Three hours prior to the clash with Pakistan in the ICC T20 World Cup in Melbourne, India pacer Arshdeep Singh called up his coach Jaswant Rai. It hadn’t been long since Singh was trolled over social media for dropping a catch during a match against the neighbours in the Asia Cup in UAE, but Rai did not dwell on the past.
He would only speak about Singh’s plans to utilise the big grounds in Australia to his advantage. After the left-armer claimed three wickets, including those of Pakistan skipper Babar Azam and power-hitter Asif Ali with bouncers, the coach recalled preparation and practice sessions mastering the short-pitched stuff.
“When he came back from the Asia Cup, the biggest positive for me as a coach was Arshdeep not caring an iota about the trolls. The moment we got an opportunity to practise, the focus was working on his length balls as well as the slower bouncers and on-pace short stuff. During that week, Arshdeep bowled close to 20-25 slower bouncers and 20-25 bouncers every day. We had longer boundaries at the ground to help him adjust mentally to the idea of trying out bouncers in Australia. In UAE, his slower bouncers and on-pace bouncers did not work that perfectly like they did today,” Rai told The Indian Express.
While Singh picked up five wickets in India’s campaign in Asia Cup including two wickets against Pakistan in the opening match, the Punjab pacer had to face social media flak after he dropped Asif’s catch in a later game, in which he almost defended seven runs in the last over.
On Sunday, Singh removed Azam with his first ball of the match, an inswinging delivery targeted at the batsman’s shin pad. The next few balls in the over saw Singh trying inswingers as well as outswingers to trouble Shan Masood before Mohammad Rizwan hit a boundary off the last ball. “Babar Azam likes to use his wrists and drive initially in his innings. Arshdeep deceived him with subtle inswing. The pitch at the MCG was offering some pace and Arshdeep had the seam tilted towards fine leg to trap Babar,” adds Rai.
Singh then removed Azam’s opening partner Rizwan with a slower bouncer. The batsman was expecting a much faster delivery and swung the bat with more speed. But the minor variation in pace resulted in a catch at deep fine-leg.
Practice makes perfect
With the ball gripping on the MCG wicket, the slower bouncers worked and Arshdeep quickly adjusted to the pace of the wicket.
“From his early days, we have worked on variations in all six balls of an over. So when he returned from the Asia Cup, it did not take long for him to adjust the bowling plan for Australia. We knew that the ball grips well on Australian pitches. Arshdeep’s idea was to try slower and faster bouncers as well as length balls so that batsmen have difficulty with the pull and straight shots. The length-ball practice also helped him adjust the speed of the bouncer,” said the coach.
Singh’s third wicket on Sunday would also come at a crucial time. With Pakistan at120 for 6 in 16.3 overs, Asif was looking to go berserk at the death. Singh tried a bouncer which was coming at Asif’s face. The batsman tried evasive action, but the ball hit his bat and wicketkeeper Dinesh Karthik took a simple catch.
“The key to a good bouncer is to bowl a hard length, just behind the 8m mark. We often tried that with a marker placed at the spot and Arshdeep targeting different body positions of the batsman. Asif was expecting a slower bouncer but a short fast one meant he had to take reflex action to save his face. He tried a slower bouncer against Shaheen Afridi too, but it went for a six. But claiming three wickets in his maiden World Cup match will give Arshdeep a lot of confidence.”
Singh said after the Pakistan innings that he wanted to enjoy the moment. “I guess it will never come again, so I just want to have fun. We wanted to make use of the long square boundaries, so the plan was to hit the wickets and the pads.”