Umran Malik deservedly walked away with the Player-of-the-Match award on Sunday though Sunrisers Hyderabad will also be grateful to their seasoned pacer Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who played an equally important role in their seven-wicket win over Punjab Kings at the DY Patil Stadium in Navi Mumbai.
Bhuvneshwar, 32, took 3/22, his best figures in IPL since 2018. It nicely set it up for the young tearaway, Malik, who finished with four wickets, including three in a rare final-over maiden that also saw a run out.
The senior bowler importantly seems have found his mojo after a few seasons. He dismissed Shikhar Dhawan, Shahrukh Khan and Liam Livingstone, all capable of dismantling any bowling attack. The in-form India pacer used his years of experience to assess the pitch conditions and bowl accordingly. All his wickets came off short balls, which suggests that it’s not merely the swing, or slower ones, which he relies on to engage with rival batters.
Realising that Dhawan was eager to get going, he didn’t give him anything on the driveable length; instead he kept it repeatedly short of a good length. Dhawan’s frustration grew and he top-edged after stepping out to whack a short of length delivery. Bhuvneshwar’s 53rd wicket in the powerplay made him the highest wicket-taker in that phase in IPL, going past Zaheer Khan.
Returning for his second spell with four overs of the innings left, he stopped big-hitting Shahrukh and Livingstone, gave away just 11 runs in two overs and made sure Punjab Kings didn’t post a challenging total. He flummoxed Shahrukh with a leg-cutter that was short of length. The Tamil Nadu batter failed to read it and sliced it in the air. The delivery to Livingstone, who has been very consistent, was similar, and it worked again.
“There was no swing, so I looked to hit back of a length. That was my plan against Shikhar as I knew he would step out and look for the boundary. I looked to hit a hard length and find the top edge and luckily that’s what happened,” Bhuvneshwar told the broadcaster after the match.
“I looked to play with my field as well. I try to bowl to the batter’s weakness or to the ground’s dimensions. The wicket and my skills are what I look at,” he said.
Bhuvneshwar has had a torrid time with injuries since 2018. A back injury meant he missed the Test series in England that year. His run in the 2019 World Cup was ended when he suffered a hamstring injury, and he sat out the majority of the 2020 IPL and the Australia tour that followed with a thigh injury.
After a long rehab at the National Cricket Academy in Bengaluru, he returned to action just before last year’s IPL, but his overall figures, due to lack of games, were as dismal as SRH’s performances. He finished with just six wickets in 11 games for the 2016 champions.
While he has been part of India’s T20 side since his return from injury last year, the first signs of Bhuvneshwar regaining his ideal level, after a few years, was noticed in the T20 series against West Indies and Sri Lanka in February when he bowled some tight overs and took crucial wickets.
He has managed to stay injury-free for more than a year now and has improved with more game time. He already has eight wickets this season and is on the verge of bettering his returns from the last four IPL editions.
A fully-fit and in-form Bhuvneshwar is a good sign for India with the T20 World Cup to be played in Australia in October-November.