“The plan was really simple,” Arshdeep Singh said after India’s eight-wicket win over South Africa in a T20I match on Wednesday, 28 September. In perfect synchronization with his statement, the pacer sported a calm demeanour, devoid of any extravagant outpour of celebratory adrenaline.
From the façade, one would not have deciphered that the same player had just picked up three crucial wickets for India – a performance worthy of winning him not only his first international player of the match award, but effectively, a place in the Indian playing XI for the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup 2022 as well.
With Deepak Chahar dismissing the opposition skipper, Temba Bavuma, in the first over, Arshdeep was given the responsibility of maintaining the pressure on the Proteas by bowling an equally impressive second over. The 23-year-old, however, exceeded everyone’s expectations.
Quinton de Kock dragged an out-swinger onto the stumps, Rilee Rossouw threw his bat at another out-swinger and gave a simple catch to Rishabh Pant, and David Miller, who started his international career only a few months after Arshdeep celebrated his eleventh birthday, helplessly saw his stumps being uprooted by the speedster.
The Ups After the Downs
Being a reactionary fanbase, the Indian cricket enthusiasts started a ‘we want Arshdeep’ trend on Twitter after India lost the first T20I of their recently-concluded series against Australia, as the bowlers could not defend a total of 208 runs. By paralyzing the South African batting unit in only five deliveries, the Madhya Pradesh-born player all but corroborated the trend.
The distinctive transience of cricket will highlight the positive chapters of Arshdeep’s career, but one does not need to go too far back to recollect the previous instance of him trending all over on social media.
On 4 September, Arshdeep dropped a catch of Asif Ali in an India-Pakistan match at the Asia Cup 2022, and as the Pakistani batter sealed the victory for his team, many decided the jump the gun on the young pacer.
The critics will call it abhorrent jingoism and the apologists might justify their stance by calling it passion, but a defeat against arch-rival in any sport screams for a scapegoat, and unfortunately, Arshdeep fitted the bill more than anyone else.
India eventually lost their next match against Sri Lanka as well, leading to another scavenger hunt for a scapegoat. However, amid the entire hullabaloo, Arshdeep’s brilliant death bowling went unrecognised. He was given only seven runs to defend in the last over of both matches, and he took the game to the penultimate delivery on each occasion.
Between then to now, from being the public enemy to the saviour, we have seen a common trait in the youngster. Despite the roller-coaster ride he was forced to be a part of, Arshdeep always had clarity regarding his ambition, and besides his bowling, the sangfroid attitude also adds to his strength.
The IPL Journey
Though it has its share of cons, which get highlighted every time the national team underperforms, the Indian Premier League certainly deserves credit for providing the pacer with the fame he deserves. He made his IPL debut in 2019, and despite being a new kid on the block with no first-class experience to show for, he stunned the crowd with a courageous spell.
Up against him was the most intimidating batter a bowler could face on his debut – Jos Buttler. To worsen the equation for Arshdeep, the Englishman was entrusted with the task of chasing down a big target of 183 runs, which only meant one thing – Buttler will swing from ball number 1, and so he did, until he was dismissed by Arshdeep. He returned at the death to dismiss another experienced batter in Ajinkya Rahane, thereby completing a dream debut.
Despite a promising start, he featured only in thrice in IPL 2019, but the appointment of Anil Kumble as the erstwhile Kings XI Punjab’s head coach opened new doors for the pacer. He played eight matches in IPL 2020, picking up nine wickets at an average of 24.22.
The wickets column was not particularly extraordinary in isolation, but instead, Arshdeep had shown his brilliance in a department India were caught lacking time and again in international tournaments – death bowling.
With 25 deliveries at the death (between overs 16-20) as the cut-off, Arshdeep was the best Indian bowler in that season in terms of bowling strike rate (7.83), and third overall, behind only Jason Holder and Kagiso Rabada.
The 2021 season of the IPL saw his death overs strike rate go north of 10, but Arshdeep made up for it by doubling his wickets count – picking up 18 wickets in 12 overs.
Another strength of the left-arm pacer is his eagerness to improve continuously, which can be substantiated by his IPL 2022 statistics. In the previous two seasons, he had already established himself as a reliable wicket-taker with impressive numbers at the death, but if he had one drawback, it was his economy rate.
The lad from Punjab conceded 8.77 runs per over in IPL 2020 and 8.27 runs per over in the next year, but in the last season, the figure dipped below eight. Even in the death overs, he was among the only two Indians to have an economy rate of under 8 runs per over, with Jasprit Bumrah being the other bowler (cut-off of 50 deliveries).
Comparison of Indian pacers at the death between IPL 2020-22 (in terms of economy rate):
Jasprit Bumrah – 7.68
Arshdeep Singh – 8.70
Harshal Patel – 9.09
Avesh Khan – 9.57
Bhuvneshwar Kumar – 9.58
Shardul Thakur – 10.22
Mohammed Siraj – 10.26
Mohammed Shami – 10.66
The National Team Opportunity
The India break for Arshdeep came after three years of consistently delivering commendable performances in the IPL, but when the chance did arrive, the pacer was ready to make his mark to prove why he deserves a place in the team.
He picked up two wickets in his T20I debut against England while conceding less than six runs in an over. Against West Indies, which was his last T20I bilateral expedition before the Asia Cup, he was India’s leading wicket-taker among pacers, with seven scalps to his name.
In his short T20I career, Arshdeep has already scalped 17 wickets at an average of 18.47 and an economy rate of 7.44 runs per over. A comparative analysis will show him as the most economical Indian pacer at the death since his debut, among those who have bowled more than one over.
Comparison of Indian pacers at the death in T20Is since Arshdeep Singh’s debut (in terms of economy rate):
Arshdeep Singh – 7.79
Harshal Patel – 9.70
Hardik Pandya – 10.40
Bhuvneshwar Kumar – 11.00
Jasprit Bumrah – 12.00
Avesh Khan – 14.81
With Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Harshal Patel struggling to contain runs at the death overs, Jasprit Bumrah being ruled out with an injury and Deepak Chahar playing only two T20I matches in the last seven months, Arshdeep has suddenly emerged as India’s trump card with the ball, despite his tender age and relative inexperience.
Yet, as the statistics show, the Indian team and its billion fans can harbour big expectations from the youngster, albeit on the condition of not resorting to xenophobia when things don’t work out as planned.