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how Arshdeep Singh became India’s match-winner

So Arshdeep Singh drops a catch. Catches are dropped every day. Twenty-eight have been dropped in the Asian Cup. Six of them are simple. This is easy. Except, it’s in a tight finish against Pakistan. There is no guarantee that India will win if Arshdeep had taken it. He bowls the last ball. India loses

Arshdeep is a Sikh and is referred to as Khalistani by abusers. Never mind that his father gave 25 years to India’s Central Industrial Security Forces (CISF). If you know anything about Sikh history, demands for Khalistan and the recent use of the term against other Sikhs during and after the farmers’ protests in 2020 and 2021, you know how cruel this targeting is.

Before you start telling #notallindians about this, remember that you are not the victim here. A 23-year-old from a minority community who chose not to go to Canada to practice cricket. As small as the number of abusers is, Arshdeep has had sleepless nights because of this. He wonders if a cricket match against Pakistan is enough.

A year ago there was an Indian. Mohammed Shami was asked to go to Pakistan because he threw a loose over after India’s batters failed.

On October 23, 2022, Shami and Arshdeep will face the same team again. At arguably the biggest gathering in cricket: an India-Pakistan World Cup match at the MCG.

Arshdeep has the new ball. He has never bowled in a real match in Australia before. In preparation, he has spent time in Perth and played a few warm-up matches. Bhuvneshwar Kumar, the senior pro, threw the first over. As with most bowlers on fast pitches, Bhuvneshwar has bowled with a deep third and a deep fine leg. However, Arshdeep starts with a deep third and deep back square.

We know that Babar Azam has been attacked by most teams with the short ball. Arshdeep has the field for it. A short ball is part of the plan, but when will it arrive? Certainly not the first ball? But what if it is? Arshdeep rushes in and throws down the perfect inswinger to trap Babar up front. He’s caught in the fold. I’m not sure if it’s the field or the bounce he saw in the first over but when Babar comes to this ball he won’t come out. However, he stays behind.

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A new batter comes in. Square leg remains behind. However, the short ball does not arrive immediately. Neither to Shan Masood, nor to Mohammad Rizwan. Only at the end of Arshdeep’s second left. And how it arrives. Perfect height, perfect line. His first bouncer in Australia. Rizwan can’t keep it in nor get it all because he has to drag it from the outside. Caught by that man there in front of that ball, two overs in the making.

“That feeling was so good,” Arshdeep says. “So much love.”

Love. He got it from his teammates during the Asian Cup, even though you may have seen on TV that captain Rohit Sharma didn’t listen to him. Rohit has since backed Arshdeep even more. He wears his hair in a patka – more like a bandana – on the field but proudly de dastarthe right turban, off the field.

A lot of love has gone into making these overs. To know exactly where to throw the short ball. Looking for the swing for “two-three balls” and trying to hit the pads. “The preparation,” Arshdeep says when asked how he’s done so well. “Where the short ball should be thrown. We planned it well. Behind the scenes, the coaching staff told me that it bounces more in Australia, so you have to hit it a bit fuller. The ball fell well. Luckily it went by hand too But there was a plan behind it. There are big square borders, so we have to use them.”

It’s not all results. He knows it could have been a six on another day. “Fortunately, it went by hand.” However, he becomes greedy when he sees the tail and defensively stops bowling. He goes for a wicket, bowls length, and Shaheen Shah Afridi hits him for a six. You just can’t lose focus in a T20.

Arshdeep’s bowling coach Paras Mhambrey, who has worked with him to get the run-up judge so he can wave him in and out, has observed Arshdeep observing things.

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“He’s the kind of guy who likes to talk a lot and he chats with the other senior guys, and I’ve seen him talk a lot with Bhuvi and Shami because those guys have played here,” says Mhambrey. “So the kind of learning he’s doing, he’s trying to implement that into a game. I give him that credit. Obviously, having a chat and understanding what it takes, but to go out there and execute it and do it yourself as an individual, skills come in.”

There’s a bit of Jasprit Bumrah in how coaches talk about Arshdeep as a quick learner. He entered this World Cup mainly as a death bowler, not even sure of a spot in the starting line-up until Bumrah was ruled out with an injury. Not without reason. As of early 2021, Arshdeep has had the fourth best economic death rate in T20s.

If you assume that half volleys and full throws at death are yorkers gone wrong, Arshdeep has the third highest efficiency when attempting yorkers. Even if he misses the Yorker, his economy percentage is third best for those balls. He also nails them from around the wicket as he has the second best Yorker efficiency and the best economy when he misses the Yorker.

India has come here and seen different conditions than the usual Australian summer. The ball has moved, it has been cold; Arshdeep grabbed the new ball and swung it both ways. Head coach Rahul Dravid counts his blessings.

“If you would ask me in November [last year] when I first took over and I had a list of bowlers in my head,” says Dravid. “Sure, Arshdeep was there, but he’d had one good IPL. But as he has come after, he has come and pushed his way to the side and did very well. So that’s fantastically heartwarming to see.”

“Arshdeep knows that T20s are a fickle sport. What happens in the end is less dependent on how you bowl than in any other form of cricket. A secessionist one day, a savior the next.”

It is wet. Really wet. Shakib Al Hasan runs his hand over the grass and shows the water to the referees. It’s unfair for Bangladesh, you think, to start so soon after the rains, but it’s not easy for India either. Even Shakib acknowledges that. India has to play in the wet field, grab that bar of soap every time it comes back from the outfield, and they have nine left to defend against 10 wickets in hand. India’s throwdown specialist stands at the border with a stiff brush to scrub the wet grass and mud from the bowler’s boots.

The Adelaide pitch gets off to a slow start and then glides on beautifully, even before the rain comes. In his first over, Arshdeep is taken for three quarters by the marauding Litton Das. After the rain break, Arshdeep is back bowling at death: overs 12, 14 and 16. He takes two wickets in the 12th and then continues to bowl to his field.

Bangladesh needs 20 in the final. Arshdeep bowls a perfect yorker to start. The second ball is short and is launched over the short square boundary. This time Arshdeep is not greedy. This time, he’s not sure he can keep hitting the Yorker with the wet ball. However, when the heat is on, Arshdeep ends up with four yorkers. Some of the support staff wonder how they managed to bowl in such damp conditions.

When his mother put him on her bike rack to drop him off for cricket practice, the greedy young Arshdeep drank his tiffin during that ride. Before he became famous, he ran in the parks of Chandigarh until he collapsed and lay down, looking at the stars above him. Somewhere between that greedy kid and a star of today, Arshdeep knows that T20 is a fickle sport. You can tell by how he talks about what he was trying to do and didn’t get excited or bogged down by what was happening. What happens in the end is less dependent on how you bowl than in any other form of cricket. Abused one day as a secessionist, the next hailed as a savior. In between: lots of love, learning and working.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo



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