September 24, 2023

When Arshdeep Singh traced his run-up to bowl the 12th over of the Bangladesh innings, his ability to bounce back was yet again put on the line. It was his second over of the evening; in the first Litton Das had smeared him for three fours. But Arshdeep is not made of brittle stuff. He came back resoundingly to put on yet another star show, as though he had washed away the bitter memories of the first over in the Adelaide downpour.

The first ball, in his second coming, hit the hard length. Afif Hossain slogged, but was beaten by the bounce, which he procured with an extra whip of his wrists, and toe-ended a catch to Suryakumar Yadav. He would roar in delight. He then cracked a wicked smile when his bouncer whistled past Shakib Al Hasan. The next ball, Shakib realised the meaning of his smile, as his hoick ended up in Deepak Hooda’s hands. Two runs; two wickets. Arshdeep had yet again delivered the match-turning over. His immense value shone ever so immensely.

Truly, this has been a remarkable World Cup for him, after all the gross stuff he was made to endure after the second game against Pakistan in the Asia Cup. Nine scalps in four games, he is level with Sam Curran for most wickets in the Super 12. His job for the night, though, was far from over. His sternness was put to test again. In his next over, he ended up conceding 12 and there he was thrust the task to defend 20 runs in the last over. Sufficient cushion, one would imagine. But the sport has witnessed stranger things. Nurul Hasan struck his second ball for a six. He had to come back again, a comeback within a comeback. A dot, a double, he had nearly seen his side through. Just then Nurul struck him for a four. Bangladesh required a six to win the game. The entire stadium began to chew its nails. But Arshdeep kept his composure. He fired one full outside the off-stump. Only a single could be eked out.

This has been a recurring theme of his career. Whenever India had needed him, he has put his hands up and delivered. Defending 134 in Perth, he grabbed two wickets in his first over to give India a foothold. If hard lengths worked for him in Adelaide, it was the full length balls that wreaked havoc in Perth. His dexterity with various lengths has been remarkable. The ball that devoured Rilee Rossouw, fresh from a hundred was a beauty, an inward bending rocket that crashed onto his thigh.

He has made a habit of producing rippers. Babar Azam’s wicket in his first ever World Cup delivery for instance. It was the perfect left-armer’s incoming delivery to the right-handed batter. The ball curved away with the angle, then landed on middle stump and swung back in to beat his leg-side swipe.


Not new with the new ball

Back in July, when he received his first India cap in this format, there weren’t any doubts over his role. With an economy of just over eight (better than Jasprit Bumrah) and a balls/boundary rate of just over 8.5 in the last five overs in IPL 2022, he was going to be a death overs specialist. With him and Bumrah bowling in tandem, India were salivating, India’s death over bowling could be furious. Bumrah was to miss the tournament, but Arshdeep ensured that India did not miss him as much as they had thought. But with the new ball and at the death. Before the World Cup, 58 percent of his dismissals had come in the death overs. In the 2021 IPL, he commanded the best death-over economy.

But it was just a perception that he was efficient just in the last four years. He was as canny with the new ball. In fact, during his early IPL years (2019-2021), the Punjab Kings utilised him upfront. The T20 in Thiruvananthapuram was a perception-breaker as fully exploited the helpful condition, swinging the ball this way and that. So has he in the World Cup.

Hostile, bouncer-heat

After his second T20I for India, against West Indies, Arshdeep had explained his use of a bouncer to dismiss Kyle Mayers, “With them chasing 190, we knew they would come hard (at us) from the start and go for the attack. We needed a wicket up front, he (Mayers) attacked from the start. At that time this was the option, he could hit a boundary off the bouncer. But at that time the gut instinct said, ‘need to take this chance’ and it paid off.”

In Australia, the instinct payoff rate has only gotten better. 33 percent of Arshdeep’s wickets at this World Cup have come off short deliveries. In the Pakistan match, Arshdeep set Mohammed Rizwan with length deliveries drifting either ways before he hurried him into hooking, far away from his body. He top-edged to fine leg. Soon after, he roughed up Asif Ali. A body-line bouncer followed a back-of-length ball. He ducked, but the ball, pitched further up than the one to Rizwan, did not bounce as much and kissed his glove to be caught behind. The helmet-breaker to the Dutch skipper Scott Edwards and the clanger to Logan van Beek would embellish his bouncer montage.

He may not have express pace, but Arshdeep’s use of short delivery, keeping them in line with the batter’s body makes him just as much dangerous as a quick bowler. And whisper it, India might have stumbled on their best left-arm seamer since Ashish Nehra