As the noise at the Wankhede Stadium reached deafening proportions on Saturday, April 22, Arshdeep Singh was tasked with bowling two of the final three overs, and the rest of his Punjab Kings (PBKS) teammates would have been forgiven had they started feeling the pinch.
Punjab scored 214 batting first and kept the Mumbai Indians (MI) at bay for large swathes during their run-chase. But now, MI seem intent on grabbing the game by the scruff of the neck. Suryakumar Yadav, who has not been in great form lately, was showing encouraging signs of a renaissance, while Tim David was cut out just for situations of this ilk.
After 17 overs, MI were 175-3, needing 40 runs off 18 balls to seal the highest run-chase of the season. Arshdeep, as he has often done for PBKS and India, was expected to stop the hosts’ charge, and help Punjab win a game they could very easily have lost.
The first ball he bowls is a rank full toss on the stumps. David walks across his stumps nonchalantly and dumps it a mile over the deep square leg fence. Thirt-four needed off 17, which amounts to two runs-a-ball and in the current T20 climate, is not a big deal.
Now, just try to understand the situation from Arshdeep’s perspective. Brought on to derail MI’s chase, he was thumped for a six off the first ball. The pressure is on him and his team, and MI have gotten into a zone where they simply have nothing to lose.
In simpler words, the circumstances are designed in such a way that bowlers crack. Most would have too and would have offered more freebies to allow the hosts to romp home.
Arshdeep, though, is not just any bowler. He is special, and those who have watched him from the start, have probably known that all along.
Arshdeep Singh was superb at the death against MI
Later in that over, Arshdeep angled a low full toss at the stumps and prevented Suryakumar from getting under it. The Mumbai batter got decent enough contact but could not clear Atharva Taide at mid-wicket. Two excellent yorkers follow, and an over that seemed to turn things pear-shaped has ended up tilting the scales in PBKS’ favor slightly.
Nathan Ellis, however, did Arshdeep no favors in the penultimate over, conceding 15 runs and giving the Indian pacer only 16 to defend in the final over, with both David and N Tilak Varma looking to tee off.
Again, Arshdeep could have crumbled. But he did not. That is why he is unlike most bowlers currently on the Indian team’s radar, and that is why he has the potential to be a genuine T20 superstar.
This performance is even more relevant considering he has not been in the best bowling form recently. His T20I career began with a bang and he quickly established himself as a starter. Since October 1, 2022, though, his economy rate reads 9.29, significantly higher than his career economy rate of 8.39.
Of course, several bowlers before him and countless after him will experience such troughs. But for a bowler who seemed to provide so much control at the start of his international career, there might have been the odd murmur around whether his effectiveness at the highest level was dwindling.
Arshdeep, through this IPL, though, seems to be answering those doubts quite emphatically. As things stand, he is the Purple Cap holder and his economy rate is 8.16, which is the second-best he has ever managed in the IPL. He is also bowling difficult overs and as Mumbai found out on Saturday, thriving. What he did against Rohit Sharma’s side only made it more poetic.
Away from all the numbers, it is his calmness and composure under pressure that stands out again. Pitting your wits against a rampaging Suryakumar could go either way – more often than not, in the way of the batter. Similarly, David has made a living tearing apart top-class bowlers at the death.
If you had watched Arshdeep bowl the final few overs, though, you would have thought he was just bowling in the nets – such was his confidence and belief that he could execute his plans. For the Indian team, he has, at times, been guilty of trying too many things. Here, for PBKS, he was backing his yorker, and it ultimately paid rich dividends.
Oh, and among all that, he absolutely demolished two very expensive stumps, forced the umpires to replace them, and sent out a strong statement. Had the stumps not been battered, and had Arshdeep just picked up wickets, the message would have been conveyed too. This, however, added to an aura of invincibility around him.
Like all young bowlers (Arshdeep is still only 24, mind you), he will be prone to ups and downs. IPL and international cricket are also considered vastly different, despite being very similar in essence. But because of the players that participate in the IPL, it is perhaps the best audition for any cricketer.
For most of last year, Arshdeep gave a brilliant account of himself, eventually propelling him as a mainstay in India’s first-choice T20I side. Now, after a few months where there was a bit of uncertainty around his sustainability, he is back at it, doing what he does best – being cool under pressure.
It was quite revealing that after helping PBKS win the game, he was grinning – not overly happy but quietly satisfied that he had done what he gets paid the big bucks for. When the broadcaster asked him if at any stage his heart rate had gone up to more than 120 beats per minute, he, with a smile, quipped that if they were to stand next to him, they would realize that it did not even get that high.
It might have led to a chuckle amongst almost everyone that was watching. But Arshdeep seemed to say that with utter conviction. So much so that you, just for a moment, believed in it. This is Arshdeep and this is why he is special.