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What is the opposite of nostalgia? I forget now but there must be a word that means to reflect on a period long passed, that afflicts a person with bile and rage. Whatever the poets and medics may call it, fans of the England and India cricket teams have been force-fed it to the point of flatlining recently. The diagnosis? The 1990s are back. For England, most of the decade that heralded the world wide web, Britpop and Tony Blair was one banal feast after another of Test mediocrity, garnished with despair, and a side serving of humiliation. It was the era of Phil DeFreitas, Graeme Hick and Tim Munton. England were used to being thrashed. Often.
For India, on the home front the 90s seemed dandy; Sachin bhai electrified the world, and England were slaughtered in a disastrous tour that ended in a 3-0 Test series as the decade began. A short while later along came Dravid, and Ganguly, and Kumble, and India built a team that would be feared even by the mighty Australians. So this past year, fans of both teams could be forgiven for half-expecting to see a Balkan war or a plethora of Indian Miss Worlds as they drowned in a collective time-travel nightmare. More so for England, who currently face the indignity not just of a phenomenally bad losing streak but also of a bellicose debate over the team's future and in Alastair Cook, an unpopular captain who also happens to be as stubborn as an ink stain on a safari suit.
For India there are actually some splashes of sunshine. And they come together to form Buvneshwar Kumar, India's new prince of simplicity. The youngster has become the talk of the series with an incredible performance so far. As Amar Singh, digital sports editor at the London Evening Standard, says: “Three fifties and two five-fors in two Tests, Bhuvneshwar Kumar has been the star of the series. He has bowled an unnervingly accurate line and length, adapting to the conditions brilliantly—the nervy English batsmen have struggled to live with him.”
Indeed he has, in a side that is generally seen as one in transition, Bhuvneshwar has stood out as not just a paragon of sporting excellence, but one of gentlemanliness too. In a series that has become increasingly spiky after vitriolic exchanges between the skippers, it is nice to see a youngster plying his craft with dedication and dignity. And in the case of a chap who would probably be greeted with an “I say, BK”, were he ever to become a member of that most English of institutions, the Marylebone Cricket Club (clue: unlikely, ever) it is very much a craft. Clearly the 24-year-old applies himself with zeal, his bowling form is one of practice and patience, of brilliance through dedication, and most irritatingly for the English, of adaptability.
Can it be any more irksome for the home crowds that an Indian bowler’s style is so suited to England that he used English climes and English pitches to defeat the English. As Nick Hoult wrote in the Daily Telegraph: “Kumar admitted to having learnt from England’s failure to bowl the right length on the first day as he revelled in conditions that he could only have dreamed of when growing up as a wannabe young swing bowler in the northern Indian town of Meerut.” Kumar himself told the paper: “If you have got a supportive wicket you have to be more disciplined and we did our best to keep the ball up. England's bowlers bowled really short length and we learnt from that.”
And lest we forget, his batting wasn't half bad either. Lawrence Booth, editor of the Wisden Cricketers' Almanack, wrote in the Daily Mail: “Had Joe Root accepted a sharp but catchable head-high chance at third slip when Bhuvneshwar was on two, England would have been favourites. Instead, he did what proper batsmen do: in the company of the lively Ravindra Jadeja, he made the opposition regret their error.” That they did, and in the next Test at Southampton's Rose Bowl there will be no underestimating Bhuvneshwar. And judging the way this series is going for England, and its skipper, don't be too surprised if you see some of the notoriously jovial Barmy Army holding up a banners dedicated to “BK”—a new star, whoever he plays for, is rightly, just cricket.
A shorter version of this appeared in print
By Saptarshi Ray in London