It was time for Bhubaneswar Kumar to hit his yorkers as David Miller connected his sixes. Failure to do so would significantly diminish their effectiveness, perhaps more so because Kumar Umran Malik did not have to swell or Rashid Khan did not turn the web from the other end. In India’s shirt, Jaspreet Bumrah and Mohammed Shami are leading the bowling attack, and Kumar cannot shake the onerous task of shepherding the bowling until now, more than ever.
Here’s the reason: Defeat in Delhi was the first time India failed to secure 200 plus. In the last 10 overs, India have conceded 126 runs, the most by a team so far. This is the second time since Babar Azam and Mohammad Rizwan smashed a 152-run opening stand against Pakistan in the T20 World Cup last October, that India gave up a 100-plus partnership – 131 between Rossi van der Dusen and David. Miller. These are reprehensible numbers, especially on the heels of the IPL, which impressed us with the wealth of bowling talent capable of protecting the range of scores.
But when you look at the economics of the same bowlers in the first T20I – Yuzvendra Chahal going for 12 runs per over, Harshal Patel and Akshar Patel leaking 10.75 and 10 per over, you know T20Is are not like IPL. Except for Kumar, his experience transcends IPL and international cricket. South Africa needed 34 off 18 balls to end the 17th over, not impossible in T20. This is where the previous son could have made a difference. But his first ball was placed so perfectly in David Miller’s arc that all he had to do was clear his front leg and heave it over the long-on to the sixes. After another serious six and two boundaries, South Africa fell to 12 for 12. The yorkers did not land in the right slot or the leg-cutters did the trick.
Kumar’s accuracy is one of the wonders that has made him the best slog-bowler of all time. And considering that he had scored 12 runs in the last over against Royal Challengers’ AB de Villiers in the 2021 IPL, Kumar’s slide is not very recent. Yet he does not read much of it.
“We discussed what went wrong after the match but this was the first match of the series,” he told a pre-match press conference here on Saturday. Everyone is coming from the IPL and almost everyone on the team had a good IPL. So we all know what to do in tomorrow’s game and what we can improve on. So there was no big debate because anyone could have a holiday.
Kumar’s ability as a seam bowler is unquestionable. They cannot swing the ball either way, they can make chaotic lengths through the powerplay. While Quinton de Kock and Temba Bawuma are aggressive in South African batting, Kumar’s perfect foil with his assortment of swing, seam and angle deliveries. But they are running out of time to close that third season’s slot for the T20 World Cup in Australia this year. For that, he needs some slog-over scenarios to get his way.
Though Kumar has withdrawn a few matches, it is still not a straightforward option. For years, Kumar’s seam bowling has been at the forefront but now he has to compete with bowlers like Prasad Krishna, who have the speed but also bounce off Australian pitches. Taking responsibility for bowling and becoming the captain of the attack is the only way Kumar can strengthen his case. But this new incarnation does not stand easily on his shoulders. Age works tricks on the body of a fast bowler. Kumar has been secretive since the last time he bowled in a Test since January 2018. Until recently, he had been working on this image of a cricket ball secret manager, but what he does next can define his timeline.
“My goal is no different. What Kumar has achieved in terms of numbers comes from makeup. A bowler who knows the limits of his body, this time no Bumrah or Shami will challenge his work but Kumar quietly tackles it. I’m going to the T20 World Cup.