A role model to the core!

Bhuvneshwar Kumar with the prized vehicle that he got as an award after the tri-series in West Indies.-PICS. R.V. MOORTHY

Vijay Lokapally spends some time with the “nice, obedient, down-to-earth” paceman, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, in Meerut.

As you enter Meerut the pot-holed roads take you back in time. Little seems to have changed. The traffic is unruly and the ambience is noisy as always. A humongous billboard featuring Suresh Raina implores you to invest in property he endorses. Posters of political figures, local and national, cover the walls of this city which takes pride in the fact that it was the epicentre of the 1857 uprising against the British Rule.

The Meerut Cantonment is said to be one of the finest in the country and it is indeed so different from the rest of the city which offers an amazing range of options to earn your living, from selling timber and fruits to running eateries and sports goods manufacturing. Cricket is the latest vocation of Bhuvneshwar Kumar, the face of Meerut in Indian cricket.

The wily seamer has earned his place in the Indian team and then cemented it in style. His debut, in a One-Day International against Pakistan in Chennai (Dec. 2012), was sensational… a wicket off the first ball with a bewildering in-swinger that left Mohammad Hafeez in a trance. His Test debut against Australia two months later, also in Chennai, was insignificant as he went wicketless. “It taught me a lot,” says Bhuvneshwar, who realised that international cricket demanded his best every time he bowled.

Bhuvneshwar’s composed reaction to scalping Hafeez reflected his personality — calm and controlled. “That’s the way he has been right from the time I saw him first,” says coach Sanjay Rastogi. We are at the Bhama Shah Stadium in Meerut, in serene surroundings, with Bhuvneshwar and his long-time Uttar Pradesh colleague Parvindar Singh busy with their daily training routine. With us is Ravindra Chauhan, a noted curator, and also an old supporter of Bhuvneshwar. As a gentle breeze greets us, Chauhan predicts “rain” in the next hour.

“He is a nice lad, obedient, down to earth,” remarks Chauhan, recounting some of Bhuvneshwar’s brilliant performances as a teenager. “He once hit a century as an opener in an under-15 match against Delhi’s Sonnet Club. We knew that day this boy would make it big,” Chauhan recalls. A nod from Rastogi is a pleasant confirmation.

Bhuvneshwar smiles occasionally and sometimes bursts into laughter when Chauhan and Rastogi recall amusing incidents from his formative years as a cricketer. Rastogi affirms, “I have never seen him miss a training session. I can’t recall Bhuvi ever reporting late. His discipline has been an example for our centre. He is shy by nature but so expressive when he has the ball in his hand.”

Bhuvneshwar with his parents.-

For old timers, Bhuvneshwar has not changed a bit. “I vividly remember Bhuvi coming to the stadium on a cycle and later on a mobike,” remarks Rastogi. Now, the famous pupil drives an Audi, making his way past the heavy traffic, with a slight swerve here, and a slight swerve there. Just the way he bowls, the change of swing confusing the best of batsmen.

Parvindar has been Bhuvneshwar’s room-mate from the first Ranji match they played and has faced him in the ‘nets’ with a silent prayer to be able to read him a bit. “It is very difficult to pick his line because he is so deceptive even in the nets. He knows his game so well and that allows him to read the situation. I don’t think there is a better bowler who can plot his opponent’s dismissal. I have seen him set up batsmen so many times. Every time I see him in international matches, I know what he is going to bowl next. But I would not be able to pick him when facing him.”

Bhuvneshwar is embarrassed by his friend’s praise. “It’s very kind of him, but I just look to focus and improve. International cricket is a tough grind but one has to earn wickets even in domestic cricket. The pitches don’t always help you. That makes you innovative and I love to experiment. One has to keep evolving because there is intense analysis these days.”

Chauhan adds, “Bhuvi’s grasping power is very good.” Rastogi agrees, “This desire to learn and improve sets him apart.” As far as Bhuvneshwar is concerned, the sky is the limit.

“I know my technique. I also know the good and minus points. I keep studying my bowling, my action, my fitness and endurance. There will be times when I would bowl well and go without a wicket. Sometimes bad deliveries would fetch me wickets. I take all this as part of the game. You can’t succeed always and that makes me very patient,” Bhuvnesh says.

How does he handle success? “To tell you honestly, I don’t think about it much, all this fame and money. My job is to play cricket and I know I have to do it well. I am known for my cricket. Actually, it helps me grow when I do well on the cricket field. Success also makes me responsible because I know there will be kids who would look up to me. I can never be over-confident of my cricket and you will never see me misbehaving on or off the field,” promises Bhuvneshwar.

He is 23, but has six years of experience in first-class cricket. His training stints at the Meerut stadium with Praveen Kumar helped him understand his potential better. “He has always backed me. He taught me how to be competitive. Our style is the same, we both rely on swing, and I have learnt a lot by just watching him. He has a very positive attitude towards cricket,” recalls Bhuvneshwar.

Bhuvneshwar with coach Sanjay Rastogi (left) and Meerut Curator Ravindra Chauhan.-

What makes Bhuvneshwar competitive is that a bad spell never dampens his spirits. “I know the expectations will always be high. I am known to give early breakthroughs, but then it can’t happen always. I will have my share of off days on the field, but you will never find me casual. I can’t cheat myself. In any case, my coach would spot it and I would never want to disappoint him.”

He would also not want to disappoint the three most important persons in his life, father Kiranpal Singh, mother Indresh Devi and sister Rekha. “It was Rekha who brought him to me at the stadium,” recalls Rastogi. Bhuvneshwar’s father was a policeman, always travelling and away at work for long. His mother pampered him even as Rekha ensured that her brother got the best of diet and support.

“Once Sanjay assured me the boy had a future in cricket, I gave him a free hand. I was good at volleyball and kabaddi, but never thought my son would play cricket for India. I hardly saw him play when he was growing up, but I don’t miss his matches on the television now. He is a good lad, very obedient. He gives all his earnings to his mother,” says Kiranpal. The mother smiles, “Every time he steps out, I have to ask him if he needs money. At home, sometimes you wonder if he is at home. He is so shy and quiet.”

Recently, Bhuvneshwar was invited by Anita Rana, a social worker, to visit some handicapped children. Some of them were deaf and dumb. Despite a hectic schedule, Bhuvneshwar found time. “Meeting them was an experience. I felt so humbled when they gave me a Ganesh idol they had specially crafted for me. I was told some of them would take a month to learn one word. I would love to absorb their patience. I was immensely motivated after spending time with them.”

As Bhuvneshwar prepares for a long season ahead, his thoughts return to the cricket field. “I want to build on the confidence of the last season. I don’t want to make any claims. It will be great to be part of a winning unit and great to contribute to it.” The one-day series against Australia will set the tone and Bhuvneshwar has begun the quest in the right spirit.