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Match Analysis

How and how much Arshdeep Singh's no-balls cost India

While captain Hardik said bowling a no-ball is a "crime" in T20s, coach Dravid was less severe

Hemant Brar
Hemant Brar
Nineteenth over of Sri Lanka's innings in the second T20I. Dasun Shanaka has hit a full toss straight to Suryakumar Yadav at long-on, but instead of celebrating, India captain Hardik Pandya has his face buried in his hands. The reason: Arshdeep Singh has overstepped, again.
That was Arshdeep's fourth no-ball of the match. To rub it in, Shanaka hit the resulting free hit for six. Two balls later, Arshdeep overstepped again. Shanaka was on 30 off 14 when he got the reprieve; he went on to score an unbeaten 56 off 22 to haul Sri Lanka past 200.
Earlier in the game, Arshdeep's no-balls had allowed Kusal Mendis, the other half-centurion in the innings, to break free. After 1.5 overs, Sri Lanka were 7 for no loss with Mendis having been beaten three times in four balls.
Arshdeep then bowled three no-balls in a row; Mendis cashed in on the free hits, picking up a four and a six to get Sri Lanka going with a 19-run over.
Arshdeep, the leader of India's attack this series, seemed to lose his captain's trust after that over and he wasn't summoned again until the 19th over despite death bowling being his strength. As a result, Umran Malik bowled the 18th over, which is not his comfort zone. He is yet to master the yorker, which means his biggest strength - express pace - becomes a weakness at the death as batters throw their bats around. Malik leaked 21 in that over.
Arshdeep's five front foot no-balls are the most for any bowler in a T20I for which ESPNcricinfo has ball-by-ball data. Malik and Shivam Mavi also bowled a no-ball each, taking India's tally to seven - no Full Member team has bowled so many in a T20I.
In the end, the balls that didn't count were the ones that really counted. The no-ball penalties and free hits cost India 27 runs. Their margin of defeat was 16.
Arshdeep was returning from an illness that made him miss the first T20I. With not much time to practice between the first two games, it's possible he was rusty. However, overstepping has been an issue with him since his international debut. Since 2022, Arshdeep has bowled 14 front-foot no-balls in T20Is. Blessing Muzarabani is a distant second with five.
"You cannot give no-balls as freebies," India's T20I captain Hardik Pandya said after the game. "You can give away runs, you can get away with everything else. He [Arshdeep] has been having a good run, but in the past as well he has bowled a couple of no-balls. It's not about blaming but it is simple cricket. In world cricket, or any T20 cricket you play, no-ball is a crime. Not to be too hard on him but at the same time he needs to go back and see that these are the basic errors which he should not be making at this level."
Rahul Dravid, India's coach, was less severe. "Obviously, nobody wants to bowl wides [no-balls] in any format of the game," he said, "but especially in the T20 format, they can hurt you. But if you look at this team, there are a lot of youngsters, especially in our bowling attack. So they will have games like this at times. We all need to be patient and understand that things like this can happen.
"Of course, they are improving, and we keep trying to help them technically with whatever we can and creating the right environment for them to be able to get the best out of their skills. But as they are learning, it's not easy learning in international cricket, you have to learn on the job.
"The good thing is a lot of the focus this year is going to be on the 50-over World Cup and the World Test Championship. The T20 games give us an opportunity to try out a lot of these younger guys, and just back and support them when they have tough games like this."
Modern cricketers always talk about following the process and controlling the controllables. They do not necessarily look at their performance through the lens of statistics, especially in T20 cricket.
"At the end of the day when you go to bed, you should feel satisfied with the way you bowled, because wickets or runs won't give you the full picture every time," Arshdeep once told ESPNcricinfo. "It could be that you were trying to bowl a yorker but it turned out to be a half-volley and you got a wicket. Everyone knows you took a wicket but you know you made a mistake. Stats cannot tell you those things, those things you feel yourself."
On Thursday night, though, the numbers didn't lie.

Hemant Brar is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo