Arshdeep Singh is not given to wild celebrations. In any case, the Punjab Kings seamer doesn’t have too many reasons to celebrate. He doesn’t rattle the stumps or send the edges flying to slips or the keeper. That’s the job of Kagiso Rabada, the South African spearhead who bowls at express pace and is backed by plenty of international experience. Arshdeep has none of that, yet he’s emerged the ace in the Punjab pack on the back of miserly spells in the Indian Premier League.
“I think Arsh has been the best death bowler in this competition [IPL 2022],” Rabada told Star Sports after the left-arm mediumpacer turned in a tidy spell that choked the Chennai Super Kings on Monday. With MS Dhoni and Ravindra Jadeja, two feared finishers, at the crease, Arshdeep bowled the 17th and 19th overs, giving away 14 runs from 12 balls. That took the wind out of Chennai’s sails.
Little wonder victorious Punjab captain Mayank Agarwal heaped praise on the youngster in the post-match chat with the host broadcaster. And they have been some chatter on social media calling for the inclusion of Arshdeep, 23, on the flight to Australia for the T20 World Cup in October. Well, that’s too early to say, but the Punjab lad certainly has pressed claims for an India cap.
Arshdeep was one of the three players retained by Punjab ahead of the 2022 mega auction. And I wondered: Did Punjab make a mistake? I thought they should have retained a heavyweight or a gun player. One enduring sight from IPL 2021 was Arshdeep bowling wide yorkers to a rampant Sanju Samson to steal a win from under the noses of the Rajasthan Royals. Even that nerveless performance didn’t mark him as a player to watch, much less to be retained by Punjab.
The franchise saw much more than what I had seen. That’s why Arshdeep has been retained, and he’s repaid their faith with sterling spells. In Punjab’s first game of IPL 15, Arshdeep reined in stalwarts Virat Kohli and Dinesh Karthik in the slog overs to defeat the Royal Challengers Bangalore. His yorkers also helped lance down the Mumbai Indians, and his blend of yorkers and slower ones put a bridle on the mercurial Hardik Pandya in the death overs, although it didn’t stop the Gujarat Titans.
Arshdeep no doubt has been an asset for Punjab, but there are several other death-over specialists. T. Natarajan’s spells have been integral to Sunrisers Hyderabad’s revival, and Bangalore are heavily dependent on Harshal Patel. They have been go-to-bowlers for their franchises and are adept at handling the middle-overs and the slog. And the two have played for India. That puts Arshdeep lower in the pecking order, yet the Punjab youngster, who has been part of the India Under-19 and Under-23 squads, has made a strong case for a place in the World Cup squad with lion-hearted performances.
The picture will be clearer in the next few weeks. After all, there are more than four weeks left in IPL 15. Time enough for many more matchwinning displays. Arshdeep could well author some of them, making it harder for the selectors to ignore his claims. Keep your eyes peeled.