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'Ravi' Bishnoi shines as India's new wicket-taker

Last updated on 02 Dec 2023 | 01:18 AM
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'Ravi' Bishnoi shines as India's new wicket-taker

The highest wicket-taker in the series, Ravi Bishnoi has pressed claims for the T20 World Cup squad next year

Ravi Bishnoi isn’t a quintessential leg-spinner. Josh Philippe got a first-hand experience playing him for the first time in Raipur on Friday (December 1). 

Philippe loves to sweep. It is his go-to shot against spinners that has brought him heaps of runs in the Big Bash League, playing a big part in making him an international cricketer. 

When Bishnoi was summoned in the fourth over of Australia’s run chase in the fourth T20I, Philippe, with no prior experience of playing him, went down on his back knee first ball to accomplish a sweep and get himself going against the leg spinner. The ball, flatter in trajectory, went underneath his bat swing to flatten the off stump. 

The commentators called it a "bad shot" but Philippe was simply unaware of Bishnoi's game. He was out for eight. After a good start (40/0 in three overs chasing 175), Australia lost their first wicket and things went downhill for the visitors. 

This wasn’t the first time Bishnoi derailed Australia in this series. Playing as the lead spinner, he has snapped four wickets in the powerplay, as many as all other Indian bowlers combined, at an economy of only 6.2 runs/over. However, the difference he has created in this phase is beyond these surface numbers. 

The Indian seamers have been off the radar, going at 11.2 runs/over in the first six overs, while picking only two wickets. In comparison, Australia have conceded at only 9.1 runs/over. But when it comes to spinners, the Axar Patel - Ravi Bishnoi duo has not only cleaned up the awry work from the pacers but also put India ahead in terms of the powerplay returns. Axar, at 5.6 runs/over, has been more economical, while Bishnoi has picked wickets. 

In three of the four matches where he has bowled in the powerplay, the wrist-spinner has pouched a wicket in his first over, breaking Australia’s rhythm. 

It is unconventional to see a wrist spinner pull things back for a team in the powerplay. Most leg spinners are held back for the field to spread. Rashid Khan, one of the leading wicket-takers in the shortest format among leg-spinners, has bowled only 3% of his 312.2 overs for Afghanistan in the powerplay. Kuldeep Yadav, India’s Number One wrist spinner at present, has delivered only three powerplay overs in his T20I career. 

Before this series, Bishnoi had bowled only eight of his 63 T20I overs for India in the powerplay - 12.7%. In this series itself, he has bowled six overs in the powerplay - 37.5%. 

Was there a conscious plan to bowl Bishnoi with the newer ball? 

“It is not a plan but I am ready to bowl whenever I am given the ball,” he said after his 1/17 in four overs in the fourth T20I. 

Bishnoi is an unconventional leg-spinner in terms of his modus operandi. Instead of flighting the ball, he believes in turning it at a pace, bowling a heavy majority of wrong ‘uns as compared to leg breaks. 

The 23-year-old has returned figures of 1/54, 3/32, 2/32 and 1/17 in this series. During his only expensive outing, Bishnoi was taken apart by Josh Inglis, who belted the leg-spinner for 49 out of the 54 runs he conceded that night. In the subsequent two games, he had Inglis in his pocket twice, in a space of three balls for only one run. In Guwahati, Bishnoi sent Inglis on the back foot and then bamboozled him with a 96 KPH delivery that went straight, beating the inside edge of the bat by miles and crashing it into the middle stump. 

On the same night, the Jodhpur-born had Tim David packing for a golden duck with a delivery that had the batter playing too early. Thus, he showcased his skill to fox the batter with both extra pace and with the lack of it.

Bishnoi has also displayed better control over the amount of turn on his googlies. Often, turning it more than required, Bishnoi had been the culprit for missing the stumps too often in the past. For a wrist-spinner who does not flight the ball much, bowled and LBWs become a default mode of dismissals, making it more important to target the stumps. 

In this series, Bishnoi has bowled 32.2% of his deliveries, hitting the stumps. And the correlation between his bowling average and balls hitting stumps is clearly visible. If over 30% of his deliveries are hitting the stumps, the average dips below 20. 

Surprisingly, Bishnoi hasn't been as effective in the middle overs. While he has continued to pick vital wickets, the 23-year-old has gone at 9.8 runs/over in this phase. 

In the 16 overs he has bowled, Bishnoi has delivered a cluster of balls in the good length area. Only seven deliveries have been full. In the powerplay, his four fullish deliveries have produced one wicket at the cost of five runs. In overs 7 to 15, he has bowled three full-length balls, conceding two sixes. Probably, it is easier to counter Bishnoi on the front foot once the batter is in. And India have been proactive in using him upfront. 

In and out of the side since his debut in February 2022, Bishnoi has largely been behind in the pecking order of wrist spinners. But this is his chance at pressing claims for a spot in the T20 World Cup squad next year. Picked for back-to-back series ahead of Yuzvendra Chahal suggests the selectors are looking at him now more keenly. 

The ongoing T20I series against Australia has been a tick thus far, given how Bishnoi has taken up the role of a powerplay wicket-taking option. The upcoming three T20Is in South Africa will reflect where he stands in competition with Kuldeep Yadav. Do India want the quick spinner or a slow and more experienced spinner? It will be an interesting tussle considering only one spot is available for a wrist spinner in the XI. 

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