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India vs Sri Lanka | Bhuvneshwar's New-ball Form Only Real Concern For India Ahead of Semis

Karthik Lakshmanan |July 7, 2019, 3:31 AM IST
India vs Sri Lanka | Bhuvneshwar's New-ball Form Only Real Concern For India Ahead of Semis

Leeds: Tick a few personal boxes of preparation with an eye on the semifinal, while producing a clinical performance as a team. That, as Dinesh Karthik said on game-eve, was the mantra for India for their game against Sri Lanka.

India largely achieved that. The usual suspects - Jasprit Bumrah with the ball and Rohit Sharma with the bat - ensured the second part: a clinical win. KL Rahul ticked a personal box in converting the starts into a century. India's win was so clinical that the other box - middle order batting - wasn't even properly tested.

There was a potential worry for India in the manner in which way Sri Lanka's batsmen approached Bhuvneshwar Kumar. Each time he came on to bowl, they made it clear that he was their target. The result was figures of 10-0-73-1, in an innings where no other Indian bowler conceded more than six runs an over.

The runs were split across phases. Bhuvneshwar was India's first choice because of his ability with the new ball, but without swing, he wasn't threatening. He was short and wide or too straight, allowing Dimuth Karunaratne and Kusal Perera to cut and flick for boundaries. The cross-batted shots wouldn't have been easy to play against Bhuvneshwar had there been movement but he just wasn't finding any.

Image: AFP

Bhuvneshwar was unfortunate too, with Kuldeep Yadav dropping a simple chance to reprieve Kusal Perera. But at the end of it all, Bhuvneshwar conceded 36 runs in five overs of his first spell. He has played six matches this World Cup, and is yet to strike with the new ball in his first spell even once. His competitor, Mohammed Shami, has struck in his first spell in every game barring the one against England where he was desperately unlucky.

Bhuvneshwar came back for a second spell in the 32nd over, with Angelo Mathews and Lahiru Thirimanne in the middle of a rebuilding partnership. The batsmen were doing nothing fancy; just rotating strike and taking the innings deep after a top order collapse. They had hit only two boundaries between overs 21 and 30. In the next two overs of Bhuvneshwar, they hit three.

It was almost like they were waiting for Bhuvneshwar to return. The second ball of his second spell, Thirimanne came down the track to hit through extra cover. In Bhuvneshwar's next over, Mathews lofted him for four over mid-off while Thirimanne slogged across through mid-wicket.

His second spell went for 16 in two. He conceded 21 in his last three in the death, including a wicket in the last over.

It was very much an off-day for Bhuvneshwar. His economy was one-off even. Bhuvneshwar's costliest spell before this game was a 9-0-51-1 against Bangladesh.

But the wickets column is not a one-off, especially with the new ball. Bhuvneshwar has 7 wickets in 6 matches. Three of those came in last overs - two in the South Africa game and one now - when batsmen had nothing to lose and didn't bother about getting out.

India's Mohammad Shami appeals for a wickets against Bangladesh. (Pic: AP)

India's 'embarrasment of riches' and 'happy headache' of choosing between Shami and Bhuvneshwar has come down to this: Shami's wickets with the new ball vs Bhuvneshwar's reliability in the death. Shami's last three overs cost 44 runs against England. Against Bangladesh, Shami conceded 35 runs in his last two.

For India to look past Bhuvneshwar, they will have to be convinced about their batting depth. Ravindra Jadeja, who had a typically tidy spell of 10-0-40-1, could be the one to provide that.

The spin department has a conundrum too, with Kuldeep Yadav not going beyond playing a supporting role. His best spell was a 2-35 against Pakistan where he bowled that beauty to Babar Azam, but hasn't had much of an impact since then. He now has only six wickets in seven matches, although the economy under five is not bad. After the match against West Indies, he had explained the lack of wickets to 'batsmen not attacking'.

If India are not getting wickets from Kuldeep, they wouldn't mind splitting the Kul-Cha combination as they have done over the last two games. India have won 20 of the 25 matches when Bumrah, Kuldeep and Chahal have played together. But their best combination going purely by form in this World Cup might not involve all of them together.

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Cricket World Cup Points Table

9 7 1 1 15 +0.80
9 7 2 0 14 +0.86
9 6 3 0 12 +1.15
9 5 3 1 11 +0.17
9 5 3 1 11 -0.43
9 3 4 2 8 -0.91
9 3 5 1 7 -0.03
9 3 5 1 7 -0.41
9 2 6 1 5 -0.22
9 0 9 0 0 -1.32

Team Rankings

Rank Team Points Rating
1 India 3631 113
2 New Zealand 2547 111
3 South Africa 2917 108
4 England 3663 105
5 Australia 2640 98
see more
Rank Team Points Rating
1 England 6420 123
2 India 6807 122
3 New Zealand 4763 113
4 Australia 5470 112
5 South Africa 5193 110
see more
Rank Team Points Rating
1 Pakistan 7365 283
2 England 4253 266
3 South Africa 4196 262
4 Australia 5471 261
5 India 7273 260
see more