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Feature

Navdeep Saini's firecracker pace lights up Cuttack

The fast bowler was crucial in keeping West Indies in check during the middle overs, ensuring India ended up with a gettable target

The last time Cuttack hosted an ODI, India ran up 381 for 6. But, they still needed a special spell from Bhuvneshwar Kumar to defend that total on a belter.
A similar belter was rolled out for the third ODI between India and West Indies at the Barabati Stadium. This time, India asked the visitors to bat first, and then made early inroads, pinning West Indies down to 144 for 4 in the 32nd over. Although captain Kieron Pollard and Nicholas Pooran teed off, helping their side amass 105 off their last eight overs, a target of 316 proved well within India's reach, especially with dew coming into play.
The early damage India did was crucial, and the debutant fast bowler Navdeep Saini was responsible for the bulk of it, removing the in-form Shimron Hetmyer (37) and the promoted Roston Chase (38) in successive overs.
Saini wasn't even in the fray for this ODI series, but an injury to Deepak Chahar paved the way for his return to international cricket. Saini himself was coming off an injury, after having impressed with his hit-the-deck bustle on his T20I debut against West Indies in August earlier this year.
However, an injury sustained after the T20I series at home against South Africa forced him out of action. He even had to pull out of Delhi's Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy squad. He played just one game in the domestic T20 competition, but proved his fitness and form in the Ranji Trophy when he picked up 5 for 86 against Andhra in Ongole. On the same day, Saini was called up to India's ODI squad and not long after he was in the cauldron of a series decider.
With the new-ish ball in his very first over, the seventh of West Indies' innings, Saini hit 148kph and rushed opener Evin Lewis for pace. Then, in his next over, the quick had Lewis slashing the ball to point, but Ravindra Jadeja dropped a tough chance. Lewis was on 14 at this point.
Lewis added seven to his tally, before Saini held onto a skier to hand Jadeja the breakthrough. Soon after, Mohammed Shami stormed through Shai Hope's defences with an inducker for the ages.
Hetmyer and Chase then forged 62-run third-wicket stand in 60 balls to give the visitors some hope. However, Saini dashed it to tip the match India's way. His very first ball to Hetmyer was a short one at the body that cramped the batsman for room. Despite being well set, Hetmyer could only flap a pull to long leg.
Chase was done in by the old two-card trick. Saini first had him ducking and weaving with lifters, and then unleashed an inch-perfect yorker to nail his off stump. The yorker seemed a lot quicker than 139kph recorded by the speed gun and Chase was far too late to jab his bat down on it.
When Shami bowled Hope, firecrackers went up into the Cuttack sky. Nothing of the sort was needed when Saini bowled Chase. The ball itself was a firecracker.
Pollard was given the same treatment. He had initially stood outside the crease to counter the substantial movement and zip that the India seamers were generating. But Saini pushed him back with a liberal dose of short balls and then speared in an inswinging yorker in the 34th over. Pollard, unlike Chase, just about managed to bring his bat down in time.
Later in the evening, when the dew set in and the ball skidded off the pitch, Pollard and Pooran ruined Saini's figures. After conceding a mere 28 runs in his first eight overs, he leaked 30 in his last two as West Indies breached 300. Still, his timely strikes in the middle overs ensured West Indies wouldn't get away from India, highlighting his value and how much it can still grow.

Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo