Navdeep Saini - the lightning wolf, learning the tricks for a perfect hunt
India do have the likes of Bhuvneshwar, Chahar and Shardul, but all of them fall in the same bracket. Saini's raw pace fast-tracks him in the tearaway lane for the T20 World Cup, which is still searching for deserving entrants.
Navdeep Saini sports a wolf face tattoo on his left forearm.
Wolves are intelligent creatures, whose bodies are built for stamina, possessing features ideal for long-distance travel. Likewise, Saini, sooner rather than later, will graduate into a champion red-ball quick for India. But, with the Test slots currently jam-packed, the pacer has done no harm to his reputation in the opportunities that have come his way in white-ball cricket.
Saini possesses something you can't coach - pace. He ambles up to the crease, with majestic ease, and before you realise, shoots off deliveries well over 140kph in a nonchalant manner. His pace may be his unique selling proposition, but the 27-year-old, is no one-trick pony.
Adding new weapons to his arsenal
During his Man-of-the-Match-winning performance at Indore, he displayed his full repertoire. Saini first castled Danushka Gunathilaka with a searing 148kph yorker, then set up Bhanuka Rajapaksa with a 106kph off-cutter, before eventually, shocking him out of his wits, with a perfectly-directed 144kph bumper.
En route to his 4-18-2 returns, the Haryana-born also breached the magical 150kph mark, a high point for the Indian fan who has long seen the country's not-so-diverse medium-pace (read hopelessly slow) bowlers.
But, that is not to say that only pace is the way to go. We have seen many-a-pace bowlers like Shaun Tait and Tino Best being taken to the cleaners in white-ball cricket. The trick is to mix and match with your variations. For instance, a slower delivery from a 130kph bowler may not be that effective, as the difference between his natural pace and the variation is not substantial. However, when you have pace, the variations become more effective as well.
"I practised well and I was confident. It's important to be confident and it's also important to use the variations. I was more happy to take a wicket with the yorker (wicket of Danushka Gunathilaka). I am gaining confidence with both white-ball and red-ball. When I made my T20I debut, I wanted to bowl fast, but now I know the importance of the slower deliveries," Saini said after the 2nd T20I against Sri Lanka.
All credit to tennis-ball cricket
There is no doubt that batsmen, over the years have got more comfortable against pace - credit to evolved skills and the confidence of the protection equipment. Still, pace does have that streak to make you do silly things a batsman. Even in the 2nd T20I against Sri Lanka, there were a couple of times that the batsmen seemed to be rushed.
Interestingly, it was practice with the tennis ball, that lent Saini a quick arm speed, that is now helping him turn heads.
"All the improvement I've made in my bowling is all because of tennis-ball cricket. If you want to bowl full with a tennis ball, it's crucial you are fast. Since I bowled a lot with the tennis ball, it helped me build strength. Because of that, my arm speed increased as well," Saini explains.
Fitting in the tearaway role for T20 World Cup
India do have the likes of Bhuvneshwar, Chahar and Shardul, but all of them fall in the same bracket - swing bowlers, wily, seasoned in the T20 format and all that, but lack the X-factor. Saini's raw pace fast-tracks him in the tearaway lane for the T20 World Cup, which is still searching for deserving entrants.
"Navdeep has come into the ODI circuit as well, he is gaining more confidence in T20 cricket. You can really see him letting himself go. When he does that, he can clock those speeds which he did. It's great to see him getting people out with yorkers and bouncers and with pace. It's a really good sign for the team.
"You'll have to figure out who are the people that are very similar in their bowling skills, and you pick the senior one. I think one guy will be a surprise package going to Australia, someone who can bowl with pace and has bounce," Virat Kohli hinted at Saini very much being a part of India's plan for the T20 World Cup.
T20s may be the graveyard for bowlers, but Saini minces no words in posing as the hunter, "If you see, a wolf never performs in the circus. He roams around out there in the jungle."
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