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Pace, Guts, and Steel, Arshdeep Singh Is Coming of Age in International Cricket

The 23-year-old impressed with three wickets against Pakistan on his World Cup debut at the MCG on Sunday.

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Just 13 matches into his fledging T20 International career, and over three months since his flight first took off, Arshdeep Singh has already forced a redemption arc that would put even the most brazen script-writers to stare at their blank pages for long hours, wondering what they’d just witnessed. 

It was exactly seven weeks ago when his unforced error - a dropped dolly in the death overs of a tight contest between India and Pakistan in the Asia Cup - landed him dead-centre in the spotlight that sportspersons are the most afraid of. 

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Being called a 'national traitor' and subjected to communal abuse by dozens of thousands is enough to break even the most thick-skinned veterans, what chance did a 23-year-old with less than 10 games under his belt have? 

Only Arshdeep can tell us whether he got any sleep the night before or if the abuse and threats directed at him and his family played on his mind when he stepped on to the field for the first time against the same opponents. 

If the nerves were jangling in the build-up to his T20 World Cup debut in Melbourne and against Pakistan of all teams, they were dead serene when he got the ball to swing back in, deceiving the big fish in Babar Azam and leaving the opposition dumbfounded. 

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Babar had an average of 72 and strike rate of 145.2 against left arm medium pace and he had only lost his wicket once to left arm fast bowling in this format of the game before the match with India, and yet, the ICC ranked World No. 3 batter was left flummoxed by Arshdeep's searing in-swinging full delivery and was trapped plumb LBW. 

The Pakistan captain immediately made a T with his hands to review umpire Marais Erasmus’ decision, but it was a desperate last-gasp attempt to stay afloat and the review went in vain as the slow-motion replays, the Ultra Edge, and the ball-tracking all but compounded his misery on the big screen. 

The remainder of the over played out like a classic game of cat and mouse between the bowler and the batter. The southpaw swung the ball to his will, getting it to drift outside and beating Shan Masood’s efforts to get bat on to it and then immediately nipping it back in to threaten his stumps and leg, all at a tremendous pace. 

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Sandwiched for room, Masood finally offered bat and defended a length ball straight to mid-off and responding to Mohammad Rizwan’s call, immediately took off. Virat Kohli came steaming in to collect the ball and he missed a glorious run-out attempt from point blank range when he had time on his side as well! 

Arshdeep tried to recreate the charm of his first delivery in the final ball of the over against Rizwan but missed his length slightly and over-pitched the delivery. The wicket-keeper used his wrists to clip the low full toss away and registered the first boundary of the match. 

Interestingly, he stuck to the same plan against left-handed Shan Masood in his next over but conceded a boundary after over-pitching once again and getting clipped behind. Undeterred by the two consecutive boundaries, Arshdeep was at his glorious best in the final four deliveries of the over and set Rizwan up beautifully for a delightful pay-off.

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He beat the No. 1 ranked ICC T20I batter outside the off line twice. Arshdeep then bowled an inswinger which put Rizwan in an awkward position, and he ended up playing all around it. The ball clipped in the air and hung for a while before falling just short of Kohli at mid-on. 

However, the left-hander finally got his man when he pulled the length back and surprised Rizwan with a bouncer. Even though the batter took on the hook shot, he was deceived by the extra bounce and Bhuvneshwar Kumar completed a straightforward catch at fine leg. 

Arshdeep had just done to Pakistan with left-arm pace what Shaheen Afridi had done to India’s openers in the 2021 T20 World Cup! 
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With both openers Babar and Rizwan back in the hut inside the powerplay, India had not only made a major statement to begin proceedings but also got rid of Pakistan’s most reliable contributors with the bat (collectively, the duo was responsible for 47.6% of Pakistan’s total runs in T20I cricket in 2022).  

The fact that relative newcomer Arshdeep had borne the brunt of the responsibility in a pace lineup comprising several established made things even sweeter for Team India. 

Pakistan were at 116/6 when the youngster returned to bowl at the death. Asif Ali is a dangerous customer between overs 16 and 20 and possesses a strike rate of 164.1 in that phase of the game over the last two years. However, Arshdeep ensured that he wouldn’t have any say on the matter against India with a superb short delivery that took the batter by complete surprise. 

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Looking to duck initially, Asif failed to respond in time and instinctively raised his bat to protect his face. The ball took a deflection off his glove and flew into the safe hands of keeper Dinesh Karthik as Arshdeep bagged his third victim with a priceless delivery in the 16th over. 

Even though he lost his shape while bowling his final over and conceded 14 runs after Shaheen Afridi hammered him for a six and a four in the 19th, it had been a brilliant day in the office for Arshdeep who had well and truly silenced his critics. 

It was a shame that noises of Arshdeep Singh’s superb spell of 3/32 with the ball were drowned out by an almost fairytale of an innings played by Virat Kohli later as the game unfolded with its many twists and dramas, but make no mistake, even in a Jasprit Bumrah-less bowling unit, the southpaw embraced responsibility like a veteran and shone like a diamond in the rough. 

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