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Sanjay Manjrekar

Bhuvneshwar needs to stick to swing

It looks like he has lost his main weapon in an attempt to get his bowling speeds up

Sanjay Manjrekar
Sanjay Manjrekar
The more the likes of Bhuvneshwar play, the more likely it is they will be swayed by criticism to change their game  •  BCCI

The more the likes of Bhuvneshwar play, the more likely it is they will be swayed by criticism to change their game  •  BCCI

Recently, while shooting a TV commercial with Mahendra Singh Dhoni, I got a chance to pick his brains. I asked him, "What do you think was the one single reason for your outstanding success as a sportsman?"
He said, "You have to be honest to yourself."
I was slightly disappointed with the answer. I thought it was a lazy response to a question he has been asked many times.
But then he went on to elaborate on what he meant. He said, "You have to be honest about your own ability. Had I tried to make a career in another sport, I would not have been successful. I knew my limitations as an athlete, and with those limitations I was reasonably confident of achieving some degree of success in this sport."
People who know Dhoni well and have played alongside him also tell me he is very honest about his limitations - even in the sport of his choosing. He never aspired to be the best batsman in the world or the best wicketkeeper in the world; he just kept it real. If you wonder why he did not bat higher up the order as much as he might have done, perhaps there is a clue there: maybe he thought he was not cut out to bat at those positions.
He basically did the most with what he thought he had.
This revelation by Dhoni was, for me especially, quite profound, because I am the exact opposite. I always try to overreach and then inevitably end up getting frustrated at not achieving what I had set my eyes on. By nature I struggle to be realistic about my own ability, and importantly, my limitations.
There are many like me. It takes a lifetime for some cricketers to know their limitations, and when they finally do, their careers are almost over. For others this realisation comes just in time for them to have long, worthy careers and become successful international cricketers. No wonder Dhoni turned out so special - he started his journey enlightened.
When Bhuvneshwar arrived on the international scene and got all of us excited in that T20 against Pakistan, did anyone notice what speed he was bowling at? It didn't matter, because he was bamboozling the batsmen with swing
Obviously most players are not like Dhoni, and I fear Bhuvneshwar Kumar is making the same mistake that a lot of us made as cricketers.
He is trying to overachieve and become someone he can never be. The biggest danger when you are on this path is that you unwittingly start forsaking your natural strengths, the qualities that made you an exceptional cricketer - among the thousands wanting to play for India.
When Bhuvneshwar arrived on the international scene and got all of us excited in that T20 game against Pakistan, it was his big banana swing that caught the eye.
Did anyone notice what speed he was bowling at back then? It didn't matter because he was bamboozling the batsmen with swing.
Same with Irfan Pathan. When he got that brilliant hat-trick against Pakistan in the Karachi Test in 2006, did we bother to look at his speed? No. Like the batsmen, we too were bowled over by his swing.
But when the likes of Bhuvneshwar and Irfan start playing more and more high-profile cricket, they become increasingly familiar with their own skills. They watch themselves on TV all the time, and look at what the speed gun shows every time they bowl. They also get to hear all that is being said about them, the good as well as the bad.
And it's the criticism, not the praise, that starts having more of an effect on your skill. With Bhuvneshwar and Irfan, it was always their speed that would be criticised when they had an off day. A seam bowler without pace is like a batsman without power: you feel a bit left out in the game.
Then you start working on that aspect, and in doing so you start to lose your main strength.
In the second T20 match against South Africa in Cuttack, India were hoping for early wickets for an improbable win. The stage was set for Bhuvneshwar to unleash his swing. What did he do?
He bowled a Glenn McGrath-type delivery, on off stump at a speed of 135kph; three short deliveries, of which two were hit for boundaries; and one on leg. He bowled just one swinging delivery, the last ball of the over, an inswinger that beat AB de Villiers. When the brief was to get wickets, he hardly used his main weapon.
That over for me represented everything that's currently happening to Bhuvneshwar as an international bowler. He is obviously trying to bowl quick and so falling into the trap of following others in trying to join the McGrath school of bowling, while abandoning his main strength, swing.
I think the same happened to Irfan as well. He too wanted to get his speed up into the mid-130s, and he occasionally managed to, but look at it from the batsman's point of view. Batsmen would queue up to play someone bowling accurately but without swing at 135kph (though it would be another matter if the bowler was a tall, strapping guy like Josh Hazlewood, because there would be bounce to contend with).
In the late 1980s Manoj Prabhakar had an interesting experience as a swing bowler.
Prabhakar arrived on the international scene as this big swing bowler. Like Bhuvneshwar and Pathan, Prabhakar was not big-built. He actually swung it more than those two bowlers, and he swung it both ways.
One day, he had a rude awakening in a match in Sharjah when he was bowling to the great Viv Richards.
He started off bowling a big outswinger to Viv. The great man saw the swing early and blasted it through the covers for four, with the swing. Prabhakar then bowled his big inswinger. Viv saw that one early too, and again he went with the swing to whack another boundary over midwicket.
Prabhakar learnt an important lesson that day. If he had to trouble these class players, it was not banana swing that was going to do it; it had to be late movement, albeit not so pronounced. From being a swing bowler, Prabhakar went on to become a seam bowler and achieved some success.
But that was the '80s and early '90s. Batsmen were trained to play swing because there was so much of it around. Now with players trying to hit everything through the line on flat pitches, we see that when the ball swings, batsmen struggle. Which means that swing bowlers do not need to go the Prabhakar way in this era.
Bhuvneshwar can take inspiration from his captain, Dhoni, here. Various other batsmen seem to be playing sweep shots of different kinds, but the best one-day batsman of this generation hasn't been trying to follow suit just to fit in. He has stuck to his game, his strengths.
Bhuvneshwar is the kind of cricketer the Indian game wants around for a long time. However clichéd it may sound, sticking to his strengths, namely swing, is what he needs to do. It may just extend his career.

Former India batsman Sanjay Manjrekar is a cricket commentator and presenter on TV. His Twitter feed is here