For the better part of his career, Bhuvneshwar Kumar emerged as India's mainstay new-ball and death-over bowler alongside Jasprit Bumrah in limited-overs cricket. Besides being considered the best pair in the world with the new and the old white, Bhuvneshwar and Bumrah became an indomitable force in world cricket. However, for injuries still unknown, Bhuvneshwar kept coming and going out of the reckoning for white-ball cricket all through 2019 before deemed fit to play in the year-end T20I series against West Indies at home. But things have changed a lot since those Bhuvi and Bumrah days. New and young bowlers were given a chance to shine, while many failed, few emerged as better options leaving Bhuvneshwar a task cut out in the home series.
As exciting it was to see Wriddhiman Saha make a comeback to the Indian Test team after a gap of one year and eight months, Bhuvneshwar's return to the limited-overs squad after a long gap due to injuries has brought about new hopes, probably a better dimension to the Indian bowling attack and a good headache. He indeed has been an excellent white-ball bowler for India since his debut in December 2012 in T20Is and is presently the joint-third-highest wicket-taker in the format after Bumrah and Yuzvendra Chahal in the time frame. He was also the first Indian pacer to take a five-wicket haul in the format.
However, after appearing in 11 T20Is in 2018, Bhuvi managed to be part of the playing XI just six times this year. He last appeared in the Windies series where he had bagged three wickets in three games. Midway through the tour, he was sidelined with a hamstring injury and a side strain which was followed by a rehabilitation programme at the National Cricket Academy. He eventually missed the entire South Africa and Bangladesh series at home but had joined a training session in Kolkata ahead of the pink-ball Test against Bangladesh.
He has now been declared fit for the home series against West Indies. But Bhuvneshwar will no longer head into the fixture as a certainty in the playing XI. Competitions have emerged and Bhuvi has to redeem his old spot despite his impressive numbers.
Since 2018, Bhuvneshwar has bagged 18 wickets in 17 appearances which is the third-highest among Indian bowlers after Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav. He has managed a decent average of 23.55 and a strike rate of 20.5.
Indian bowlers since 2018
Deepak Chahar his strongest competitor?
No Indian bowler has bowled as many deliveries in the powerplays and in the death since 2018 as Bhuvneshwar. He also has the joint-most wickets (7) among Indians in the first six overs and the highest in the final four overs (11). However, since being sidelined from the West Indies series, India have used Deepak Chahar as his replacement in the powerplay overs and the youngster has come out with flying colours. Not has he managed to take seven wickets in the first six overs at a better average and strike rate than Bhuvneshwar, during the Bangladesh T20I series, he proved to be lethal with the old ball as well. In fact, it was during the Bangladesh series that Chahar had bagged that sensational hat-trick en route to a T20I best for India - 6 for 7.
Indian pacers in powerplays and death overs since 2018
Besides Chahar, Umesh Yadav, who has appeared in six T20Is since 2018, also has a better strike rate and average in the powerplays than Bhuvneshwar and Bumrah, while Hardik Pandya has a better death over numbers (average and SR) than the 29-year-old in the format.
It is yet to be seen how India frame their playing XI for the home contest. Will they bring back Kedar Jadhav given his strong batting abilities or will India play five bowlers? But for Bhuvneshwar, it will be a huge contest for him as he looks to stay in the reckoning for the 2020 World T20.