It’s been more than three years, but the memories of that Bhuvneshwar Kumar spell are so vivid. That pristine January 2018 afternoon in Cape Town, Bhuvneshwar ran through the South African top-order with a quality exhibition of swing bowling, accentuated in its impact by the seam movement the track offered.
Bhuvneshwar dismissed Dean Elgar with a beautiful outswinger and followed it up with an inswinger that proved too good for Aiden Markram. But perhaps the most delightful breakthrough, if you’re an Indian fan, was that of the great Hashim Amla, who, in a rare moment, was outclassed by an opposition player.
Bhuvneshwar left South Africa reeling at 12/3 and gave India hope and belief. Then you know what happened. AB de Villiers came and grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck and turned the whole mood of the setting around, bending momentum South Africa’s way irrevocably with some scintillating batsmanship.
We didn’t think of it like this at the time, but looking back now, one can’t help but feel, that first session in Newlands only summed up Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s Test career, giving an unavoidable sense of ‘what could’ve been’ and leaving you frustrated and despaired.
At the end of that South African tour, Bhuvneshwar Kumar had 63 wickets from his 21 Tests at an average of 26.1, with 4 five-wicket hauls, and was looking good to add more scalps to his kitty with a tour of England looming. And this wasn’t the 2014 version of Bhuvi who, although a master of prodigious swing, didn’t have the pace and fitness to maintain his potency for long. This was Bhuvneshwar 2.0, who could’ve made a big difference in that 2018 series, which India ultimately lost 4-1 in his absence.
Is this the end of Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s Test career?
When they went down 2-1 to Proteas, India knew very well what their next big Test assignment is and who their most vital player will be. Yet, the team management and the selectors did little to preserve Bhuvneshwar Kumar and lost him to a back injury, which he sustained through IPL 2018 and then aggravated it playing the white-ball leg in England.
But you could blame the decision-makers back then, not anymore as they’ve taken note of a string of injuries that Bhuvneshwar has had and have responded accordingly. India have stopped waiting for Bhuvi to get fit and play Test matches for them and have instead looked to prolong his journey as a white-ball cricketer. It was perhaps imminent when on the 2019 tour of West Indies, Virat Kohli didn’t even mention Bhuvneshwar Kumar among India’s Test pacers.
Maybe at some stage after his resounding comeback in the recent white-ball series versus England, where Bhuvneshwar was a class apart among bowlers from either side, the selectors probably considered his Test match return with another England tour coming. But those thoughts would’ve been put to rest the moment he struggled to keep his form and fitness going in the IPL 2021 last month for Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH).
We may criticise them all the time, but there is always some logic behind selectors’ calls. With Bhuvi not anymore inspiring confidence in selectors’ hearts and minds that he can bowl spell after spell of the highest quality on a day and comeback the following morning, and do it again, it’s a very pragmatic route they’ve taken.
Test match cricket is hard, you can’t go in with a pacer who is vulnerable of breaking down, especially on foreign soil where the opposition attack almost always possesses greater depth than yours. India knows this better than most countries after losing Zaheer Khan on the first morning of the 2011 Lord’s Test.
Bhuvneshwar hasn’t played any form of competitive red-ball cricket in the last three years, a period where India’s fast-bowling stocks have gone through the roof. So, this does seem like the end of his Test career — another bitter pill to swallow in these difficult times.