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Feature

Ish Sodhi 2.0: How a horror series against England turned the legspinner's career around

The New Zealand leggie on advice from Mitchell Santner, his match-winning spell against India, and his friendship with Rashid Khan

Matt Roller
Matt Roller
06-Nov-2021
"These days in T20 cricket, anyone from No. 1 to 8 or 9 can hit sixes... it means you have to be really clinical in your lengths." - Sodhi  •  AFP/Getty Images

"These days in T20 cricket, anyone from No. 1 to 8 or 9 can hit sixes... it means you have to be really clinical in your lengths." - Sodhi  •  AFP/Getty Images

Two years ago, Ish Sodhi endured one of the most chastening series in T20I history. Over the course of a five-match series against England, he took three wickets in 15 overs and leaked 11.73 runs an over; never before or since has a player bowled more balls in a bilateral T20I series with a worse economy rate.
The challenge was brutal, bowling legspin to a destructive batting line-up on some of the smallest international grounds in world cricket, but even so, the figures were damning. At 27 and as a purveyor of a skill where players peak late, Sodhi had time on his side to reflect on what had gone wrong, and sought out his long-time team-mate Mitchell Santner for advice.
"I knew his ability to be aggressive and defensive at the same time was something I definitely had to learn from," Sodhi recalls, speaking to ESPNcricinfo. "We speak about spin bowling quite regularly - I'm probably the one that's instigating it most of the time, but having the bowler at the other end to bounce ideas off is great."
Since then, Sodhi has improved markedly in T20I cricket, averaging 17.09 with an economy rate of 7.72, despite playing the majority of games at home. The key, he says, has been stopping worrying about emulating others. "I've thought about that [England] series quite a lot over the last two years," he says. "I remember speaking to a few people about it before I came away [to the T20 World Cup] and where the development had come from.
"He's definitely revolutionised legspin bowling. The way he does it is unique: it's not so much the old 90s way that we grew up watching - legspin with two fingers up, two fingers down and trying to get drift and dip. He's very much into the wickets and relentless with his lines and lengths."
Sodhi on Rashid Khan
"If you look at Imran Tahir, Rashid Khan, Wanindu Hasaranga, all those great legspinners playing a lot of their cricket in Asian conditions, they're spinning the ball both ways, bringing the stumps into play, I think that's always been a blueprint for what legspin should look like in T20 cricket. Up until that point, that's how I based my game in New Zealand - even though most of the time the wickets don't really allow for much turn.
"That series was definitely a reminder that bowling in New Zealand, compared to anywhere else in the world, is unique for any bowler - even more so for a legspin bowler. Playing on small grounds is something we really need to get used to, and it means that having those defensive options is really important. These days in T20 cricket, anyone from No. 1 to 8 or 9 can hit sixes; being a spinner and not having the ability to peg someone back with a bouncer or something like that, it means you have to be really clinical in your lengths."
Sodhi was due to travel to the IPL as Rajasthan Royals' team liaison officer earlier this year, effectively becoming a standby replacement player and net bowler, but logistical complications meant his winter instead involved a stint at Worcestershire in the T20 Blast. "There were a few things I was working on in the nets over the winter in cold conditions, so it was nice to be able to test those under pressure, and great for my development."
In New Zealand's opening game of this World Cup, against Pakistan in Sharjah, Sodhi was due to miss out on selection but came into the side at short notice when the ICC confirmed Adam Milne would not be cleared as Lockie Ferguson's replacement in time; he responded by dismissing Fakhar Zaman and Mohammad Rizwan.
As a result, he kept his place for their must-win game against India in Dubai. He made use of the bigger boundaries, having Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli caught at long-on to return 2 for 17 and take Player-of-the-Match honours on his 29th birthday. "It was quite a cool day," he says, smiling. "Any time you play against India the atmosphere is pretty grand and there's a big population of Indians out in Dubai. The way that we played was just fantastic."
After comfortable wins against Scotland and Namibia, New Zealand have set up an effective quarter-final - from their perspective, at least - against Afghanistan in Abu Dhabi on Sunday. Aside from the pressure of a must-win game and the prospect of semi-final qualification, Sodhi is relishing the opportunity to lock horns with his legspin agony uncle.
"I've spoken to Rash [Rashid Khan] quite a few times," he says. "It's good with social media, and I've connected with him a few times when I've had some questions during some cold winter in New Zealand, when I've been working on certain deliveries or my pace. He's always been great to talk to and it's great to have that sort of legspin community, when you come across guys like that and can pick their brains and try to improve your own game.
"He's definitely revolutionised legspin bowling. The way he does it is unique: it's not so much the old 90s way that we grew up watching - legspin with two fingers up, two fingers down and trying to get drift and dip. He's very much into the wickets and relentless with his lines and lengths. He's been such a great player for Afghanistan and has done so well around the world in all formats: we know he's a huge threat for them."

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98