Bhuvneshwar Kumar isn't ready to prioritise one format over another just yet.
While Virat Kohli has often underlined the importance of a fit Kumar to India across formats, his exclusion from the England tour led to question marks over his red-ball future. On Friday, Kumar, vice-captain of India's limited-overs team in Sri Lanka, put those doubts to rest.
"To be honest, I'm not prioritising white-ball over red-ball," he said. "If I am selected for red-ball cricket, I'll definitely contribute. I'm not looking to prioritise one of the two. I'm just working normally, trying to prepare in a way that I'm ready for all formats. If I get a chance, I'd like to do well. I'm not looking ahead to what will happen in 18-20 months."
Kumar's most-recent Test outing was over three years ago in Johannesburg. Since then, he has been troubled by a series of injuries. One to his lower back led to his missing the England tour in 2018. At the World Cup the following year, he tore his left hamstring. Then he underwent surgery for a sports hernia. In September 2020, a thigh problem forced him to pull out of the IPL.
Kumar made a successful return to the Indian team this March for the limited-overs series against England. In an ODI series where 350 didn't seem enough, the fast bowler's economy rate was an impressive 4.65. In the T20Is, he conceded at 6.38 an over, delivering with the new ball and at the death. He picked up wickets, too - six in the ODIs and four in India's T20I series win.
"I haven't made too many changes to my bowling or the way I train," Kumar said. "It's just about how I manage my workload. If I've played a particular game, I look at how I can recover quickly from there. In terms of cricket, the only thing I've worked on is how to get over my injuries."
Kumar will lead India's fast bowling pack in Sri Lanka, also consisting of Navdeep Saini, Deepak Chahar and Chetan Sakariya. But the senior seamer insisted that as much as he enjoys working with a young group, he was only passing on inputs wherever necessary, and not going overboard with advice.
"These are talented youngsters, who've done well for their respective IPL teams," he said. "I don't think they need much guidance. I talk to them if they need something. We never try to complicate things. We have Rahul Dravid [head coach] with us here and he's guiding them well. Being a senior player, talking to them is not rocket science. We talk to them if we feel there's an anything we can contribute."
Twelve years ago, a teenaged Kumar was team-mates with Dravid at the Royal Challengers Bangalore. Today, he is part of a senior group of players in a young squad with Dravid as head coach. As has been the case with every India player, Kumar too was asked about Dravid's role and influence in the team.
"It's been really good," he said. "After seven days of quarantine, we got to train in the gym, so I met Dravid in Mumbai first. What he has done so far is keeping things simple. He doesn't try to complicate things. There are young and senior guys and everyone has been listening to him. Once the matches come around and we get to planning and strategising, we will learn a lot more."
Kumar also backed Kuldeep Yadav to return to old self, after going through a lean run with the ball. Once considered first-choice picks in India's white-ball XIs, wristspinners Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal have struggled since the 2019 World Cup. Yadav, in particular, has fallen out of favour to such an extent that he hasn't even been a regular for the Kolkata Knight Riders, his IPL franchise, over the last two seasons.
"He has done well in the practice matches," Kumar said of Yadav. "From what I've seen, he seems confident. I am sure if he does well in this series, he will be confident of doing well in the IPL or the World Cup. What I always look at is how he is bowling and the execution. It's about confidence. He is bowling well in the nets, am sure he will pick wickets."
Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo