India were left frustrated in the morning session as Hasim Amla and overnight batsman Kagiso Rabada had put up a handy partnership. Despite the latter’s dismissal, India’s weren’t in the clear. Amla had settled down and was beginning to assert himself after. The dangerous AB de Villiers had joined him in the middle and it was clear the two would look to build a match-defining stand.

Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who had sent back both the openers, had his tail up and was swinging the ball both ways. He was unplayable for most of his spell in the morning, and would now - after lunch - have a go at two of South Africa’s most experienced batsmen.

He adopted a line just outside off-stump, the outswing induced plenty of misses from both batsmen. De Villiers, new at the creased looked especially vulnerable. After delivering a few balls that swung away from the batsman, Bhuvneshwar drilled in one that swung sharply in the air and darted in after pitching way outside off. The right-handed batsman was caught unawares. He couldn’t get his foot fully forward and tried to jab at it. The ball still went through his defences to knock back middle stump.

Bhuvneshwar was back in the playing XI and doing what he does best, swinging the ball and letting the it do all the talking.

It was one of three crucial wickets that he picked up on another hard-fought day at the Wanderers. The 27-year-old’s effort helped India restrict the opposition for 194 in reply to India’s 187.

Bhuvneshwar Kumar (centre) picked up three crucial wickets that helped India bowl out South Africa for modest total on Thursday. Photo: Sportzpics/BCCI

In the spotlight

After being dropped from the playing XI in the second Test in Centurion, Bhuvi was back in the mix as the team management dropped spinner R Ashwin and went for an all-pace attack on a wicket that promised plenty of swing, pace and a lot of bounce.

The spotlight was on the comeback man Bhuvneshwar, and he did not disappoint. Leading the attack, he made the ball swing from over the wicket and round the wicket.

Bhuvneshwar made the ‘green mamba’ swing to his tune. He bowled three fiery spells during the South African innings and picked up three crucial scalps on each occasion.

The UP bowler maintained a nagging line just outside off. He made the ball swing away at will and interspersed them with the one that jagged back in. The modus operandi paid rich dividends for the 27-year-old.

After getting Aiden Markram to edge one to the keeper late on Day 1, Bhuvneshwar returned in the morning his opening partner Dean Elgar with another beaut of a delivery. After pitching on leg stump, it drew the left-hander forward just enough to induce an edge to the keeper.

The third was his pièce de résistance. The de Villiers wicket put India on top.

In the 19 overs that he bowled, he gave away just 34 runs and also had nine maidens. Ishant Sharma and Mohammed Shami, touted as the premier pacers, in the lead-up to the series were left playing the supporting role.

After Bhuvneshwar set the base, Jasprit Bumrah took the baton from him and finished with his maiden five-wicket haul as he ran through the tail.

In the spotlight, Bhuvneshwar Kumar produced a devastating performance to set India on course early on Day 2. Photo: AFP

Making a point

‘A lot was spoken about Bhuvi as well but Shami performed in this game, so now no one is talking about that. So you know it’s all about whoever goes out on the field and performs.” India skipper Virat Kohli was at his combative best after India’s series-conceding defeat in the second Test in Centurion.

“What’s the best XI?” he shot back at the reporter.

The statements followed a line of questioning about India’s playing XI for that particular Test. India had changed things around a bit. Bhuvneshwar Kumar was dropped despite having come away from the opening Test in Cape Town with flying colours. The decision was met with criticism from nearly all quarters.

It formed basis for one of the major talking-points as a larger introspection begins into the team management’s various strategic decisions that may or may not have led to the series defeat.

The skipper, though, remained adamant in his defence. It was even revealed during the course of the series that Ishant, who is India’s most experienced pacer in the squad, was to play in the Bhuvneshwar’s place in the first Test as well.

Shami too is ahead in the pecking order and is usually considered India’s pace spearhead in the longest format.

The argument put forth regularly is that Bhuvneshwar isn’t as effective on a wicket that does not offer much seam movement.

The banana swing that he was able to produce on Thursday had nothing to do with the make-up of the wicket. It was just Bhuvneshwar’s skill that shone through and should rule out the assumption that he was dependent on conditions to produce results.

Missing out

Bhuvneshwar wasn’t a regular feature in the India Test squad through the long home season. He had just played three Tests in 2017. Injury and India’s reliance on spin, meant that the permanent slot for a pacer was never a certainty for him.

Over the past one year, Shami, Ishant and Umesh Yadav have been picked regularly as the preferred pacers, while Bhuvneshwar has been in and out of the playing XI.

His lack of exposure in the longest format, could have caused the team management to ponder over his effectiveness on overseas tours, however, the right-arm medium-pacer, made most sit up and take notice after picking up a four-wicket haul in either innings of the first Test against Sri Lanka.

The performance came in Kolkata on a seaming track tailor-made to aid India’s preparation for the South Africa tour.

Tests in 2017

  • vs Bangladesh (in Hyderabad)Wickets: 1 vs Australia (in Dharamsala)Wickets: 2vs Sri Lanka (in Kolkata)Wickets: 8

He skipped the remaining two Tests for personal reasons, but his performance in Kolkata had proved that he was more than capable of producing a gnawing line that makes swing bowlers so deadly.

Kohli and the team management from the exercise appeared to be that Bhuvneshwar was bowler to be used only in seaming conditions.

It was this thinking that led to the bowler being dropped in Centurion on a track, which was deemed to be an homage to sub-continental tracks and not the green and bouncy wicket that were to be the norm in this series.

India’s bowlers produced a decent performance despite the conditions. However, they could not quite replicate the fiery spells which were on display in Cape Town or on Thursday at the Wanderers.

“These one-and-a-half years will define Indian cricket,” India coach Ravi Shastri had stressed before India proceeded to South Africa. With a tour of England and Australia to follow, The focus is set to be on their prowess overseas.

By the look of things, Bhuvneshwar seems to be a vital cog if India are to succeed abroad. So far, though, this line of thinking does not seem to be intrinsic to the team management’s discourse.

Bhuvneshwar has now “gone out on the field and performed,” as per his captain’s expectations. Not only is he a vital cog, but has the fundamentals needed to lead India’s bowling unit.

Hopefully, he won’t be dropped anytime soon now.