Bhuvneshwar keeps to the straight and narrow
India's day, three wickets to their support spinner and allrounder, and much wispy, alluring turn past the bat. Was Hyderabad going to be another Chennai? Not so.
At the Rajiv Gandhi International stadium in suburban Hyderabad, two slips and a gully could be sighted at the start of play and India's earliest advances in the second Test against Australia, came from a medium pacer who had not bowled at all in the second innings in Chennai.
On Saturday, Bhuvneshwar Kumar opened the bowling for India in his second Test. In an extended first spell he lopped the top off the Australian batting order. David Warner, Ed Cowan and the dangerous Shane Watson were all gone by the time Bhuvneshwar ended his nine overs with 3 for 36.
Australia's final session blancmange-wobble had five wickets falling for 28 runs to the spinners, but Bhuvneshwar triggered it. Just when the Australians had settled down with a century partnership between the perpetual rescuer Michael Clarke and wicketkeeper Matthew Wade, Bhuvneshwar dived to his left to interrupt a Wade cut off Harbhajan Singh. Then came Australia's implosion and Clarke's dramatic declaration just before stumps.
Bright-eyed and spindly, with an action that unfolds in clean-limbed lines, Bhuvneshwar is every bit the contemporary Indian medium-pacer. Swing, movement off the seam and discipline over raw speed is his staple. Bowling in the region of 130-135kph, he was able to hit the seam to deck the ball in and asked annoying questions of the left-hand openers. Warner's leg stump was knocked out of the ground off an inside edge in Bhuvneshwar's second over, as the ball looked to be angling across the batsman but straightened and nipped the bat.
Six balls later Bhuvneshwar's dismissal of Cowan came off an iffy lbw because the ball had pitched outside leg, but there was no doubting the fact that it had once again come into the batsman and would have hit his stumps.
Watson was far more surefooted and clear-sighted than the batsmen before him, for more than 45 minutes. In his eighth over, Bhuvneshwar had been spanked for two boundaries as Watson tried to dominate territory and punish weariness into disarray. Bhuvneshwar had gone for 18 runs in the 25 balls he had bowled to Watson. When a juicy short ball in the mid-120kph turned up, Watson pounced and jumped into the pull. The ball didn't bounce as high as expected and struck him on the pad and Australia were 57 for 3 in just over an hour of play.
Hyderabad offered conditions of the kind Bhuvneshwar has plied his stuff in for the last six years of first-class cricket for Uttar Pradesh, taking 149 wickets at 26.36. The days are hot and the wickets slow and abrasive. They require steadfastness, precision and a willingness to absorb punishment, yet rein in flamboyance even when receiving any benefits.
After cleaning up the Australian top order before lunch, questions were asked why Bhuvneshwar was not given a spell after the break. As had happened to R Ashwin, who had taken the fourth wicket in the first session. The television chatterati wondered about it as the Clarke-Wade partnership grew, but once the Australian innings folded, all debate melted. Bhuvneshwar bowled two short three-over spells as Jadeja and Harbhajan ran rings around the batsmen.
What Bhuvneshwar was able to do with his bowling was raise a metaphorical hand to selectors looking for a wicket-taking bowler at home, who can bowl with steady unwavering pace and control at the stumps. You miss, he hits, either bowled or leg before. He comes, like so many Indian cricketers now do, from the hinterlands. Bhuvneshwar's hinterland is Meerut in western UP, better known as the badlands of India's most populous state.
Until now, he was only regarded as a new option for India in T20s and ODIs, starting with his 3 for 9 on Twenty20 debut against Pakistan. According to his UP coach Venkatesh Prasad, Bhuvneshwar is a man for the longer form. "I have always said he needs to be tried out in Test matches. He can be an ideal third bowler or even second bowler for India where conditions help his type of bowling."
Bhuvneshwar plays for the Pune Warriors IPL franchise and, after his first season, he was asked about tips received from Allan Donald and Michael Clarke, the giants in his Warriors dressing room. His answer was simple: the one cricketer he paid attention and listened to was Praveen Kumar, fellow UP allrounder, swing wizard and his opening partner at Meerut's Victoria Club.
If the series against Australia helps Bhuvneshwar cement his place in the Test squad, it will place on a young medium pacer's body the burden and demands of playing all three formats. Prasad, a former bowling coach with the Indian team, said the team management must help him to "manage his time, his training and his lifestyle." For the moment, the Australian batsmen must find a way to handle him.
Sharda Ugra is senior editor at ESPNcricinfo