Chander Shekhar Luthra
New Delhi: During the T20 World Cup, which is currently going on in Australia, Arshdeep Singh’s role in the Indian pace attack has grown.
The left-arm pacer laid down India’s challenge while defending a meagre 134 on Sunday against South Africa by striking twice in his first over (the second over of the innings) and removing the dangerous Quinton de Kock and the hard-hitting Rilee Rossouw.
KL Rahul at second slip successfully caught de Kock’s outside edge after he originally swung the ball away late to create it. A few balls later, Rossouw was unable to slog an incoming delivery on the leg-side because he was pinned in front of the bowler. With seven wickets in three matches, with an economy rate of 7.83 and an average of 13.42, Arshdeep is now India’s top wicket-taker in the T20 World Cup.
Arshdeep has already forced a redemption arc that would make even the most audacious screenwriters stare at their blank pages for long periods of time, wondering what they’d just witnessed. And keep in mind that he is only 15 matches into his fledgling T20 international career and has been flying for more than three months.
It has been precisely eight weeks since his unintentional gaffe —a dropped dolly in the last overs of a close Asia Cup match between Pakistan and India — put him squarely under the spotlight that athletes fear the most.
Even the toughest veterans can crumble when they are labelled “national traitors” and subjected to widespread abuse, so what chance did a 23-year-old player with fewer than 10 games to his credit have?
The only person who can tell us if Arshdeep slept well the night before or if the abuse and threats that were made against him and his family were on his mind as he took the field for the first time against the same opponents is Arshdeep.
If his T20 World Cup debut in Melbourne against Pakistan, of all teams, had him on edge, they were dead calm when he managed to get the ball to swing back in, fooling the big fish in Babar Azam and leaving the opposition perplexed.
Before the match with India, Babar, with his strike rate of 145.2, was the most dangerous opponent and he had only lost his wicket once to left-arm fast bowling in this format. Still, the No. 3 batter in the ICC was caught leg-before by a scorching in-swinging full delivery from Arshdeep.
At the receiving end
Arshdeep, however, was the focus of online discussion a little over during the Asia Cup after he botched a sitter from Asif Ali during Pakistan’s game against India. The 23-year-old showed courage and almost made up for his mistake when he came close to defending six runs in the last over. He made up for his mistake by catching Asif in front of the stumps, and Pakistan won by a narrow margin of five wickets with one ball left.
This is another thing that it was Asif who later on hit a six and a boundary in the penultimate over to help his team win.
India lost to Sri Lanka in the next game and failed to qualify for the Asia Cup 2022 final. After the Pakistan match, the 23-year-old bowler was subjected to social media criticism from all areas of the country. Arshdeep was called all sorts of names, but despite all the hostility, he showed in that match as well as the next one that he is ready for the big stage.
And it didn’t take him long to prove himself at the highest level. On October 23, India and Pakistan faced up once more, but this time, the stakes were higher. In addition to the teams competing at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) in front of more than 90,000 spectators, it was also a T20 World Cup match.
Before putting a foot Down Under, the newest player in India’s T20 squad would have been aware of his important role going into the tournament. While Arshdeep had not made a mistake since making his international debut, there was still some uncertainty regarding the exact bowling attack in Bumrah’s absence. It was also unclear how India’s seamers would balance their new-ball and death-bowling responsibilities.
It was a risk to choose Arshdeep over Harshal Patel. But the reasoning was simple. India preferred to take early wickets rather than play soft. Hence the right-handed bat vs. left-arm bowler mismatch. And finally, it was skipper Rohit Sharma who put faith in Arshdeep’s ability by giving him the new-ball before experienced Bhuvneshwar Kumar.
And the result is there in front of all. The Chandigarh-based lanky seamer put any concerns about his ability to bowl in Australian conditions, which favour pace and bounce, to rest when he bounced the No. 1 T20I batsman Mohammad Rizwan out for his second of three wickets against Pakistan in Melbourne. He finished with three for 32 and held Pakistan to 159 for eight, getting Asif with a short ball at the very end. The remainder was handled by Virat Kohli’s undefeated 82-run blitz.
Arshdeep let runs go against the Netherlands, giving up 37 runs in four overs. He pitched too high and didn’t get the planned yorkers. He did, however, take two wickets off successive balls, displaying his versatility. Before sending in a yorker on the next ball to trap Fred Klaassen in front, he first dug in a bouncer to get Logan van Beek.
His performance against the Proteas in the third low-scoring game was boosted when he dismissed two of their top batters in his first over.
India suffered its first loss in the T20 World Cup at the hands of South Africa on Sunday, but it will concentrate on the lessons learned. The Men in Blue had hope thanks to Arshdeep’s two for 25 and Suryakumar Yadav’s valiant effort, which helped extend the match into the last over.
(The writer is a senior Delhi-based journalist. He can be contacted at ‘email@example.com’)
—-INDIA NEWS STREAM