Can Navdeep Saini make it to India’s T20 World Cup squad?
After making his debut in T20I cricket against West Indies earlier this year, Navdeep Saini made his ODI debut against the same opposition on Sunday and claimed two vital wickets to change the course of the game in his very first outing in 50-over cricket.
Shimron Hetmyer, who had powered West Indies to victory in the first ODI of the series with a sensational hundred, was looking in the same sort of mood in the decider again as he was batting on 37 off just 32 balls and was belting everything from the meat of the blade.
The Indian captain Virat Kohli decided to test Hetmyer with short balls and rather than going to Saini, he brought Shardul Thakur, who was a little bit more experienced, into the attack to dish out a barrage of short stuff to the West Indies southpaw.
However, the first time Thakur tried to bounce Hetmyer out, the 22-year old pumped him in front of square over the big boundary at Barabati. The authority of that shot was so much that Kohli took Shardul off after just one over. And guess who did he turn to? Yes, he turned to Saini.
The young man, who was playing his first game, was up against a batsman who was willing to dismiss everything out of his sight and was extremely high on confidence. But, Saini didn’t back off. He didn’t try to get away with an economical over. He rather attacked Hetmyer.
He had just seen Hetmyer deposit Thakur into the stands, but, he still went short to him. However, he was a lot smarter with his line. He knew Hetmyer would go for the hook shot. So, he didn’t target the middle-leg stump line, he banged it short slightly outside the off stump. He made Hetmyer fetch it rather than help it along its way.
And, Saini had got wheels on it too. He had bent his back. It came quicker to Hetmyer than he had expected. It was never going to result in anything other than the top edge and that’s what it was. A top edge.
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Kuldeep Yadav held it safely coming in from the fine leg boundary and it marked a game-changing moment for India as Hetmyer could easily have taken the game away within a matter of few overs.
Saini didn’t stop there. He delivered another blow to West Indies just minutes later and this time around, he out-skilled a batsman who wasn’t coming after him, but was rather trying to see him off with a defensive approach.
Roston Chase, who was looking to play through the innings, and was probably hanging a little bit on the back-foot having seen the short stuff that was dished out to Hetmyer, got a thunderbolt yorker right into his blockhole. His body weight was back in the anticipation of a short ball and there was no way he was digging it out. The furniture was disturbed.
It was in the same spell that Saini had bowled with two different line and length to two batsmen batting with two different approaches and had managed to outfox them both.
Recently, in an exclusive interview with Hindustan Times, Saini said, “The goal is to be a part of India’s T20 World Cup squad.”
The third seamer's spot in India's T20I squad is up for grabs. Apart from Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah, who are fantastic with what they do with the new and the old ball, the other options that India have at their disposal are Mohammed Shami, Shardul Thakur and Khaleel Ahmed. Neither of them has been able to cement his place in the T20I squad so far.
While Shami is a quality Test bowler, there are massive question marks over his ability to bowl yorkers in the death in limited-over cricket.
Shardul's preferred length is good length which doesn't work in T20 cricket because that's the length the batsmen are waiting for most of the time.
Khaleel, being a left armer, has the potential to add variety to Indian attack, but he is too erratic with his lines and he doesn't swing the ball back into the right-handers on a consistent basis. That reduces the potency of his stock delivery which goes away from the right-handers with the angle.
Two of the most important tools that a T20 fast bowler needs or the most successful T20 fast bowlers around the world have got are a mean bouncer and a thunderous yorker. Saini has got them both. And during that little spell to Hetmyer and chase, he also showed that he had got the temperament to bowl to players of different styles and different mindset.
However, the question which needs to be answered is – does he have the consistency? Having the skill-set is one thing and to be able to deliver that skill-set time and time again is another. That’s what Jasprit Bumrah has done for India. He has delivered time and time again. Can Saini do it?
He is tall and lanky, he has got pace, he can hit the deck, he can generate extra bounce, he can bowl yorkers. The skill-set, which is required, is there.
If the skill-set meets consistency over the next few months, the Indian fans will be delighted.Published 26 Dec 2019, 08:00 IST