Why India trust Arshdeep with the difficult overs
He has both the skills and the temperament to cope with the fact that death bowlers often have more bad days than good ones
Bowling in the death is one of the toughest jobs in T20 cricket, so tough that it is often so easy to get down on yourself. Because one little edge can turn your pinpoint yorker into a boundary ball. And what about the days when you keep missing the yorker.
Arshdeep Singh leaked 7(nb), 6,6,4 in the last over of the first T20I against New Zealand and those 27 runs cost India quite a bit. But he didn't get down on himself, and India's team management didn't allow him to get down on himself. Because it can happen to anyone who bowls in the death. It has happened to some of the best in the business like Dwayne Bravo and Chris Jordan. It has even happened to Arshdeep before, not too long ago.
But in spite of all this, the left-arm seamer keeps coming back for more. He is a quick learner and a calm operator, much like his senior Jasprit Bumrah, which is why India keep trusting Arshdeep to bowl the tough overs. They are even willing to sacrifice the 150kph pace of Umran Malik for his variety.
In the second T20I, Hardik Pandya could have asked his Yuzvendra Chahal to bowl at the death. The pitch was ripe for spin bowling. But Chahal only bowled two overs, and Hardik turned to Arshdeep at the death. He delivered with 2-0-7-2, a spell that assumed greater significance after India's batters huffed and puffed their way towards a target of 100, winning with just one ball to spare.
Arshdeep had only been brought into the attack for the 18th over and he took out Ish Sodhi and Lockie Ferguson with shoulder-high bouncers. Both deliveries clocked speeds in the lower 130s (kph), but even on a slow pitch they skidded onto the batters. Sure, Sodhi and Ferguson are lower-order batters, but Arshdeep's bouncers have deceived top batters too. Ask the likes of Asif Ali, Mohammad Rizwan and Kyle Mayers. One-third of his 39 wickets in T20Is are the result of short or short-of-a-good-length deliveries, according to ESPNcricinfo's logs.
That one to Asif in the 2022 T20 World Cup is perhaps the most memorable of the lot. Arshdeep dug in a throat-high short ball on a leg-stump line from over the wicket in the 17th over of Pakistan's innings. Asif had no time to duck or hook. All he could do was flap a catch behind to wicketkeeper Dinesh Karthik. Asif's bemused reaction suggested he had been well and truly done in.
The nature of a death bowler's job is such that he will have more bad days than good. And in T20 cricket, where most games are decided by small margins, people tend to point fingers at the guy who leaked a few too many runs in the final overs without always appreciating the difficulty of his task. Arshdeep, for example, was bowling with a wet ball when he gave up those 27 runs in the first T20I.
Experience - Arshdeep is only six months into his international career - will give him a wider range of options when conditions are so actively against him. But even now, raw as he is, Arshdeep is finding ways to excite people. Anil Kumble, his former coach at Punjab Kings, is so impressed that he has backed him to emulate what Zaheer Khan did for India.
"I was really impressed with Arshdeep, how he's come through," Kumble said on ESPNcricinfo's Open Mic in October. "I worked with him for three years and I could see the kind of development that he has had in the T20 format, and last year's IPL was a classic example of how he handled the pressure.
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"He perhaps bowled the tough overs for the team and yeah, you don't always look at the wickets column in the T20 game, you look at what moments the bowler comes up with. And the temperament that he's shown, it's wonderful. We saw that again in the India-Pakistan game. When you have 90,000 people at the MCG, it's always challenging."
Such comparisons, and the injury-enforced absence of Bumrah, might also invite pressure, but Arshdeep has the skills and self-belief to cope.
"I guess the first thing is, you must have that self-belief," Arshdeep had said of bowling at the death last year. "Only then others will show confidence in you. Whenever you step onto the field, you step on with the confidence that no matter who is up against you, you will back your skills and do well for your team. You reach this level only if you have the required skills. After that, it is about who can adapt to the situation in the middle and excel."
After having helped India square the T20I series, Arshdeep has another chance to excel in Ahmedabad. But, even if he doesn't, even if he gives up plenty in the end overs, India know he can bounce back; that he always bounces back.
Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo