Praveen the magician
"He is a magician". When Manoj Prabhakar, a wonderful practitioner of the art of swing bowling, says that about someone, the recipient must possess some talent. That's exactly what Praveen Kumar exhibited at the Wankhede Stadium in the Ranji Trophy final.
The lanky bowler comes from a family of wrestlers and it shows when he has a bat in his hand - it's easier to hit a six than a four, he once said in an interview - but with a ball, especially a shiny one, he uses more brain than brawn. As Aakash Chopra duly realised, trapped in front with the late curling inswinger on 102.
"His biggest strength is that he bowls these inswingers from close to the stumps," an impressed Chopra said. "Most of the others bowl that from wide of the crease and it's easier for a batsman to play that angle. But when someone does that from close, the swing starts late and the angle is difficult to play."
Without taking anything away from Chopra's fine knock, the fact that he faced only nine Praveen deliveries in his opening spell on the second day and lasted only two today is a tribute to the bowler.
Hustling in from a medium-pacer's run-up, Praveen moves close to the stumps and keeps his wrist cocked up till late. A whipping motion at the point of release allows him to move the ball both ways, with much work coming from the wrist.
Ashish Zaidi, Uttar Pradesh's bowling coach, has been working with Praveen to develop his outswinger. "He has a natural inswinger and we have both worked hard on his wrist position to get the other one," Zaidi said. "He has become much more dangerous now."
Prabhakar shot a note of warning though: "He has to increase his pace a bit and not lose his swing obviously. Then he can trouble international batsmen.
"I faced such a problem in my early days. I used to swing it more but the batsmen had the time to play me. So I worked on increasing the pace and it paid off. Kumar has to do it. I am not talking about express pace or sacrificing it for swing but a little more - that combination of pace and swing hurts the batsman."
Zaidi concurred and said Praveen had increased his pace since last season. "[In the last three years] he has started to think the batsmen out. He always had the ability to swing into the batsmen and has begun to move it the other way now but the most important thing is that he has matured and has started to work out the batsman."
|Hustling in from a medium-pacer's run-up, Kumar moves close to the stumps and keeps his wrist cocked up till late. A whipping motion at the point of release allows him to move the ball both ways, with much work coming from the wrist|
The left-handed Shikar Dhawan was set up nicely with two away swingers before he curled one back in to clean him up. Gautam Gambhir's ego was played on - a lone man in the covers on the off side saw Gambhir play an expansive drive off his second ball - and Chopra was done in by the second successive inswinger.
Asked whether he thinks this performance will push his case for selection for the one-day series in Australia, Kumar's retort was swift: "What case? I have been performing consistently over the season. I just want the team to win and hopefully everything will go all right."
The answers are spat out in a way as if he doesn't really care what you think of him. But there is no apparent malice.
On Thursday, while batting, he sent the first delivery he faced - a good length ball - soaring over long-on, was dropped off an attempted pull and repeated that shot to get out. "Lag gaya to jayega hi (if I hit it, it will travel)," the wrestler from the akhada in Meerut said with a shrug of a shoulder.
It says a lot about his character. Zaidi calls him a mastmaula (free spirit). "He can come across as abrasive at times but he just speaks his mind, doesn't put up an act or bother about any one. Someone you would like on your side."
Sriram Veera is a staff writer at Cricinfo