Arshdeep Singh: Making heads turn, again

Not every day one sees an uncapped Indian pacer standing at mid-off walking down to someone like Kagiso Rabada and giving him advice after the Proteas pacer has conceded back-to-back boundaries by Hardik Pandya.

Arshdeep Singh had bowled the crucial 16th and 18th over to Pandya and Shubman Gill in the game against Gujarat Titans and conceded only six and five runs respectively. He mixed his lengths beautifully and kept the two batsmen quiet. His spell turned the tide in Punjab Kings’ favor before Rahul Tewatia sealed the game for the Titans.

Talking to Punjab Kings’ official website, Arshdeep recalled what he said to Rabada. “Rabada is a very experienced bowler. I just went up to him normally, spoke to him about staying calm and composed, and taking his time before executing a delivery. I didn’t say anything specific. He is very experienced and has played so many more matches than I have, so there was no special message there.”

A couple of weeks later, Rabada heaped praise on Arshdeep after Punjab Kings’ 11-run win over Chennai Super Kings.

“I think Arsh has been the best death bowler in this competition,” the South African told the host broadcaster. “That’s what the stats say. He’s a youngster coming in. He’s got a lot of drive, a lot of ambition and he’s got talent as well. He’s just a good bloke. So, it’s nice to have him around. I’ve always bowled at the death, so I know I’m going to bowl at the death, but Arsh has just been magnificent and is leading the way in that discipline.”

Rabada’s assessment is backed by data. As per ESPNCricinfo stats, Arshdeep has conceded just 5.66 runs an over at the death, the best economy rate for a bowler with a minimum of 30 balls in the death overs in IPL 2022. He has done better than Sunil Narine (6.00), Jasprit Bumrah (8.16), Mohammed Shami (8.40), and Bhuvneshwar Kumar (8.50).

Not bad for a bowler who started his IPL 2022 campaign with five wides, and has just three wickets in eight games.

Against Chennai, Arshdeep had again bowled the 17th and 19th overs and gave away only six and eight runs respectively. And he managed to keep the likes of MS Dhoni, Ambati Rayudu and Ravindra Jadeja in check.

On April 13 against Mumbai Indians, Arshdeep bowled the 18th over and conceded only five. He bowled three balls to Suryakumar Yadav, who could score only two runs off them. Out of the three deliveries, two were yorkers speared in on the legs, and Yadav was visibly agitated with himself as he could not open his arms against Arshdeep. Punjab Kings won the match by 12 runs.

Good reader, quick learner

Jaswant Rai, Arshdeep’s coach since his initiation to cricket, is pleased with the pacer’s overall development. “Arshdeep is a very keen and quick learner,” he tells The Indian Express.

As per Rai, it is the preparation before every game, which is helping Arshdeep outsmart the batsmen in the death overs.

“Before every match, he will prepare his plans for the batsmen. If he is bowling to Dhoni and Surya, he will not give them width to open their arms. Or if he is bowling to a left-hander, he will bowl yorkers on the pads. On Monday, he bowled wide yorkers to Rayudu, who was batting exceptionally well but couldn’t get him away,” says Rai, a veteran of 70 first-class matches.

“What has impressed me the most is his tactical acumen. The way he is reading game situations is quite unbelievable.”

The red-ball impact

Since IPL 2020, Arshdeep has an economy rate of 8.63 in death overs and is only behind Anrich Nortje and Bumrah in this regard. He was never an express bowler, but before the Ranji Trophy, worked on his pace and lengths. The pace has gone to 137-38 kmph from 130, and the length has also changed.

Arshdeep Singh of Punjab Kings celebrating the wicket of Mitchell Santner. (Photo by Saikat Das / Sportzpics for IPL)

Rai credits Ranji Trophy for his turnaround. Before the last Ranji Trophy season, for at least six weeks, the coach worked on Arshdeep’s run-up and wrist position.

“He had a diagonal run-up, which is straighter now. It has helped him get those extra yards of pace. His wrist was dropping while delivering. It wouldn’t matter much in white-ball cricket, but in the longer format of the game, it would be very difficult to bowl an inswinger to the right-handed batsmen,” says Rai.

He thinks the real test is red-ball cricket, and his advice to Arshdeep before going to the IPL was to bowl a Test- match length and keep the variations limited.

“For the past two years, he had hardly bowled with the red ball. If you are bowling with white balls only, you will become predictable. Batsmen will start reading you. The game has evolved; you can’t rely on bowling six different deliveries in an over. My advice to Arsh was that 6-8-foot hard length 85 per cent of the time and keep the variations to only 15 per cent. No batsman will be comfortable facing a 135kmph hard-length ball even in T20s. Bumrah and Rabada are successful because of their length, not because of their variations,” says Rai.

Arshdeep bagged 12 wickets in three matches in the Ranji Trophy, including his maiden first-class fifer against Tripura.

The Langeveldt effect

Rai feels the IPL 2020 season helped Arshdeep improve as a cricketer by leaps and bounds. The time he spent with South African Charl Langeveldt – one of the finest death bowlers during his heyday – made him a different bowler.

“The impact Langeveldt had on Arshdeep in UAE was immense and it reflected in his performance as he showed no nerves against the power-hitters of the opposition teams,” says Rai.

Langeveldt’s contribution was acknowledged by Arshdeep himself.

“He taught me how to handle a pressure situation, how to execute plans; Most importantly, just to back myself in every situation. He was very particular about finishing the over on a good note. Even if a bowler concedes 10 or 14 runs off his first three deliveries, he must not give up on that over and has to make a comeback in the next three. That was his mantra. Every single run in T20 is very crucial,” he had told this paper earlier.

“The other thing that worked for me was the size of the boundaries that we were playing on. It was again Charl’s idea to use it in our favor during the death overs. The batsman is surely going to go for everything, and we, as bowlers, should make it difficult for them to score,” Arshdeep had said.

Ever-improving

In 2018, India won the U-19 World Cup under the leadership of Prithvi Shaw in New Zealand. During the campaign, the preferred fast-bowling troika consisted of Ishan Porel, Shivam Mavi and Kamlesh Nagarkoti. Left-arm pacer Arshdeep got his chance only when Porel was injured. He played against Papua New Guinea and Zimbabwe, before making way for Porel for the rest of the tournament.

Arshdeep picked three wickets from the two matches and showed potential. Along with Porel, Mavi and Nagarkoti, he was marked as one for the future.

Cut to the present, both Porel and Arshdeep are part of Punjab Kings. Unlike the U-19 World Cup scenario, this time Arshdeep has managed to pip Porel to the first XI of the franchise.

Is he ready for the India cap?

Arshdeep was picked as a net bowler for India’s tour to Sri Lanka last year. He was later added to the squad when half a dozen Indian cricketers tested positive for Covid-19.

From then Punjab Kings skipper KL Rahul to coach Anil Kumble and present captain Mayank Agarwal, everyone has praised Arshdeep’s performance. He was one of the three players retained by the franchise ahead of IPL 2022, and has repaid the team’s faith.

In 2018, after coming back from New Zealand, Arshdeep’s Punjab teammates Gill and Abhishek Sharma were selected for the Ranji Trophy, while the lanky pacer was ignored. He was picked for the Punjab U-23 side. Back then when this reporter asked Arshdeep if he thought he should be playing Ranji Trophy instead of Col CK Nayudu Trophy, he replied: “Paaji, I am not ready. Till last year (2017), I was not a regular in the Cooch Behar Trophy. All of a sudden, if I play in the Ranji Trophy, I might get exposed. I should play Under-23 cricket first before playing Ranji Trophy.”

Arshdeep played a pivotal role in Punjab U-23 lifting the Col CK Nayudu Trophy by grabbing 46 wickets in 10 matches.

Cut to the present. Is he ready to play for India? His coach certainly feels so.

“He is ready. He should be on the plane to Australia. He has proved that he is not a one-season wonder,” said Rai.

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Against Dhoni, Rayudu and Jadeja

Arshdeep bowled the 17th and 19th overs and gave away only six and eight runs respectively.

17th over – CSK need 47 runs from 24b

Arshdeep bowled three balls each to Rayudu and Jadeja. To Rayudu, he bowled wide yorkers, while to Jadeja, he was nailing those yorkers on the pads. He gave away only six runs.

19th over – CSK need 35 from 12 balls

After an exceptional 19th over Kagiso Rabada, Punjab Kings were on top, but MS Dhoni was in the middle. Arsdheep stuck to the full length and wide-angle across Dhoni to the longer boundary. He missed his length once and Dhoni hit it past extra cover. Arshdeep gave only eight runs in that over, keeping Dhoni and Jadeja under the pump.

Keeping Gill and Pandya in check

Rahul Tewatia’s heroics denied Punjab Kings a win against Gujarat Titans. Arshdeep bowled the crucial 18th over, mixing up his lengths and troubling Shubman Gill and Hardik Pandya.

16th over – Titans need 56 runs from 30 balls

Barring a boundary off the last ball, Arshdeep bowled a great over. He conceded just two runs in the first five balls before he missed his wide yorker fractionally, and Pandya slices it to the point boundary.

18th over – Titans need 37 runs from 18 balls

Arshdeep gave away only five runs in the 18th over. He bowled three balls each to Gill and Pandya, and both the batters were struggling to put him away.

Rahul Tewatia’s heroics defied Punjab Kings a win against Gujarat Titans, and they lost the match by six wickets. Arshdeep bowled a crucial 18th over, mixing up his lengths and troubled Shubman Gill and Hardik Pandya.

16th over – Titans need 56 runs from 30 balls

Barring a boundary on the last ball, Arshdeep bowled a great over. He conceded just two runs in the first five balls before he missed his wide yorker fractionally, and Pandya slices it down the point boundary.

18th over – Titans need 37 runs from 18 balls

Arshdeep gave away only five runs in the 18th over. He bowled three balls each to Gill and Pandya, and both batsmen were struggling to get him away.

Keeping DK quiet

In their first match of the season, Arshdeep started with five wides, but bowled an excellent 18th over to keep Dinesh Karthik and Virat Kohli quiet. Arshdeep removed Faf du Plessis on the first ball and bowled two dots to Dinesh Karthik. He gave away only three runs.

Troubling SKY

Mumbai Indians needed 33 off 18 balls. Arshdeep again bowled the 18th over. He landed the yorkers right and gave away just five runs. Suryakumar Yadav was visibly upset at not being able to get him away. Arshdeep troubled Surya with yorkers on the legs, on the sixth- stump line and a wide bouncer.

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