With every game, Arshdeep Singh keeps getting better and better

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01 Oct 2021 | 08:51 PM
authorAnirudh Suresh

With every game, Arshdeep Singh keeps getting better and better

To this day, fans and experts have slept on the brilliance of the 22-year-old

It is not easy being a part of this Punjab Kings franchise. Particularly if you’re an Indian player who is not a marquee name. PBKS are right up there with Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) as the most reactionary franchise out there - one bad performance and you will, most likely, be on your way out. 

Ask Murugan Ashwin, Jalaj Saxena, Shahrukh Khan, Ishan Porel and even Ravi Bishnoi. They all will have stories to tell. 

At times players are chopped and changed for no fault of theirs. Certainly, that was the case with Arshdeep Singh towards the back end of IPL 2020. 

After proving integral to Punjab’s resurgence in the second half of the season, including winning matches with the ball at the death, Arshdeep was axed in their final group match against Chennai Super Kings, a do-or-die contest which was the team’s ticket to the top four. 

It was a decision which, at that time, did not make too much sense, but it was in part due to the youngster not having earnt the complete trust of the management. He had, in the preceding two games, combinedly conceded 0/52 off 5 overs, and ultimately it meant that he was not trusted in Punjab’s most important game of the season. 

A year on, the mere thought of Punjab Kings dropping Arshdeep Singh is inconceivable.

And that is how stupendously quickly the 22-year-old has risen up the ranks. In 336 days, the kid who did not have the Punjab Kings management’s trust has turned into the franchise’s go-to seamer for all conditions and all phases.

Arshdeep has had a lot of impressive performances for the Kings, but his showing against KKR on Friday was close to being his best: it was a T20 fast-bowling masterclass which would have made even some of the all-time greats envious.

Ultimately it was KL Rahul who walked away with the Man of the Match award, but make no mistake, of the two points the Kings earned on Friday, one-and-a-half was provided to them by the young left-armer alone.

The 22-year-old set the tone for the match in the very first over he bowled. Taking the new ball alongside Mohammed Shami, Arshdeep bowled a near-perfect first over that rattled the Knight Riders. 

The first ball he bowled pitched and left the right-hander Shubman Gill, who, aware of the fact that the youngster is not someone who moves the ball prodigiously, stuck to his mantra of taking a significant stride forward and planting the front foot. 

Yet Arshdeep had a trick up his sleeve that not even his Punjab state-teammate saw coming: with an inswinger that moved ever-so-lately, he rattled the timber of the right-hander. It was a one-two punch that would have made Muhammad Ali proud.

Three balls later he cut the new batter Rahul Tripathi in half and almost dismissed him in similar fashion, and by the end of the third over he’d made his presence known.

What goes under the radar, though, is that Arshdeep is someone who does this often. The sizzling nature of the Gill wicket meant that the powerplay spell (1/13) of the left-armer made heads turn, but this season the 22-year-old has managed to create a similar impact up-front game-in and game-out, just minus the fireworks. 

Thus far in IPL 2021, Deepak Chahar is the only bowler to have taken more wickets inside the first six overs than Arshdeep. His ER of 6.2 in the phase is also the second-best for any bowler who has sent down a minimum of 15 overs in the powerplay.


These are interesting figures because Arshdeep is not the kind of bowler you would generally associate with new-ball bowling. He is lanky, often angles the ball across the right-hander and is renowned for his cutters and yorkers more than his ability to be metronomic. 

Yet quietly, with hardly anyone noticing, the 22-year-old has put himself in the top echelon of new-ball bowlers. That he’s improved significantly from last season just about shows how far he’s come.

***

With the job done with the new ball, Arshdeep was then summoned to bowl in the final phase of the innings, something considered his forte. And he still had a considerable job to do, with KKR well-placed at 137/4, with both Dinesh Karthik and Nitish Rana looking to unload. 

Arshdeep did not start well. His first three balls yielded 12 runs, and it looked like Rana was well on course to make the 18th over a huge one and propel KKR beyond that 180-run mark. Yet despite getting whacked for three balls in a row, the left-armer kept his composure. 

Ball number four was an off-cutter on fourth-stump, and aiming to hoick the delivery over the long boundary at deep mid-wicket, Rana ended up finding Mayank Agarwal on the boundary line. 

The dismissal of Rana would turn out to be the opening that Arshdeep was looking for, as he would go on to concede just 9 more runs off the last 8 balls off his spell. Dinesh Karthik’s wicket on the final ball of the innings would end up being the icing on the cake as Arshdeep finished proceedings with an inch-perfect yorker that shattered the stumps of the former KKR skipper. 

Composure and maturity - traits that set Arshdeep apart at the death

There is no question that Arshdeep has all the tools in his arsenal to be a successful death-bowler in the long run. He has a delicious cutter, a vicious yorker and a deceptively effective bouncer. 

Each of those variations were put to use today. Raw pace is the only thing he lacks but the success of DJ Bravo, over the years, has disproved the theory that you can only be an effective death bowler if you bowl fast. 

Yet one trait that sets Arshdeep apart from his peers is the composure and maturity he naturally possesses. During every PBKS match on Star Sports’ ‘Dugout’, Scott Styris, Brian Lara and Graeme Swann rave about Arshdeep’s ‘elite mental strength’ being something that cannot be taught, and in his young career there are already multiple examples of the statement being true.

Cast your mind back to Punjab’s first match of IPL 2021 against Rajasthan Royals. 13 was what the Royals needed in the final over on a flat Wankhede wicket, and in the middle they had their skipper Sanju Samson, who was unbeaten on 112*. A six from the blade of Samson meant that 11 off 3 became 5 off 2 and from thereon, it purely became a 1 vs 1 battle between the batter and the bowler. 

Arshdeep, after getting hit for six, could so easily have wilted. And he wouldn’t have been slated had he collapsed. After all, bowlers losing their head at the death is common. Only a few days ago an experienced campaigner Mohammed Shami completely capitulated mid-over against Hardik Pandya. Last week, we also saw Prasidh Krishna - a bowler with much more top-level experience than Arshdeep - lose the plot after being hit for one boundary.

Yet in his mind, Arshdeep was crystal clear on what he was going to do. He took a deep breath, visualized what he’d planned and executed it, unconcerned by what the batter was up to. And sure enough he got his reward in the form of a catch at the deep and a four-run win. Such things cannot be taught. 

The clinic against RR was not the first time he’d done something similar. In the second half of IPL 2020, Arshdeep kept Punjab in the top-four hunt through a stupendous spell at the death against SRH, where he’d conceded just 4 runs off his last 2 overs to help his side defend 127.

It was the same equanimity he showed today against KKR after being hit for 12 runs off his first three balls at the death. 

Much like Mohammed Siraj in Test cricket, Arshdeep is a greenhorn with the brain of a veteran. He has, in the past six months, witnessed the likes of Chetan Sakariya and Prasidh Krishna leapfrog him in the pecking order, but the 22-year-old will know that his time is not far away; all he needs to do is keep sticking to the process. 

If he could miraculously help Punjab seal a spot in the playoffs - great. If not, he would, unlike several of his teammates, still have good stories to tell.

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Kolkata Knight Riders vs Punjab KingsIndian Premier League, 2021Punjab KingsKolkata Knight RidersArshdeep SinghMohammed ShamiDinesh KarthikShubman GillRahul Tripathi

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