On a sun-kissed Thursday in Southampton, England needed 199 to start the post-Morgan era on a winning note. Going by the standards they have set in the white-ball games, the target was well within their reach. Barring Chris Jordan, none of their bowlers received any purchase from the track.

There was little doubt about how their openers, Jos Buttler and Jason Roy, would go on about their business. Their hard-handed approach in the opening overs can be a deflating experience for the bowlers. But Bhuvneshwar Kumar, the man who would open the attack, came up with a clear plan, one that had worked well for him against Jos Buttler in the past.

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How Bhuvneshwar Outfoxes Buttler?

Two years ago when England toured India, Bhuvneshwar tasted his first success against Buttler. Before that, the English batter had faced over 100 balls from Bhuvneshwar without a single dismissal. It was a nip-backer on the length band that rammed into Buttler’s pad, who was trying to work it out to the mid-wicket region, only to get pinned leg-before for a golden duck. Three days later, Buttler again fell prey to Bhuvi. Trying to flick it to the leg side, he closed his blade a tad too early, and the leading edge was ensnared by KL Rahul at mid-off. Like his opening partner, Jason Roy was equally vulnerable against early movements.

When Bhuvneshwar came to bowl last evening, he knew his best bet against the English openers would be to stick around the length band and check if he could get the ball to swing both ways from there. There was a hint of movement on the first ball, which swung away from the batter after rising from the back of the length. The second ball just about held its line, while the next two moved away from Roy, who rushed down and tapped to mid-wicket to get off the strike. 

At this point, the mind wanders to other possibilities. How big an asset a fully fit Bhuvneshwar Kumar is to this team? There’s no one in this side who can make the ball talk as he does. Had he been there in the World Test Championship at Lord’s, the result may have been different. 

Roy was dancing to his tune, unsure of whether to play for an away or in-swing. Jos Buttler was watching this from the other end, but now it was his turn. So far every ball had either moved away or held its line. Buttler stationed himself on the leg-stump guard, perhaps with an aim to throw a kitchen sink at anything that moves away from the off-stump line. With the field restriction in play, this was not a bad idea. Instead, what Buttler got was a searing in-swinger that moved viciously into him, and subtly snaked past the gap between his bat and the pads. By the time this over finished, Rohit Sharma had stationed two men at the slip cordon. 

To fully appreciate what Bhuvneshwar did to Buttler, you’ll need to watch the highlight at 0.5X, and focus solely on his fingers as the ball is released. There’s a gentle push from his middle finger that takes the ball in direction of his seam position – towards the slip cordon. Soon, before you realise, the ball has already changed its initial direction, swinging spitefully into Buttler’s body and unsettling his stumps. 

Arshdeep Shines On His Debut

Bhuvi was unplayable in this game, conceding just ten runs despite completing his three-over spell inside the Powerplay. But it was equally important for the rest of the bowlers to maintain the pressure from the other end. Arshdeep Singh, the debutant, did exactly that in the second over, squeezing the run flow with a stunning display of his swinging skills. Both Bumrah and Arshdeep generated 3.1 degrees of swing in the first two overs, which is the most in the T20I history in England.

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There has been a lot of talk about saving Arshdeep for the middle and death overs. The logic here is that in the absence of field restriction, Arshdeep’s efficacy increases since there will be boundary riders to lap up the false shot he often induces. But if there’s a hint of movement, Arshdeep can be an equally lethal weapon in the opening overs, as he showed in Southampton.

The first over of his international career ended in a maiden. There was no room for Roy to free up his arms, who played six dots on the trot. There was palpable desperation in Roy’s batting, who was itching to find a boundary after a silent first over. He rushed down the ground, backed away, poked away from the body, wildly swung his bat to clear the mid-off, but couldn’t even score a single run. 

Roy managed just 4 runs off 16 balls before getting out to Pandya. Arshdeep’s first international wicket came in the 18th over, when he had Reece Topley caught behind. He then added a final stamp to the game by wrapping it up with the wicket of Matt Parkinson.

Featured Image Cricket: ECB