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Analysis

Nerveless Arshdeep Singh aces the endgame to repay Kings' faith

He might not have the express pace to boast, but his discipline and effort, especially in crunch overs, haven't gone unnoticed

Punjab Kings weren't exactly in a comfortable position when Arshdeep Singh came in to bowl the 17th over against Super Kings on Monday, defending a total of 187 for 4. Kings were coming off a big defeat at the hands of Delhi Capitals - and in this match, Super Kings were threatening to take the game away. Despite early strikes, Ambati Rayudu had got the team back in the game and had just plundered 23 runs off Sandeep Sharma in the 16th over. With the equation down to Super Kings needing 47 off 24 balls, all Arshdeep had to do was hold his nerve and bowl with control - like he had done consistently at crucial moments in the death overs for the last few seasons.
The left-arm pacer did exactly that, with 1, 1, 1, 0, 1, 2. The pressure was right back on Super Kings.
The job was not over yet. After Kagiso Rabada's six-run over, Arshdeep was back to bowl the 19th over with Super Kings needing 35 off 12 balls. On the other side was MS Dhoni - fresh off his heroics in the previous match against Mumbai Indians - and Ravindra Jadeja. Up against two experienced batters who are known for their finishing skills, Arshdeep also had to be wary of the fact that Dhoni had the Wankhede's shorter boundary to target on the leg side.
It could be nerve-wracking for anyone, but not for Arshdeep, who did his job without fuss. He was able to nail a couple of wide yorkers, and the one he missed by a fraction was dispatched for four. There was no panic in the Kings' dugout because his magnificent spell at the death - 14 runs from 12 balls - had just left Super Kings needing a steep 27 off the final over. Even for Dhoni, that was a tough task. Rishi Dhawan, who was handed the final over, conceded 15 runs and dismissed Dhoni to take Kings home by 11 runs.
Player of the Match Shikhar Dhawan (88 off 59 balls), Kagiso Rabada and Rishi - who was quite impressive in his first IPL match in five years - had all played important roles in helping Kings secure their fourth win of the season, but there was no doubt in captain Mayank Agarwal's mind who had turned the match around.
"I thought Arsh bowled exceedingly well," Agarwal told the host broadcaster Star Sports after the win. "I must credit him. Throughout the season, he's stood up in tough moments and he's bowled the tough overs. He's always put his hand up and said, 'Give me the ball'. So he's been great for us."
Even though Arshdeep might not be among the wickets, time and again he has proved that he can be relied on at the death.
In their first match of the season, Arshdeep bowled a frugal 18th over to keep Dinesh Karthik and Virat Kohli quiet when Royal Challengers Bangalore were going at nearly ten runs per over. When Mumbai Indians needed 33 off 18 balls, he landed the yorkers right and gave away just five runs and played a key part in the victory. In their loss against Gujarat Titans too, he bowled a solid 18th over, mixing his lengths well to keep Hardik Pandya under the pump.
"I think Arsh has been the best death bowler in this competition," Kagiso Rabada told the host broadcaster. "That's what the stats say. He's a youngster coming in. He's got a lot of drive, a lot of ambition and he's got talent as well. He's just a good bloke. So it's nice to have him around. I've always bowled at the death as well, so I know I'm going to bowl at the death but Arsh has just been magnificent and been leading the way in that discipline."
The numbers do say that. Arshdeep has conceded just 5.66 runs an over at the death, which is the best economy rate for a bowler who has bowled a minimum of 30 balls at the death in IPL 2022. Since IPL 2020, he has an economy rate of 8.63 in death overs, only behind Anrich Nortje and Jasprit Bumrah in the list.
He has even made it to the top ten of bowlers with most yorkers bowled in the last few years, nailing 32 in 14 games since 2020 and conceding 3.75 an over while bowling this length.
Though he might not have a lot of wickets to his name or the express pace some others have, Arshdeep's discipline, especially in crunch overs, hasn't gone unnoticed. After all, Arshdeep was one of the three players retained by Kings ahead of the IPL 2022 and he has repaid the team's faith. His team-mates are acknowledging his efforts, while cricket pundits are discussing whether he's done enough to earn an India cap. For now, Arshdeep is the man who bowls the tough overs, and bowls them with an uncluttered mind.

Sruthi Ravindranath is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo