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Tuesday, July 05, 2022

(Nav)Deep impact: Saini claims three wickets on debut

Debutant Saini takes three wickets as India beat West Indies by four wickets in the series opener in Florida.

By: Express News Service |
Updated: August 4, 2019 9:16:34 am
(Nav)Deep impact Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Navdeep Saini dismantled the West Indian top order at Lauderhill in Florida on Saturday. (AP)

On a surface custom-made for spinners and the cutter-spitting medium pacers — a throwback ODI strip really — it was the quickest man among both teams, Navdeep Saini, that blazed brighter than the Florida sun on Saturday. The debutant’s three wickets, two of them in succession, played a huge part in helping India close out a contest that turned out to be closer than it had once seemed.

In the end, it was a nervous scrap, requiring the number eight batsman Washington Sundar to strike the winning runs, after their star cast had made a mess of hunting down a meagre total of 99, at the same ground where these two teams had almost racked up 500 in a T20 game three years ago. But it wasn’t that kind of a belter. Then again, it wasn’t one were you would expect a fast bowler to prosper. That said, Saini’s gifts transcended the slowness of the surface.

It wouldn’t have begun more nightmarishly for the wiry 26-year-old, his second ball in international cricket smoked over his head for a six by Nicholas Pooran, the man Chris Gayle has anointed as his successor. It was a good delivery, back-of-length and slanting across him. But Pooran’s quick hands and brute force dumped it out of the ground. It could have been enough for most young debutants to wither away mentally, mess up their lengths, but Saini, unflustered, bounced back immediately. Two balls later, he induced a top-edge of Pooran, off an identical delivery. Only that this time the ball was pitched a yard further up, still back-of-length than good length on leg-stump, and much quicker. So much so that both the bounce and pace surprised Pooran. Saini is one of those bowlers the batsmen would admit is quicker than what he looks. He didn’t ratchet up the pace — he’s quite capable of bowling in excess of 150 kmph, but his speediest was 144.2. But it didn’t quite matter in the end.

Also read: Navdeep Saini is Indian cricket’s latest bullet train

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With the next ball, he nailed the most destructive of West Indies’s batting tyros, his RCB teammate Shimron Hetmyer. Again it was the bounce that surprised him, as he didn’t expect the ball to climb as much as it eventually did, pre-empting a dab to the third-man and chopping onto the stumps. Thus on a sluggish surface, his pace, bounce, discipline and the natural angle away from the left-handed batsmen were the biggest gifts. He pushed them on the back-foot, hurried them into their strokes and had them feel tenuously outside the off-stump. A hint of variable bounce made him even deadlier and stroke-making almost impossible. They couldn’t play him through the line, they couldn’t blindly swing their blades at him. Heck, they couldn’t even defend him convincingly. In his final spell, he unfurled his wide yorkers, his default weapon in shorter versions, to good effect. Even Kieron Pollard, nudging to his half-century, couldn’t connect one. Remarkably, his last-over was a wicket-maiden.

As much as his skills stood out his temperament. Of course, he is no novice, having collected 43 first-class caps and cemented a regular IPL spot for Royal Challengers Bangalore. But from being struck for a six off his second ball, he not only demonstrated considerable smarts to recover and then help India bolt the match but also presented a serious case of prolonging his international exposure. For a while, he has been there or thereabouts the national team, often picked as a standby. Once Mohammad Shami and Jasprit Bumrah return, he could be back among the reserves again, but he gave a good account of himself.

Satisfactory outing for bowlers

Left-arm seamer Khaleel Ahmed, returning to international cricket, also bowled with discipline and guile, smartly varying his pace, angle and occasionally making the ball hold its line. Add to that left-arm spinner Krunal Pandya, who ejected the skipper Carlos Brathwaite, and off-spinner Washington Sundar, who once again showed the courage to open the bowling and got rid of John Campbell, and India seem to be brimming with multi-dimensional bowling potential.

It helped them that the West Indies batsmen played loose strokes, as if they were competing with each other on who would get out in the silliest manner. Pooran made a strong case for himself, trying to heave Saini two ball after he had sweetly ferried him over midwicket. Hetmyer made an outside case for the prize as, in trying to steal a single down the third man, he committed to the stroke too early.

Also read: Navdeep Saini a raw talent with bright future, says Virat Kohli

Even more hideous was Powell’s waft — merely throwing his arms at a wide Khaleel Ahmed delivery, his feet crease-tied and head falling over. Earlier, Evin Lewis, centurion against India on this same ground, perished attempting an ungainly swipe at Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s knuckleball. It could be that they were desperately trying to reproduce the same rake-hell methods that have won them the World Cup and live up to that reputation.

But it was more of a sub-continental ODI strip, dry and sluggish, with the batsmen struggling for timing even against the new ball. Where the prudent method was to milk singles and punish loose balls, they fatally tried to manufacture the big shots. It was the same lack of flexibility, rather one-dimensionality, that had seen them free fall after a terrific start to the World Cup. Likewise, they had little clue dealing Saini on a throwback ODI surface.

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