As an overseas pro in the Indian Premier League (IPL), it's not easy to get a long rope from the get go. The IPL careers of Jhye Richardson, Riley Meredith, Sheldon Cottrell, and many others bear testimony to this.
Enter, from the land of spinners, Naveen-ul-Haq. Seeing a franchise opt for a pacer outside the usual suspects was a welcome change.
On a surprisingly slow surface, Lucknow Super Giants huffed and puffed their way to set a target of 155 for Rajasthan Royals. Despite being handed a cap nearly two weeks ago, he finally got a chance to bowl at the Sawai Mansingh Stadium (SMS), Jaipur.
Replacing the LSG spearhead, Mark Wood, Naveen created instant impact by trapping Yashasvi Jaiswal adjacent to the stumps. Unfortunately, hawkeye showed a faint edge before the ball thudded the pads, and Naveen had to wait for his maiden IPL wicket.
What was remarkable about his new ball burst was the consistency with which he bowled within the channels and tweaked his lengths accordingly. 11 of the 12 deliveries he bowled in the powerplay were bowled outside the off stump. Of these 11, only a solitary delivery was overpitched, an attempted yorker to Jaiswal.
His ability to bowl to his fields could be seen in how Jos Buttler and Jaiswal could not dispatch his full deliveries past the inner circle.
Outside the powerplay, he was first brought back in the 15th over. RR needed 56 in six overs and had Shimron Hetmyer and Devdutt Padikkal at the crease. Criclytics projected a 63% chance of RR winning the game.
Still, Rajasthan’s game to lose.
He stuck to his strengths and challenged the duo to go over the fielders placed in the deep on either square boundaries. He also mixed the pace up, to keep the batters on their toes.
He seemed to have taken a leaf out of RR’s playbook, who consistently bowled length and back-of-length deliveries in the latter half of the first innings. LSG batters struck the length balls at 118 and the short balls at 89.
Since 2021, his slower ones have the second lowest economy for any bowler in T20s. Change-of-pace has always been his go-to option, and today was no different. Three deliveries bowled in this over were off-pace, making it incredibly difficult for batters to get under them.
His team reaped the rewards of his bowling when Hetmyer got out to Avesh Khan in the very next over. The scoreboard pressure and Padikkal’s poor form forced Hetmyer to play an ugly hoick, which found the long-on fielder.
These two overs saw the Royals’ odds of winning drop from 46% to 20% on Criclytics.
When he came to bowl his final over, he had conceded only nine runs in three overs. That’s worth its weight in gold, even more so when you are defending a small target.
With 29 runs required off 12 balls, Naveen knew that the batters had no choice but to go after him. And once again, he used the surface on offer to great effect. Five of the six balls in his final over were off-pace and set the game up for Avesh to close.
To set some context on how he kept changing it up, he bowled a short ball, a length ball, and an attempted yorker to Riyan Parag. Meanwhile, Padikkal was fed two short balls and a length ball.
The change-ups worked like a charm, as the Rajasthan batters could hit just one boundary. He might not have any wickets to show for, but his spell was the game breaker for the Super Giants (4-0-19-0).
Naveen might just be 23 years old, but his maturity went far beyond it. Having seen his war-torn nation from close quarters in his formative years, he has an innate ability to absorb the pressures of top-flight cricket. If his performance in this game was any indication, a bowling partnership between him and Mark Wood would be more than handful at LSG’s home games.
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