Bhuvneshwar Kumar was not named in India’s 20-man main squad for the four month long Test tour of England. The veteran Indian seamer had a poor outing in the IPL and has not represented India in Test cricket since Johannesburg 2018. With no dearth of talent in the pace armoury, is this the end of the road for the 31-year old in the longest format of the game? Will we ever see BK again in whites for India?
Kumar has played just 21 Tests for India in a career that spanned approximately five years from February 2013 to January 2018. India played a total of 53 Tests in the same period, which essentially means that Kumar played just 40% of the total number of matches played by his country during his career. Injuries, form and the emergence of other stars meant that he was not a part of three-fifth of the Tests played by India during his career.
Still, he gave good returns whenever he got the opportunity and thus has a credible overall record for India. Amongst the six bowlers who picked a minimum of 50 Test wickets during Kumar’s career, his bowling average of 26.09 was the best amongst all the pacers - higher than the likes of Mohammed Shami (28.9), Ishant Sharma (33.04) and Umesh Yadav (37.53). His bowling strike rate of 53.1 was second only to Shami (51.2) amongst the fast bowlers. This suggested that not only was Kumar a wicket-taker but also very restrictive and bowled with control and discipline - his economy rate of 2.94 (the lowest amongst the fast bowlers) an indicator of this.
Kumar had played a stellar role with the ball in India’s only win on the 2014 Test tour to England. He returned with 6-82 in the first innings at Lord’s which included the wickets of the four top English batsmen and amongst those of Alastair Cook and Ian Bell. He took a fifer in the first innings against New Zealand at the Eden Gardens taking India to a series win in 2016 just a month after his five-wicket haul against the West Indies in Gros Islet.
Kumar produced his best career performance against Sri Lanka at the Eden Gardens in 2017 returning with four wickets in each innings helping India fightback after conceding a first innings deficit. Barring the solitary Test he played in Australia in 2015, Kumar had fine returns wherever he represented India with the red cherry - in England, South Africa, West Indies and even at home.
Kumar was on a high after his Player of the Match performance in Johannesburg in 2018 which resulted in a rare win for India in South Africa. He was all set to lead India’s charge in England in the following summer but the re-surfacing of an old lower-back injury forced him to miss the Test series. Kumar sat out for a few months which led to a loss of rhythm and form. The emergence of Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami and the new wicket-taking avatars of Ishant Sharma and Umesh Yadav pushed Kumar back in the pecking order since 2019. He was rested for the home series against the West Indies and did not play a single Test in Australia in 2019-20.
The story has not changed thereafter. Kumar has not been considered as a Test option even in conditions where his ability to swing the ball - like England - will make him a lethal force with the ball. He is not growing younger and his old niggles keep resurfacing which makes him impossible to be selected for the longer format.
Also, with India producing new fresh talent in fast bowling with the rise of the likes of Mohammed Siraj, Navdeep Saini and Shardul Thakur, the writing is on the wall for Kumar - the Test bowler.
His white-ball performances though have been outstanding since 2019. Kumar has picked 39 wickets in 22 ODIs at an average of 23.56 and strike rate of 27.5 in this time frame. He has also been very restrictive giving away just 5.13 runs per over. In fact, combining average, strike rate and economy rate, Kumar has been, by far the best Indian ODI bowler in the last couple of years.
While we might see him in the Indian squad for the World T20 in October and he may also squeeze in another World Cup in 2023, there is only an iota of a chance that Kumar will again be seen in whites for the country.
It is a pity that the leading wicket-taker for India on his only tour to England in 2014 will not be a part of the contingent when the country tours the Old Blighty again next month.