In limited overs cricket, there is not much a bowler can do. With all those new thicker bats, out and out batting pitches and new technologies coming up that give the batsmen an unfair advantage, the bowlers need to be one step ahead with new tricks before the old one gets decoded. The condition of bowlers in limited overs cricket is much like the general category candidates in India’s caste reservation system.
Just like the general candidates who often lose their opportunities to reserved categories despite having better qualifications than them, the bowlers also have to face the stick due to all those rules skewed towards the batsmen despite bowling well. That is exactly why a bowler has to be multi-dimensional in limited overs format. That is exactly why a bowler needs to be like that talented kid next-door who does almost everything with perfection and with whom our parents are always obsessed with. That is exactly why a bowler needs to have all those modern tricks like slower balls, knuckle balls, slower yorkers, etc. in his arsenal along with those usual bowling skills.
Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah, the Indian pace bowling duo, have shown the importance of versatility in the past couple of matches in the ongoing Champions Trophy. Such has been their consistency, reliability, accuracy and execution with the ball that India’s other two pace prospects in Umesh Yadav and Mohammad Shami have found themselves out of the playing XI. It is not that Yadav and Shami have done horribly wrong in terms of their performances of late. However, it is the extra skills with the ball that Bhuvneshwar and Bumrah possess that have made them the first choice bowlers on almost flat pitches favouring the batsmen.
Although, Umesh Yadav has featured in the first couple of matches in the tournament, Mohammad Shami hasn’t even had that luxury. The fact that they are the finest among India’s new ball bowlers has made their exclusion sound even more odd. Everyone remembers both of their contributions in India’s run to the semi-finals of the 2015 World Cup in Australia. Both of them were amongst the top wicket-takers in the tournament as well. It was Bhuvneshwar Kumar back then who had been struggling to make his way into the team. And Bumrah hadn’t even made his international debut.
Moreover, Umesh Yadav had been coming into this tournament after a terrific IPL season with the Kolkata Knight Riders in which he claimed 17 wickets in 14 matches at an average of 24.11. His form in the Test season was also impressive as he showed immense maturity and temperament as a bowler. Although, statistics of 30 wickets in 12 Tests in this season may not sound to be that impressive, the picture completely changes while mentioning that 17 of those 30 wickets came in the last Test series of the season against Australia. Although, Mohammad Shami has often been in and out of the team due to fitness issues, he has always been Kohli’s first choice pacer to go with whenever he was fit and fine. He had been impressive too in the Test season claiming 18 wickets in 6 matches at an average of 27.50. Both of them have been wicket-taking bowlers in ODIs as well with Shami claiming 87 wickets in 47 matches and Yadav claiming 91 wickets in 65 matches. However, the cause of concern is their economy rates which stand at 5.54 for Shami and exactly 6.00 for Yadav.
So What makes Bhuvneshwar and Bumrah better Limited overs bowlers?
To put it in one simple word, it is their versatility. No one can tag them as one dimensional new ball bowlers or a death bowling specialists. They are two of those rare bowlers who are equally good in any situation of the game. While it took Bhuvneshwar Kumar a lot at the international stage to become what he is today, Bumrah came on to the international scene as a readymade bowler.
“We don’t focus on that when you get labelled as death bowler or a swing bowler. You always try to contribute whenever you are given the ball. You have to bowl according to the situation, be it at the death or in the beginning,” Bumrah had said after his terrific spell of 2/28 against South Africa.
The pitches in this tournament haven’t favoured the fast bowlers at all and surprisingly the conditions haven’t aided them as well. In such circumstances, bowlers like Shami and Yadav who depend mainly on pace and swing to trouble the batsmen become ineffective. And it is exactly the variety that the duo of Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar bring with themselves that makes them effective in all conditions. If the conditions and pitch do not favor swing, they have the ammunition to contain the batsmen and build pressure. And then their slower balls, more than accurate yorkers and knuckle balls come into play that outfoxes the batsmen more often than not.
They showed on both occasions in the matches against South Africa and Bangladesh how to bowl in these conditions. Building pressure by containing is the mantra! If there is no swing, then line and length and variations are your keys. If Plan-A doesn’t work, apply Plan-B! It’s as simple as that for them.
“When the conditions favour the batsman and the pitch is also true, you can’t really pitch the ball up and hope for swing. You have to contain. Even if you don’t pick up wickets, you can build pressure and help the person at the other end get a breakthrough,” explained Bumrah after he was adjudged the ‘Man of the Match’ in the game against South Africa.
Bhuvneshwar also seemed to be of the same opinion when it came to bowling in this conditions. “It’s difficult. The only thing you have to change is length. Everyone is bowling a bit ‘back’, compared to what they normally bowl. Generally we always go for wickets in the first 10 overs when the ball swings, but now we look to contain them and then take wickets when pressure builds,” said Bhuvneshwar.
A comparison of their performances in the Indian Premier league this year will show how Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar fare far better than Umesh and Shami
The above chart clearly shows the difference between the four bowlers. The difference in qualities of bowling between that of Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar and that of Shami and Yadav can clearly be seen. Shami’s poor numbers are pretty much visible. Although, Umesh Yadav has produced decent results, the other two have totally outclassed him in terms of wicket-taking ability and economy rates. These results have come on flat T20 wickets tailor-made for batsmen.
It’s not that Yadav and Shami have totally lost their place in the Indian first team. They will still be the first preferred options when it comes to playing in Tests. However, the scenario is different in limited overs cricket as it requires a lot more than just hitting the right lengths. Bhuvneshwar and Bumrah have certainly aced that role and it will be pretty difficult for the other two to make regular starts from now on. There will be those odd matches in overseas conditions like Australia and New Zealand where India would like to play three seamers. However, then also, either of Shami or Yadav will be making the cut as the third seamer in addition to Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar.
(This article was first published on Firstpost on June 16, 2017)