Exceptionally talented batters and supremely gifted spinners were the USP of Indian cricket for decades. Now, quality fast bowlers, attacking as a pack has added more teeth to Indian cricket’s bite.
But there’s one search that is still very much on in that department – the search for a quality left-arm pace bowler who can cement his place in the side, across formats. Indian cricket hasn’t found anyone to fit into that role on a long term basis after the likes of Zaheer Khan, Ashish Nehra and Irfan Pathan.
On India’s 2020-21 tour of Australia, T Natarajan was an unlikely hero – making his international debut across all three formats and delivering for the team. But like many others before him, Natarajan was pushed to the sidelines. In his case it was predominantly because of a knee injury flaring up and then a bout of Covid-19. There have been others like Barinder Sran, and more recently, Khaleel Ahmed who were given a run in ODIs and T20Is, but couldn’t cement their place in the Indian set-up. Sran hasn’t played an international match since 2016, while Khaleel last played for India in a T20I vs Bangladesh in November, 2019.
But of late one young left arm medium fast bowler has been making all the right noises – Arshdeep Singh. Though he has played just six international matches for India so far (all T20Is), this 23 year old has managed to impress most former India cricketers, experts and pundits.
The first thing that stands out about him is his maturity – which for anyone who has tracked him since his India u-19 and u-23 days through his IPL debut in 2019 to his India debut in July this year on the tour of England – has grown in spades. Apart from everything else that he has and can have, he seems to have a very mature head on his rather young shoulders. It’s not easy being a 20-something year old in the IPL and being thrown the ball at various stages of the innings – initial overs, middle, death overs – bowling to some of the best batters in the world and delivering consistently. But Arshdeep has been doing that, while steadily improving – which is what has impressed most experts.
Former India cricketer Maninder Singh was a guest on Times of India’s sports podcast Sportscast recently and shared his thoughts on Arshdeep and how he feels that this youngster from Guna in Madhya Pradesh is consistently putting in the hard yards to steadily keep improving.
“I have been very impressed with Arshdeep Singh. I think he has worked very hard. I have not only seen him in this season, I have seen him in the last couple of seasons as well. Last year I used to think he was not ready yet, even though people were talking about him being the next big thing as far as Indian fast bowling is concerned – the Indian selectors, the coach and the captain have been looking for a left-arm seamer. T Natarajan went to Australia and made his debut in T20Is, One Day internationals and Test match cricket as well, but I still had doubts about him, but this kid (Arshdeep) – number one – he has age on his side, number two – as he kept playing IPL and kept playing with international players and enjoying success, he started working harder. And you could see that in the previous IPL season where he was bowling yorkers at will. The best thing was that (when) the captain was giving him the new ball he was bowling well, in the middle overs he was bowling well, in the death overs he was bowling well – and that can only happen if you work hard. I remember Bishan paaji (Bishan Singh Bedi) used to tell me – the more you bowl in the nets, the more confidence you get, the better you become – and I think Arshdeep Singh has done that,” Maninder Singh said on TOI Sportscast.
Over the years the IPL of course has become one of the biggest launchpads for young cricketers. If a 20 something year old can hold his own against the best in the business, he deserves a look-in. But though IPL is a great feeder tournament, international cricket is a very different cup of tea. Especially perhaps for bowlers in today’s cricket world which is densely populated with batters determined to shred opposition bowling attacks, thanks largely to the T20 mindset which of course is here to stay.
Umran Malik blew everyone away – opposition batters and cricket fans alike – with his raw pace in the IPL. But he couldn’t carry that success into international cricket – not yet at least. Umran will get his chances again, the selectors will be tracking his development closely, but that is the department in which Arshdeep has done well. In the six T20Is he has played so far he has given away just 131 runs. That’s an economy rate of 6.33, which in T20I cricket is excellent. Yes, he has taken 9 wickets too, but it’s his ability to tie up batters which seems to have impressed people the most. He doesn’t let the batters dictate terms when he is bowling, which in turn gives the captain the confidence to throw the ball to him, regardless of which over it is that he is expected to bowl. He has clearly worked very hard on his yorkers too and has developed that as a potent weapon. But that’s not the only weapon in his armoury. Overall, Arshdeep seems to be developing as quite the multi-dimensional bowler – add to that the fact that he is a left arm pacer – and he becomes a very exciting prospect indeed for Indian cricket going ahead.
(Photo by Steve Bardens/Getty Images)
It came as no surprise then that Arshdeep found a place in the India squad that toured the Caribbean and US recently and the more high profile Asia Cup squad as well. Against the Windies, Arshdeep played all five T20I matches and was the third highest wicket taker, with 7 wickets and best figures of 3/12 and an economy rate of 6.58.
“For Arshdeep Singh, doing well in the IPL could have been a one-off thing, but (after that), whichever matches he has played, whatever opportunities he has got, he has done well. That goes to show that he has worked hard and that is also why he did well in the IPL. It wasn’t a fluke, it wasn’t a one-off. These kinds of things need to be seen by the coach, the selectors and observed by them,” Maninder Singh further said on TOI Sportscast.
Though it did come as a bit of a surprise to some that Arshdeep wasn’t picked for the upcoming three ODI series in Zimbabwe, even though he was part of the ODI squad for the tour of the Caribbean, the thought process could be to make him focus on one format for the time being, especially with the Asia Cup coming up later this month, which will also be played in the T20 format.
There are in fact some who also feel that Arshdeep could be amongst the favourites to make the cut for the Indian squad for the T20 World Cup later this year in Australia as well.
Arshdeep’s rise of course has added to the incredible competition that we see these days for spots in an Indian playing XI. While coaches and team management members try to make sure that no one is left out for too long, the players know that they can’t afford to relax – a few average performances and they could be relegated to the sidelines very easily. There are multiple other players ready to take their place in the squad.
While the growing bench strength also in a way presents a risk of certain players being pigeonholed as being suited for one format only, the overall strength of the current bench is great for Indian cricket overall. Gone are the days when the selectors didn’t really have too many options for each playing XI spot.
“As a cricket lover I would honestly want this job (of selecting teams) to be harder for the selectors. I would like this headache to be there for them (selectors) where for one single position they have 4-5 players to choose from. It’s a good headache for an Indian cricket lover.” Maninder Singh further said on TOI Sportscast.
You can listen to the full episode of Sportscast with Maninder Singh here: