When Bhuvneshwar Kumar started his career for India, he left people in awe of his ability to generate exaggerated swing movement with the ball. At the age of 32, he still has his wits to fox the batter and make them dance to his tunes. In a decade-long international career, ‘Bhuvi’ has had his share of ups and downs, mainly due to injuries. But a fit-and-firing Bhuvi could add heaps of value to the Indian side. We analyse whether his recent form and overall ability are enough to make him the first-choice bowler in the Indian XI for the T20I World Cup.

Recent performance

Since 2021, with 12 wickets, Bhuvi is the leading wicket-taker for India in Powerplay. Jasprit Bumrah is next with four wickets. More recently, Bhuvi was the standout Indian bowler in the T20I series against South Africa. His biggest value lay in his Powerplay bowling, where his miserly spells denied early momentum in the Proteas’ inning. In India’s two losses, he stood out, with collective figures of 4-17 off his five Powerplay overs.

Bhuvneshwar Kumar - Economical in Powerplay
Bhuvneshwar Kumar – Economical in Powerplay

The 2022 IPL turned out to be Bhuvi’s best season since his Purple Cap-winning season in 2017 in terms of his economy rate, bowling average and strike rate. Despite his stellar performances, his biggest positive from this year’s IPL was an injury-free season. With a history of injury breakdowns, it has, so far, been heartening to see him remain fit for an extended period.

Comparison with his peers

Jasprit Bumrah will be one of the first names on the team sheet along with the captain. India will mostly look to play three pacers for the T20 World Cup in Australia. With Bumrah spearheading the attack, and Harshal Patel likely to hold his place due to his death bowling and batting abilities, it could well come down to a fight between Bhuvi and Mohammed Shami as the third pacer. There are other options as well, but based on recent form and experience, these two seem the most likely options for India.

Comparison of his Economy and strike rate with Bumrah and Shami
Comparison of his Economy and Strike rate with Bumrah and Shami

Bhuvi has a better economy rate than Shami in all the phases of a T20I. But what’s more important than stopping the flow of runs? Taking wickets. Except at the death, Bhuvi has a far better strike rate than Shami in the other phases. However, will his bowling style suit the Australian conditions?

The Australian challenge

Conditions in Australia are vastly different from most countries. There is barely any swing on offer, especially in white balls. Bhuvi relies predominantly on his swing early in the innings. Negate that, and he becomes a line-and-length bowler who lacks genuine pace. Shami, on the other hand, brings pitch into the equation to extract seam movement. On an average, Shami is 10 km/hr quicker than Kumar, and that could make a huge difference.

Both Bhuvi and Shami haven’t played a lot of T20I in Australia, but it could all come down to their form leading up to the marquee event that could decide who gets the nudge. Then there is added benefit of Bhuvi’s batting ability. He might not be a dasher who could finish games, but he is more likely to hold his own than the other bowling options.

Bhuvi - In T20 World Cup for India cricket stats
Bhuvi – In the T20 World Cup for India

But bowling at death or in T20I, in general, isn’t all about pace. It requires precision, a smart brain that understands which variation to use at any given point. Bhuvneshwar Kumar is one of the smartest pacers India have produced. His economy rate in any IPL season has never exceeded the 8 RPO mark, and that is a testament to his skills and ability in the most demanding format for bowlers.

Ahead of the T20 World Cup, India have a nice headache of picking a group of pace bowlers who could complement Jasprit Bumrah. While a lot of new bowlers have put their hands up with their performances in recent times, India wouldn’t mind going back to their proven match-winner in Bhuvneshwar Kumar.