India will bank on young seamer Bhuvneshwar Kumar to contain England’s batsmen when the Champions Trophy one-day final is played at Edgbaston today.
The lean 23-year-old has made such rapid strides since his debut six months ago that captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni regularly hands him the new ball over the faster Umesh Yadav or the more experienced Ishant Sharma.
Kumar has justified his skipper’s faith with his accuracy and ability to swing the ball both ways, helping the world champions reach the final as the only unbeaten team in the eight-nation Champions Trophy tournament.
Left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja may be India’s leading bowler with 10 wickets in four matches, but the early breakthroughs provided by Kumar have left several opponents rattled.
He began with the wicket of South Africa’s Colin Ingram in his second over during the high-scoring tournament opener in Cardiff, then removed the dangerous Chris Gayle for 21 in the next match against the West Indies.
Kumar’s twin-strikes against Pakistan, when he got rid of Nasir Jamshed and Mohammad Hafeez cheaply, contributed to India’s eight-wicket win in the rain-hit game at Edgbaston.
During Thursday’s semi-final against Sri Lanka in overcast Cardiff, Kumar dismissed Kusal Perera in his second over and finished with 1-18 from nine overs that helped restrict the Islanders to 181.
Kumar will be pleased the final is being played at Edgbaston where he has found the ball swinging a lot more than at the other two tournament venues of Cardiff and The Oval in London.
“I enjoyed playing here because the ball swung and seamed a lot,” Kumar said after the win over Pakistan where his 2-19 from eight overs earned him the man-of-the-match award.
“It’s good when you pitch the ball up and it swings. That helps to take initial wickets and put the opposition under pressure,” he said.
Making early inroads has been Kumar’s forte. In his first international match, a Twenty20 game against Pakistan in December, he bowled Jamshed in his first over.
Then on his one-day international debut soon afterwards, he bowled Hafeez first ball and also dismissed Azhar Ali to finish with 2-27 from nine overs.
Kumar’s impressive start saw the selectors award him a Test bow in the recent home series against Australia, where he claimed six wickets in four matches.
If wickets are hard to come by on unresponsive pitches, Kumar relies on a steady line and length to contain the flow of runs — as was evident in an Indian Premier League Twenty20 match earlier this year.
Even as Gayle plundered a monumental 175 not out off 66 balls to lift the Royal Challengers Bangalore to 263-5 against Kumar’s Pune Warriors, the seamer conceded just 23 runs in four overs.
Gayle smashed 13 boundaries and 17 sixes, but in the seven balls he faced from Kumar, the aggressive opener managed only 11 runs.
“It is not a happy time for the bowlers when Gayle bats like that, but I was satisfied that I did not give away too many runs,” Kumar said.