw (tuk-tuk) stand for his 2pm games in those merciless north-Indian summers. When he returned by 7pm, his mother would be waiting there, and she would carry the kit bag on the way back.
Before his Uttar Pradesh Under-17 trials, Bhuvneshwar didn't even have a proper pair of boots. His sister used to work in Delhi. She rushed to the posh Khan Market, spent a fortune on them and reached home at 6.15pm. His train was to leave at 7pm.
Bhuvneshwar made it to the Uttar Pradesh Ranji team, a highly competitive and politicised environment, but also conducive for swing bowlers. Three of India's last four proper swing bowlers have come from there, RP Singh being the other. They were mentored by Ashish Winston Zaidi, a similarly wily swing bowler who knew how to take wickets on dead pitches and who ended four wickets short of being the most successful paceman in the Ranji Trophy. Bhuvneshwar's first big match involved Praveen, RP and Zaidi, and the only cricketer his parents had heard of.
Tendulkar played the 2008-09 Ranji Trophy final against UP. On the first morning, on a flat pitch, he bowled 13 dot balls to Tendulkar, setting him up with full outswingers before bowling an inswinger with the short midwicket taking a bat-pad catch. That was Tendulkar's first first-class duck in Indian domestic cricket. In a TV show answering kids' questions, a modest Bhuvneshwar recently said he still doesn't know how he got the wicket. He was setting up the great batsman all along. Bhuvneshwar still talks similarly of international wickets today.
"I got sleep that night," Bhuvneshwar spoke of the day he got Tendulkar out, "but a little late."
Wonder what kind of sleep he will get tonight. He has followed RP and Praveen to the Lord's honours board. There is a nice symmetry to that, all three swing bowlers hailing from the badlands of UP, living in sports hostels, making their own decisions, learning by themselves as they go along (though Bhuvneshwar isn't a product of the hostels). Bhuvneshwar will likely tell you how he just bowled in the right areas to fetch six wickets at Lord's, but there was a proper method to his wickets.
Michael Holding on Sky Sports noted how he bowled in the old-fashioned manner of looking over his front arm just before letting the ball go, in the process putting a lot of stress on his back but getting enough action on the ball. With that thin frame, he needs all the action his technique can generate. Most bowlers nowadays go easy on their backs and look under their front arm. The ball danced to Bhunveshwar's tune. If he wanted outswing he drew outswing, if he wanted inswing he generated inswing. He got balls to go against the slope, waited patiently before pulling out the variation, but gave away no free runs and few easy leaves.
Alastair Cook got into a poker game with Bhuvneshwar. From the Nursery End Bhuvneshwar bowled a whole over moving the ball up the hill and away from him. Cook was mindful of the one that would eventually come back in, but Bhuvneshwar was prepared to wait. Cook jumped the gun on this one, and played at what he had been leaving alone. Bhuvneshwar showed more patience against Sam Robson, who was dropped once and who edged one through the cordon in the first 10 overs. Bhuvneshwar kept pegging away with no free runs again, and Robson eventually ran out of discipline, patience and played that loose shot. That was in Bhuvneshwar's eighth over on the bounce, but he was prepared to bowl more.
Bhuvneshwar was in his 15th over when India began the 32nd. The wicket of Ian Bell might look like a trick of the pitch, but Bell has shown a bit of edginess, a lack of certainty, a conflict between a dab and a leave when the ball has been short of a length and just around off. This one just nipped back and bounced at him, and Bhuvneshwar had three. The wickets had dried up, but runs didn't flow off Bhuvneshwar either. However, statistics were against him.
Before this series Bhuvneshwar had taken only one wicket after having bowled 20 overs in an innings. It was a cause of concern as England headed towards a lead after Gary Balance's century. At this point, Bhuvneshwar would be justified if he said he didn't know how he got the wicket, as he claimed Ballance against the run of play, caught down the leg side.
On the third morning, once he got another left-hand batsman, Ben Stokes, he was back to his patient prowl. On a length, around that off stump, taking one away, bringing another in. Did Stokes have more patience than Cook? No he didn't. Seven dots in a row and he went for a big drive on the eighth. The scissors were in the business again. The ball dipped a little, swung back in, would have had him lbw, but ricocheted onto the stumps anyway.
It seemed like someone reminded Bhuvneshwar he had got five, and he belatedly and shyly raised the ball the Aussie way, holding it in his left hand. He led India off the field, having kept the first-innings deficit down to 24. This Meerut Ki Kainchi will get sleep tonight, but it might be a bit later than usual.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo