Bhuvneshwar Kumar Mark II ready to prove his importance for India

Bhuvneshwar Kumar is now a valuable player for India across all formats.
Updated 24 February 2018
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Bhuvneshwar Kumar Mark II ready to prove his importance for India

BANGALORE: Two Tests into India’s five-match series in England in 2014, the media couldn’t stop singing the visitors’ praises.
Having drawn at Trent Bridge, India had pulled off a famous victory at Lord’s on a green-tinged pitch expected to play into English hands.
Their all-round hero was a light-eyed, frail-looking pace bowler from Uttar Pradesh. Until that summer, Bhuvneshwar Kumar had not even played a Test outside India. But in two games, he grafted 209 runs while seeing off a remarkable 442 balls, and took 11 wickets for 185. India, it seemed, had a new cricketing idol, and England — with Matt Prior already having quit the series and Alastair Cook’s captaincy hanging by a thread — were in disarray.
In such circumstances, it is easy to ride the populist wave. One man who did not was Michael Holding, the West Indies cricket legend. Before the third Test, when Joe Dawes — then India’s bowling coach — asked him to take a look at his charges, Holding did not like what he saw.
“They will not last five Tests,” he told this correspondent. “The legs aren’t strong enough.”
The downturn in Bhuvneshwar’s performances were the best illustration of what Holding had seen. In the next three matches — Old Trafford and the Oval were so seam-friendly that England ran riot — Bhuvneshwar took eight for 321. Those were not disgraceful figures, but they were hugely disappointing in helpful conditions. With the bat too, he tailed away, managing just 38 in six innings.
The metronomic movement and zip off the pitch that had typified his bowling in Nottingham and at Lord’s had long since disappeared by The Oval. The ball floated through at amiable pace, and the batsmen were seldom troubled. Even under overcast skies, Bhuvneshwar, who was supposed to be India’s premier swing bowler, could not do much.
In Australia a few months later, he played just the one Test in Sydney. He took one for 168. With MS Dhoni having retired, and a new captain in charge, Bhuvneshwar did not play another Test for more than 18 months. He did not spend that time idle, though. With Virat Kohli, the captain, making clear his preference for bowlers with some pace, Bhuvneshwar knew that mere swing and control would not get him his place back.
He worked on his strength, both the legs and upper body. And by the time Sunrisers Hyderabad won the 2016 Indian Premier League, he was noticeably sharper in his new ball spells. Apart from swing and seam movement, he had a bouncer that could hurry the batsmen. And the added pace meant that he was no longer cannon fodder on placid pitches.
That season, he took 23 wickets, while conceding 7.42 an over. Back in the Test squad a few months later, he destroyed West Indies with match figures of six for 46 at Gros Islet. But on Indian pitches, memories of his earlier struggles seemed to influence selection. With Mohammed Shami and Umesh Yadav the preferred new-ball pairing, Bhuvneshwar had to settle for the odd cameo. He invariably made them count, though.
At Eden Gardens in 2016, he helped rout New Zealand with six for 76. A year later at the same venue, Sri Lanka — who had controlled much of the game — barely escaped with a draw after his second-innings heroics resulted in match figures of eight for 96. With the white ball too, he turned his fortunes around. Having been restricted to just one game, against the UAE, at the 2015 World Cup, he was an ever-present in India’s run to the Champions Trophy final in England last summer.
In the Twenty20 arena as well, he bided his time. After missing out on the World Twenty20 on home turf in 2016, he’s now an integral part of the squad. His five for 24 in the opening game of the ongoing series in South Africa illustrated just why, as he varied pace and length beautifully to flummox the batsmen.
The media uproar that followed his non-selection for the second Test against South Africa at Centurion said much about how valuable a cricketer he has become across formats. At both Newlands and The Wanderers, he batted with tenacity and nous, and bowled with all the skill he had shown in England nearly four years earlier. Only this time, the legs did not give way. Bhuvneshwar Mark II is here to stay.


Juan Antonio Pizzi is still the right man to lead Saudi Arabia, says former Green Falcons boss

Updated 22 June 2018
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Juan Antonio Pizzi is still the right man to lead Saudi Arabia, says former Green Falcons boss

  • Saudi Arabia's 1996 Asian Cup-winning coach Nelo Vingada backs Pizzi to lead side into next year's Asian Cup.
  • Green Falcons face Egypt on Monday with both looking to land their first point in Russia.

MOSCOW: Saudi Arabia’s 1996 Asian Cup-winning boss Nelo Vingada has called on the country’s football authorities to keep faith with head coach Juan Antonio Pizzi despite a disappointing showing in Russia.
The Green Falcons still have to face Egypt in the final match of Group A, but have already been eliminated following a 5-0 defeat at the hands of Russia in the opening game on June 14 in Moscow and a 1-0 loss to Uruguay five days later in Rostov.
 “I was expecting a little more from Saudi Arabia to be honest,” Vingada told Arab News.
“In the first game they were disappointing but a first game of the World Cup is always hard and especially when it is the first game and everyone is watching. Plenty of teams at the World Cup did not play well in the first game.
“But playing Russia in Russia and to lose is what you would normally expect from Saudi Arabia and while it was far from positive, people should not get carried away.
“The game with Uruguay was much improved in terms of organization and defense and it showed more of the character of the Saudi Arabia team.”
In the past, coaches have been axed following disappointing World Cup campaigns but with the 2019 Asian Cup just seven months away, the Portuguese tactician would prefer to see some stability rather than yet another new man in the dugout.
 “The Asian Cup is in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia will be one of the contenders,” Vingada said. “It is better to stay with the same coach. He has a vision of how he wants the team to play and he now knows the players and the players know him.”
Constant changing has not helped Saudi Arabia in the past and Pizzi himself has been in the job just seven months.
“The problem is not the coach. He should not be changed, that has happened before but results did not improve, but the mentality has to change.”
Despite that Vingada, who has coached 
Egyptian club giants Zamalek and the country’s Under-23 team, believes that the Pharaohs, also eliminated, will prevail when the two regional rivals meet on Monday in Volgograd.
 “This is an important game for pride, the players and the countries. It is still the World Cup. Egypt have a little more quality I think and have Mohamed Salah too.” 
The Liverpool striker has been recovering from a shoulder injury sustained in the Champions League final defeat to Real Madrid in late May and missed the opening game 1-0 loss to Uruguay. He played in the second game, a 3-1 defeat at the hands of Russia, scoring from the spot late in the match to earn a consolation.
“Any coach would take Salah because he can win you games but overall Egypt have been a little disappointing and a little unlucky.”
The bad luck came when conceding a last-minute goal to Uruguay and a fluke own goal to get Russia off the mark. “Uruguay are a tough team and it is no shame to lose 3-1 to a Russia team at home who are playing to qualify for the next round. It showed that European and South American teams still have a little more quality.”
 “Egypt just made some mistakes at the wrong time but this is football and without mistakes there are no goals.”
Ahead of the clash against Egypt Pizzi confirmed his intention to stay as Saudi Arabia boss, looking to build on the seven months he has had to imprint his ideas on the team ahead of the Asian Cup.