'I don't think I have lost my swing' - Bhuvneshwar
"Have you lost your swing?"
"No, I don't think I have lost my swing," Bhuvneshwar Kumar said in characteristic self-effacing manner at a media conference on the eve of the third ODI against South Africa in Rajkot.
There has been some debate recently over whether the India bowler has compromised his ability to move the ball in favour of gaining more pace. Sanjay Manjrekar opined in a column for ESPNcricinfo that Bhuvneshwar was in danger of losing out on his biggest strength, but former India seamer Zaheer Khan, who announced his retirement from international cricket this week, said that was not the case.
"Bhuvi has never been an out-and-out pace bowler. I don't think he is trying to bowl at 145kph. He is still focussing on his skills and trying to swing the ball. That he is not able to swing is a different story," Zaheer said.
But Bhuvneshwar stressed he had neither lost nor compromised on his swing. So what was the issue? "I have told this in the past as well that I need proper conditions to assist my swing-bowling as well. If I have conditions on offer I would swing the ball a lot than the rest of the bowlers," he explained. "If you see in the last match, there was some swing early on in the innings. When there is no swing on offer, I try to exploit the reverse swing if at all there is any."
It isn't always about the swing, though. In two of his best ODI performances this year - against Zimbabwe in Harare where he took a four-for and against South Africa in Indore recently - he didn't make the ball hoop around corners, but emphasised on tight lines and lengths.
Bhuvneshwar was also pleased with his own improvements in death-bowling, but insisted there was no concerted change in his role within the team. Except there has been a noticeable trend India using his overs less upfront and more later on. Some of the recent focus on his skills at the death came during IPL 2015 where he emerged as the leader of one of the best bowling sides in the tournament at Sunrisers Hyderabad. His consistent threat in the death overs garnered the praise of Tom Moody, the franchise coach, as well.
"I don't think there has been a change in my bowling role [for India]," Bhuvneshwar said. "Being a swing bowler and bowling at the death is just an added facet in my bowling. I used to bowl a lot at the death while bowling in the IPL but it serves as a confidence booster that I can do a lot more with the ball at the start of the innings and at the death. It is good to bowl with the new ball and the old ball."
He also said that the new rule changes, particularly the presence of five fielders outside the 30-yard circle in the last 10 overs of an ODI, were benefiting the bowlers, increasing their motivation to control a period of play that has traditionally been dominated by batsmen.
"It has been quite a help for the bowlers with an extra fielder outside the circle in the last ten overs of the match. The bowlers have got more confidence while bowling at the death now since as a bowler you know that you have an additional fielder who is protecting the boundary. The bowlers are a lot more motivated to bowl towards the death. In the past, you would think that even after bowling well you would go for runs. I believe it has now become an even contest between bat and ball."
Bhuvneshwar also said that the 22-run win in Indore, fashioned largely by the bowlers, had lifted the side after a narrow defeat in the first ODI.
"The atmosphere was always normal even when were not winning matches. But after the victory in the last match there is certainly a positive vibe in the team. MS Dhoni's knock gave the team a lot of confidence in the previous game. But in that game a lot of our bowlers also played also faced close to 25-30 balls which helped them to figure out how the pitch was playing.
"In a five match series it is always difficult to make a comeback if you lose two matches in a row. But the way we came back in the last game and won, it was commendable. That win has brought in a lot of confidence in the side. We were down in the first innings losing a lot of wickets on the trot but we made a good comeback to win the match. Now we are riding high on confidence. The rest of the matches are very vital for us and if we win this match there will be a lot more confidence in the side. Every player is assigned a particular role and if player can play his role to perfection we can expect a good game."
Rachna Shetty is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo