Bhuvneshwar Kumar's death-overs stocks sinking due to failing yorker execution
Yorker forms an integral part of Bhuvneshwar Kumar's death-overs plan, the bowler needs to quickly revive its accuracy.
The 18th over of the Indian bowling effort in the T20I series decider against Australia summed up the thin-sized margins that bowlers operate on with the yorker. Bhuvneshwar Kumar executed two pinpoint yorkers at the dangerous Tim David to attract praise out of Murali Karthik from the commentary box, with the former India spinner calling him an "intelligent bowler" and an "unflappable character" under pressure.
Two balls later, the veteran India seamer was at the receiving end of his tryst with the outrageously talented Singapore-born Aussie powerhitter, who smashed him away for a pair of maximums off two consecutive failed yorker attempts at the death.
An over that began with promise, ended up costing the right-arm quick 21 runs and shattered India's plans, in that they didn't feel confident of offering Bhuvneshwar another over to complete his spell.
The fine line between a yorker that results in a dot ball to the one that goes for six is at best a couple of inches: sensing the yorker, batters hang deep inside their batting crease and get underneath the ball to hit him in front of the wicket.
Place your long-on and long-off back, and the same batters turn the yorker into a low full-toss and play the lap or the ramp that fetches them boundaries over the keeper's head. The bowler has no wall to hide behind: they walk no tighter rope in the game that turns them into a hero or a villain, depending on the end result.
For Bhuvneshwar Kumar, the yorker is the lifeblood of his death-overs game. The base of his end-overs plan is built by and large on his yorker execution, around which comes his slower-ball variations - the cutters, the grippers, the knuckle ball - and the usage of angles through the crease.
When he gets it to land the full-pitchers two inches ahead and yorks the batter, Bhuvneshwar exercises leash on run-scoring, which robs the opposing player of time and control at the crease. Thereby forcing him to hit the seamer's other clever ploys, nullifying shots against which has always been the easier of the two tasks for the Indian incumbent.
Bhuvneshwar got the rampaging Cameron Green out trying a swipe at his wide, slower-ball bouncer on the same night, for example. But when his yorker fails, the medium-pacer ultimately proves expensive at the death.
Bhuvneshwar Kumar's quest to revive the yorker
At his peak in IPL 2016 and 2017, when he finished with the 'Purple Cap' for SRH, Bhuvneshwar had a match-winning end-overs economy rate of 8.95 over two seasons. Those were IPL campaigns that ascented him into one of India's premier limited-overs seamers alongside Jasprit Bumrah.
But a career-threatening back injury in IPL 2018 not only effectively ended Bhuvneshwar Kumar's Test career but also dented his yorker execution at the death in T20s. From IPL 2018 to IPL 2021, where he was plagued with an injury spree, Bhuvneshwar had a death-overs ER of 10.48, 10.27, 9.84 and 10.46, respectively.
The turnaround began at the start of 2022, where a few encouraging outings against West Indies and Sri Lanka at home paved way for Bhuvneshwar Kumar's best IPL season in five long years. He went for only 14 fours and 5 sixes from 115 balls worth of bowling in the 16-20 phase and ended with a tournament death-overs ER of 8.60 for SRH on flat pitches in Mumbai and Pune.
The trust showcased and place of incumbency offered by the selectors and the management in a season where India have been building towards the next T20 World Cup were well earned. It's just that Bhuvneshwar has failed to replicate his resurrect death-overs mould from the IPL to T20Is for India. The bowler has a calendar year end-phase ER of 11.37, with 16 fours and 9 sixes conceded from 96 deliveries.
Bhuvneshwar had his share of expensive outings against South Africa in June before an impressive series versus England in July. But the Asia Cup in UAE laid bare the issue to the public eye, with his expensive death-overs spells against Pakistan and Sri Lanka proving a nail in India's coffin for the tournament, a theme that continued against the Aussies in Mohali and Hyderabad. Bhuvneshwar gave away 15 and 16 off his two end overs in the first T20I and returned to concede 21 runs in the 18th over in the third.
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The match against Pakistan highlighted Bhuvneshwar Kumar's problem when he is unable to execute the yorker to the degree required of him. Bowling the 19th over to Asif Ali, Bhuvneshwar kept trying to force the right-hander to hit the bigger size of the boundary to the off-side against slower balls. Asif, though, was alert enough to the task as he moved across, got underneath an attempted yorker that followed and dispatched it for a match-sealing six over long-on.
In the 20th over, young Arshdeep Singh bowled multiple excellent yorkers with a hopeless equation at hand to reinforce the quality of the ploy despite the passing of time enabling batters with deeper strokemaking range to counter it with success and how Bhuvneshwar had failed to execute the same under pressure. Therein lies the key to Bhuvneshwar's reversion to mean as a dependable end-overs option for India: get the yorker execution right with unerring frequency as he used to do at his very, very best.
Given the rise of Arshdeep and the presence of Bumrah in the set-up, India can afford to pinhole Bhuvneshwar Kumar as their powerplay specialist, who finishes off his spell in the first 15 overs of the game. The think-tank, however, wants to give him as many opportunities to revive his sinking ship at the death before they enter the T20 World Cup. The last thing they want is to be left with only an inexperienced Arshdeep to bank on for the non-Bumrah end. Dravid would know more capable hands, the merrier.
In a simple understanding, India can afford to replace a struggling Harshal Patel with the promising Arshdeep and notoriously expensive Yuzvendra Chahal with their best defensive spinner Ravichandran Ashwin.
But India can't shift off Bhuvneshwar Kumar a month prior to the World Cup. Or they risk leaving themselves short on proven quality, with Mohammad Shami, Umesh Yadav, Mohammed Siraj, and Avesh Khan part of the batch of seamers immediately below this one. Neither of whom carry Bhuvneshwar's smarts and range.
Much of India's T20 World Cup fortunes will depend on whether Bhuvneshwar Kumar can solve the yorker puzzle and reattain the cloth of death-overs invincibility.