There is a huge similarity that Bhuvneshwar Kumar shares between his 2016 and 2017 IPL seasons. That he has established his hold as the top wicket-keeper in the IPL bowlers’ leader-board putting the Sunrisers Hyderabad on a comfortable perch beyond the reach of all other teams in the arena of expertise.

However, as the 2017 season takes further shape, a couple of key differences in Kumar’s performances between this year and the last have also started to emerge.

The Meerut native finished the 2016 season with 23 wickets in 17 matches, as the Sunrisers rode their way right up to the champions corner. This year, he has substantially bettered himself in picking 15 wickets already, even as the IPL is still a few games short of the halfway mark. More importantly, in picking these 15 wickets – and this is probably the biggest differentiator between Kumar’s 2016 and 2017 seasons – he has also come to be the team’s most economical bowler.

In the five matches that he has played for the Sunrisers so far, including his man-of-the-match winning heroics in their five-run thriller victory over Kings XI Punjab on Monday, Kumar has an economy of just 5.4 runs. This is a telling statistic in all these years that he has been a part of the IPL fraternity, starting with the Royal Challengers Bangalore. Even when compared to his 2016 season where his economy rate was hovering around 7.4 runs.

Enabling Kumar’s economical run has been his ability to get read the batsmen. Unlike several of his bowling counterparts, who prefer to test out the batsmen with a couple of their initial deliveries before drawing them out, Kumar’s subtle variations makes the batsman continually second guess his strategy. In doing so, he is essentially making it difficult for the batsmen to pre-meditate against him.

Likewise, while he runs through the range of available arsenal at his disposal, Kumar has also been astute enough to never get his bowling fall into a pattern of predictability. Thus, this forces the batsmen, who are already on the backfoot around him, to play him out even more cautiously.

Standing tall among spinners’ bamboozling

Interestingly, what has made Kumar a stand-out each time that he has taken over the ball – especially while the Sunrisers host matches in Hyderabad – is that his performances are a contradiction to the premise of spinners doing well at the venue.

Rashid Khan, the Sunrisers’ 18-year-old spin prodigy from Afghanistan has then been maintaining the validity of this adage as he has prospered from the other end. But, as seen in their victory run against Punjab, while Manan Vohra had no troubles in reading through Khan’s deliveries, baffling and stifling the bowler for the first time in the tournament, Vohra had problems aplenty once Warner turned to Kumar, and brought back into the attack in the death overs.

Given the way, Vohra was batting, Kumar’s introduction could have also proved to be costly for Warner and the rest of the team. Yet, it was in those pressure-filled moments that Kumar brought out his best that pivotally changed the course of the match, even when Shikhar Dhawan dropped Vohra in Kumar’s penultimate over and it looked like the match had ended for the hosts.

It’s also then fitting that Kumar kept his team abreast in their bid for their title defence on a day when the home team lost an important toss and were put to field second on a pitch where successful run-chases are the norm. Glenn Maxwell would have had spared a thought for this vital trivia before making his decision after having won the toss. But, for the Sunrisers, coached by Tom Moody, their depth in bowling has had never given them a reason to worry. And, going further along, thanks to Kumar’s 5/19 in his four overs, this status quo shall be maintained.