It is a strange moment in Indian cricket. The national team is evidently struggling while a big tournament that will begin next month in the country – ODI World Cup – has faced unprecedented roadblocks.
Amid the cacophony, the national team’s wait for a major ICC trophy stretched into its 10th year after failure in their previous attempt at the 2022 T20 World Cup in Australia.
Following defeat to England in the semi-final in Adelaide, one player found himself sidelined fairly soon, after a decade in international cricket.
Seam bowler Bhuvneshwar Kumar has quietly slipped off the radar, with Jasprit Bumrah back leading the pace attack.
Kumar is currently playing in the inaugural edition of the Uttar Pradesh T20 League, a local T20 franchise tournament in his state. At 33, the right-arm seamer knows time is not on his side. But that is not on his mind right now. He just wants to play competitively.
“When you are at a stage when you know you are going to play only for a few more years – being a fast bowler – it hits you and you want to enjoy cricket. I am at that stage now,” Kumar told The National.
“Yes I am not part of the Indian team, but this does not bother me. It’s not that I am trying something different or planning anything new to come back. I am just focusing on playing cricket.”
One of the performances that stood out for the wrong reasons recently was the match against England at the T20 World Cup where the eventual champions chased down 169 in just 16 overs. All the Indian bowlers went wicketless that day but, while others remain part of the mix, Kumar is not.
A comeback is always at the back of the mind of a player who finds himself out of a team he was an almost integral member of, but Kumar remains phlegmatic.
“I am not playing just to make a comeback. I am doing what is needed to play good cricket. There might be a chance to make a comeback [to the Indian team]. But that is not my focus. Whatever format or leagues I play, I want to contribute. If things fall into place, I can make a comeback but that is not my sole focus now.”
And it’s not like he has restricted himself to bowling four overs.
“I am not giving a priority to any one format. It’s not that I just want to play T20 or ODIs or Tests. At this stage, I just want to play cricket. I don’t know how many more years I will get to play.”
The focus, therefore, is on the UPT20 league, which is one of more than half a dozen state-level T20 tournaments in the country. The tournament is shown on the hugely popular JioCinema app in India, with top players getting a salary of one million Indian rupees. Six franchises are competing in the tournament, which started on August 30 and finishes on September 16.
For Kumar, the tournament is a shot in the arm for arguably the biggest talent pool of cricketers in the country; the state of UP has a population of over 240 million.
“We needed this in UP. UP is such a big state. Even if you have very good trials and selection matches, it is always limited. This league will help in finding talent. Because seeing a player in the nets and during matches are two different things.”
What such leagues also do is provide a pretty straightforward shot at the IPL, even though the official domestic T20 tournament in the country is the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy.
“There is a sense of security that comes with the finances that come with these leagues. This is at an early stage, but I am sure in a few years these leagues will provide players financial security on their own,” Kumar added.
“Not only that, these leagues are a great chance to get spotted. IPL scouts do watch these leagues, and it is good chance to get spotted, rather than Syed Mushtaq Ali. So players know if they are not part of the state teams, they can still get selected for an IPL team.”