Quick learner Arshdeep Singh in India T20 squad for South Africa series

Punjab pacer Arshdeep Singh’s coach Jaswant Rai says his ward is a “quick learner”. 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,” Rai told The Indian Express recently.

It was this conscientious approach and unshakeable temperament that saw the selectors naming the thinking-bowler Arshdeep in the 18-member squad for the upcoming five-match T20I home series against South Africa. He, along with Umran Malik, were the new names in the team that is led by KL Rahul. With the all-format regulars like Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli and Jasprit Bumrah rested, the series will be seen as an audition for the T20 World Cup later this year.

“It’s a dream moment for Arshdeep and our family. He could not have asked for me. It’s a dream for every kid to represent India one day and wear the Indian jersey. He has achieved the target and we wish that by God’s grace and Waheguru’s blessings, Arshdeep makes India proud in his career. There were days when he would cycle from Mohali to Chandigarh to the cricket academy and would never hesitate in going to the academy even in summers. It’s the reward for all his hard work,” said Darshan Singh, father of Arshdeep Singh

Arshdeep’s big break didn’t come as a surprise since he has been turning heads for the last couple of seasons. Rai had insisted that his ward was no “one-season wonder”.

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 has never been 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.

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.

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.

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