First sports goods, now cricketers

Bhuvaneshwar Kumar returns after taking Central Zone to the Duleep Trophy final at the expense of North Zone.-M. SUBHASH

“I learnt early that cricket can teach you a lot. It makes you a tough person and helps you tackle the challenges of life. I am aware as one rises, the competition too will improve. The key lies in performing consistently,” Bhuvanesh Kumar tells Vijay Lokapally.

Meerut is not really known for its cricket. The sports goods industry is what makes the dusty Meerut a town so sought-after, especially by cricketers who do all their pre-season equipment shopping here.

Bhuvaneshwar Kumar, however, fiercely contests the suggestion that Meerut lacks proper cricket infrastructure. “I think we are second to none in Uttar Pradesh. We have a good cricket ground with quality pitches and some good coaches,” said the all-rounder whose 128 (batting at No. 8) eliminated North Zone in the semifinal of the Duleep Trophy at Hyderabad.

There was pressure on Bhuvanesh when Central Zone lost its ninth wicket (Murali Kartik) at 342 (chasing 452 for the first innings lead) after the two had added 49 runs. The target was a stiff 110 when Bhuvanesh and Rituraj Singh decided to give it a try.

As Vipin Vats, his coach recalled, “The target was small but just one wicket was the problem. I told him (Bhuvanesh) to play normally because the pitch was placid. He does not get bogged down and that is his best quality. I was so happy when someone called me and informed that my pupil had laid North Zone low,” said Vats, who had played 26 first-class matches for Uttar Pradesh.

Bhuvanesh and Rituraj pulled it off with an amazingly determined effort. “The pitch did not matter really because we had to play our game. We had to stay there and grind. As the target came closer our opponents felt the pressure,” remembered Bhuvanesh.

At 21, Bhuvanesh should rank among the most talented in the country. He can bat and bowl and field brilliantly. “A compact cricketer,” his state captain Mohammad Kaif said in praise of Bhuvanesh.

“He is very sincere, very disciplined. He puts in a great effort in his training and bowling. I have hardly seen him perturbed by the state of the pitch, green or placid. He puts in his honest effort. He has contributed with the bat and it is good for us (Uttar Pradesh). Our team has been struggling in the batting department and Bhuvanesh brings in a lot of depth and character,” asserted Kaif.

Bhuvanesh’s self-assessment was not different. “In modern cricket, it is important that you contribute in all three areas. Good fielding is an essential part, but it helps if you can contribute as a batting all-rounder or bowling all-rounder. I have always fancied myself as a good batsman and I’m happy I could win a match with my batting,” said Bhuvanesh, who once took Sachin Tendulkar’s wicket in Ranji Trophy, dismissing the stalwart for his only zero in first-class cricket apart from Test matches.

Vats, rates Bhuvanesh a “strong” cricketer. “He is a mentally strong. He has been so from the beginning. He always played sensible cricket because he knew his good and bad points,” said Vats, a hard taskmaster.

Pace was not Bhuvanesh’s forte though he was an accurate line and length bowler. Kaif pointed out, “I have seen him improve as a bowler. He has his limitations but then he knows his strengths too. He has improved his pace a bit and has worked hard on the movement part too. He is able to swing it in and out, quite similar to PK (Praveen Kumar).”

A quick learner, Bhuvanesh loves to work hard. Said Vats, “In any case, I don’t interfere with his game because he has played a high level of cricket now. A coach like me can give one tip here or make an adjustment there. He is on the verge of playing international cricket and has experience to fight his way up. It is just the beginning. He should keep all distractions aside and just concentrate on his cricket.”

Bhuvanesh, Sudeep Tyagi and Praveen are products of Meerut cricket where competition increases at every step. What drives them is the desire to make a statement in the higher grade of cricket and create a platform for the game to prosper in western Uttar Pradesh.

“I learnt early that cricket can teach you a lot. It makes you a tough person and helps you tackle the challenges of life. I am aware as one rises, the competition too will improve. The key lies in performing consistently,’ concluded Bhuvanesh. Given his passion to learn and improve, one can expect this determined youngster from Meerut to go the distance.