Battle-hardened Arshdeep Singh arrives as an ODI force

Arshdeep Singh had not taken an ODI wicket in three matches before today. Now, he has five.

A devastating new-ball spell of 4 for 23 in seven overs drained the colour from South Africa on Pink Day and showed that even without Mohammed Shami, Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Siraj, India can still field a quality attack. The same depth was not as evident in South Africa’s line-up, who were without Quinton de Kock and Temba Bavuma and looked as hapless as they were at Eden Gardens little more than a month ago. Then, India bowled them out for 83 in the league stage of the World Cup – their lowest total batting first in an ODI. Today, they were dismissed for 116, their lowest at home. It was also their ninth-lowest ODI total overall.

Three of those nine have come at India’s hands, which says as much about the problems in South Africa’s batting – their inability to get forward was glaring in this match – as it does about the skills of India’s quicks. Arshdeep and Avesh Khan took nine of South Africa’s ten wickets and the first eight inside 17 overs. They got an unexpected amount of movement on a used surface, but the standout feature of their bowling was their discipline. They rarely strayed from a good length outside off and let the pitch do the rest.

“The plan was to just keep it simple, hit good areas, extract some bounce and look for a little movement off the seam,” Arshdeep said at the post-match conference. “We knew if we could get movement inside or outside of the bat, we could get nicks or lbws. That was the plan: to keep it simple and challenge the batters to score off tough balls.”

And it was tough from the get go. Though Mukesh Kumar ended wicketless, he should have had the first one when his opening delivery swung in to Reeza Hendricks and hit him on the pad, but KL Rahul could not be convinced to review. Ball-tracking suggested it would have gone on to hit leg stump. Instead, it was Arshdeep who dismissed Hendricks in the next over, when he got a ball to shape between bat and body and take the inside-edge on its way to the stumps. The inward movement also accounted for Rassie van der Dussen and Heinrich Klaasen, by which time South Africa were 52 for 4 at the end of the first powerplay and nowhere near the score India were anticipating when they did their pre-game plans.

“We went for dinner last night – me, Axar [Patel] and Avesh – and we were talking about how brutal Proteas are when they wear pink jerseys and how they hit sixes when they are in this jersey. So we were just talking about keeping them under 400,” Arshdeep said to wry laughter.

Arshdeep had also not bowled a full quota of 10 overs in an ODI before today. And after his opening spell, when he left the field, it did not seem like he would. He was out of breath in the thin Highveld air and struggling in temperatures that, even in the mid-20s Celsius, can feel much hotter. Arshdeep admitted to being unprepared for the altitude or the workload, after last playing an ODI more than a year ago. “I had no idea [what to expect],” he told the broadcasters. “I only came to know about it in three or four overs when I was running out of breath.”

But he returned in the 22nd over, in search of a fifth, got it in his final over, and was the only player to bowl out in the match. He credited his County stint with Kent for some of his ability to push himself to come back after a physically demanding first spell. “I learnt how to recover, how to train individually and how I can maintain my fitness by playing a County stint,” he said. “It wasn’t very fruitful, I didn’t get many wickets but it helped me to understand my game, how I can get wickets, how I can contain the batters and things like that. It gives you that extra bit of confidence that you can play at that level.”

Arshdeep took 13 wickets in five County Championship matches at 41.76, with a best of 3 for 58, and dismissed the likes of Ben Foakes, Will Jacks and Will Young, and also has experience in the IPL. Combined, he believes that prepared him for a smooth transition to the international game. “When you play with international superstars, you feel like you belong on this stage and the pressure is not that much,” he said. “Earlier, people used to come straight from domestic cricket and you can feel the difference but ever since the IPL has begun, the difference is not that vast. It’s still there but it’s easier to blend in at this level and perform well.”

India have now won back-to-back matches at the Wanderers, to level the T20I series and take the lead in the ODIs. It is also where they have historically enjoyed success in South Africa, with victories in nine of their last 15 matches across all formats,The venue has a reputation as a graveyard for subcontinental styles of play and India’s record tells a story about the adaptability of Indian batters and the progress of their pace pack. They are prepared for these conditions and though they may rue not having a Test at the ground on this tour, they can see the work they are putting in pay off.

“It feels really nice when the results fall into place,” Arshdeep said. “Whether we win or lose, the main focus is on preparation and processes. Even if we can improve one or two percent in every game – that’s where great teams succeed. We enjoy the results but the main focus is on the process.”

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