Dubai: Less than a year ago, an Indian journalist put together a well-researched book, ‘Going Places: India’s Small Town Cricket Heroes’. Each chapter was devoted to the likes of captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni, who epitomised this new generation, Virender Sehwag and Suresh Raina, as well as the then-newcomer Ashok Dinda.
As and when there is a second edition, the name that could be on top of his list for addition is that of Bhubaneshwar Kumar, the new merchant of swing. Hailing from the small town of Meerut in Uttar Pradesh, the 22-year-old ‘Bhubi’ has captured the imagination of the cricketing fraternity with his remarkable skill set.
In less than a month since the unheralded Kumar burst on to the scene with a three-wicket haul in the first Twenty-20 international against Pakistan, he has turned out to be the potent new-ball bowler in an attack devoid of senior pros such as Zaheer Khan or regulars such as Umesh Yadav. As India take on England in the fifth and inconsequential one-day international on Sunday, he is being acknowledged as one of the architects behind the series win against Alastair Cook’s men.
“It’s early days, but one can say he reminds you of Venkatesh Prasad with his high arm action and ability to swing the ball both ways at a decent speed,” said Deep Dasgupta, the former Indian wicketkeeper and now one of the coaches of Pune Warriors, the IPL team who signed Kumar from Royal Challengers Bangalore last year. “Another plus point about him is his batting abilities in the lower order.”
Born in a middle-class family to dad Kiran Pal, a police sub-inspector, and Indresh, a homemaker, Kumar’s early days were like that of any other cricket-loving Indian kid growing up idolising the Tendulkars and Dhonis. In view of his passion for cricket, his elder sister Rekha took him to a local coaching camp.
Having made his first-class debut against Bengal as a 17-year-old, Kumar’s dream moment came in the 2008/09 season when he became the first bowler to dismiss Sachin Tendulkar for a duck in first-class cricket. After a string of good performances that season, he was handed an IPL contract by Royal Challengers Bangalore. He has also represented Central Zone in the Duleep Trophy and the Deodhar Trophy.
The big break, of course, was far from his radar at that time, but the national selectors had little choice but to gamble with him after a string of injuries sidelined almost all the frontline bowlers. With Parwinder Awana — the highest wicket-taker in domestic cricket last season — failing to fire in the two T20s against England, Sandeep Patil and Co decided to take their chances with the likes of Kumar, Dinda and Sami Ahmad.
Kumar picked up three quick wickets for nine runs against Pakistan in Bengaluru — forcing everybody to sit up and take note of this skinny youngster with intense eyes. However, the high point really came when, in the first ODI against Pakistan in Chennai, Kumar produced a gem of an off-cutter, which stunned the Pakistan opener Mohammad Hafeez as it nipped back a long way and took the off-stump. It was a delivery which reminded one of Balwinder Singh Sandhu’s magic ball against Gordon Greenidge in the 1983 World Cup final.
The last month or so have been like a dream for the rising star, with the team management shielding him from an ever-increasing list of interview requests. On the field, of course, Dhoni has no qualms about throwing the new ball at him ahead of senior pro Ishant Sharma, and giving him a 10-over spell — a vindication of his abilities to extract early movement and do damage.
A new powerhouse of Indian cricket, Uttar Pradesh seems to have a way of producing its swing bowlers. The likes of RP Singh and Praveen Kumar have surprised the cricketing fraternity with their abilities before fading into obscurity, and one sincerely hopes Kumar is here to stay.
Full name: Bhuvneshwar Kumar Singh.
Born: February 5, 1990, Meerut, Uttar Pradesh.
Major teams: India, India A, Pune Warriors, Royal Challengers Bangalore, Uttar Pradesh.
Playing role: Right-arm medium-pace bowler; lower-order batsman.
Wickets: Nine wkts from seven ODIs; four wkts from two T20s.