Bhuvneshwar Kumar to return to India to recuperate from lower-back issue
Bhuvneshwar Kumar will return to India to recuperate from the lower-back injury that has kept him out of the squad for the first three Tests in England. ESPNcricinfo understands Bhuvneshwar will undergo intense rehabilitation for about four weeks at the National Cricket Academy in Bengaluru before the selectors make an assessment on his fitness for the final two Tests.
According to the BCCI release announcing the Test squad, Bhuvneshwar "aggravated" his lower-back issue while playing the third ODI against England. Apart from Bhuvneshwar, India's fast-bowling group will also be without Jasprit Bumrah for the first Test at least. Bumrah has been out of action since suffering a thumb injury during the first match of India's tour, the first T20I against Ireland in Dublin. Bumrah is part of the 18-member Test squad, but the BCCI has confirmed he will miss the first Test.
An important member of the side, responsible for 42% of the wickets taken by seamers in their last Test series in England, Bhuvneshwar has been struggling with a back issue since the start of the IPL where his workload was managed. Even before the IPL, Bhuvneshwar sat out of the Nidahas Trophy and the one-off Test against Afghanistan to manage the injury. Bhuvneshwar had missed the first two ODIs, but was selected for the series decider in which he bowled seven overs for 49 runs and no wickets, and also dropped a catch.
At the toss, Virat Kohli said the decision to bring Bhuvneshwar back for the decider was taken to given him some game time. "Some tactical some because the guys haven't got a game so far," Kohli explained the three changes to the XI. "So Bhuvi and Shardul Thakur come in for Umesh [Yadav] and Sid [Siddarth] Kaul. And KL Rahul misses out. Dinesh Karthik replaces him at No. 4. He has done well at that spot, and we just wanted to have a guy in the middle overs who can be versatile and improvise a little. Yeah Dinesh was tactical, and the other two guys because they haven't got a game yet."
An official present in Leeds told ESPNcricinfo that Bhuvneshwar passed a fitness test before the team management decided to include him in the XI. Bhuvneshwar was the first player to enter Headingley on Tuesday morning and did stretching routines, under the observation of India trainer Shankar Basu. The fact that Bhuvneshwar was in the reckoning for the final ODI of the England series became clear after he bowled for about half an hour in India's optional training session on Monday afternoon in Leeds.
After India were sent in, Bhuvneshwar batted for nearly an hour, first in the company of MS Dhoni and then the tail, to take help raise a modest total of 256. He finished the match wicketless and also dropped a straightforward catch.
The official present in Leeds pointed out that the team management had been guarding Bhuvneshwar until then, keeping in mind the freak injury that ruled out Bumrah. Although Bhuvneshwar passed the pre-match fitness test on Tuesday, the official said he was "probably a bit jaded" when he arrived in the UK after the IPL.
In the future, the official said the team management had agreed to closely monitor the workloads of key players like Bhuvneshwar and Bumrah to keep them fresh for the World Cup.