Why Ravi Bishnoi could be India's trump card at next year's T20 World Cup
Ravi Bishnoi could be the trump card for India at next year's T20 World Cup.
For 11 months between September 2022 and this August, Ravi Bishnoi was surplus to requirement. The little leg-spinner with the quick arm action and a predilection for the googly missed most of the T20 Asia Cup in the UAE before getting snubbed for the T20 World Cup in Australia, the nod going to the more experienced Yuzvendra Chahal.
With 16 wickets for Lucknow Super Giants in IPL 2023, however, Bishnoi reasserted his claims for a place back in the national side, and the selectors rewarded his consistency and hard work by recalling him for the series in the West Indies four months back. The 23-year-old hasn’t looked back; last week, he climbed to the top of the ICC charts and became the No. 1 T20I bowler in the world, capping a fine fortnight that saw him grab the Player of the Series honours for his nine wickets during India’s 4-1 rout of Australia at home.
With the next T20 World Cup less than six months away, Bishnoi has re-established himself as among India’s most potent spinners in the shortest format. He is locked in a contest with left-arm wrist-spinner Kuldeep Yadav for possibly the only wrist-spinner’s spot in the playing XI at the World Cup, which will be played in North America in June. Pitches in the Caribbean and the United States, which will host the competition, have been slow and somewhat spin-friendly in the recent past, and if that remains the case, Bishnoi’s bag of tricks will come in handy for an Indian side desperate to emulate its success of 2007 in South Africa.
Bishnoi appears unidimensional – the Jodhpur lad has relied more on the wrong ‘un than the a few leggies – and predictable, but it’s to his credit that even though batters have lined up him and sought to play him more as a ‘googly bowler’, he has found ways and means to not just hold his own but get on top of them. For someone so young and not all that experienced – he has been playing competitive cricket for just under five years – Bishnoi has a wise head on his strong shoulders, and a big heart that is so necessary for practitioners of a craft that is the hardest to master for any bowler.
His craft isn’t trifling, either. He is quick through the air and while he might not exhilarate like a Shane Warne or turn the ball a mile like Stuart MacGill, he is quite adept at producing wicket-taking deliveries. That he can be called upon to bowl at least one over, sometimes even two, in the Powerplay when only two fielders are allowed outside the 30-yard circle is tribute to his accuracy and his confidence, because even storied performers like Rashid Khan, whom Bishnoi replaced at the top of the T20 table, are reluctant to bowl at that stage of the match.
Bishnoi began poorly against Australia, leaking 54 runs in a tall-scoring series opener in Visakhapatnam, but he quickly regained his rhythm, mojo and wicket-taking ways. Alongside Axar Patel, the canny left-arm finger spinner, he teased and tormented the Aussie batters to their doom, the duo more than compensated for the profligacy of India’s greenhorn pacers. Bishnoi will have Ravindra Jadeja for company in South Africa, with Kuldeep waiting in the wings, hoping for a chance to showcase his wares.
There is more to Bishnoi than just his bowling, which has fetched him 34 scalps in 21 T20Is. He is electric in the field and has pulled off several memorable catches in the IPL. He has also worked extremely hard on his batting in the last year or so, aware that it won’t hurt to have an additional string to his bow at No. 8 or 9 when even a couple of lusty blows can make all the difference.
In Kuldeep, he was a worthy adversary when it comes to bowling skills alone, but Bishnoi is a more rounded package and that could tilt the scales in his favour, ala Jadeja in Test cricket as opposed to R Ashwin when India field only one spinner outside the subcontinent. Wrist-spinners, young or otherwise, thrive on being given confidence and reassurance. India have created an atmosphere of inclusivity and camaraderie both under head coach Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman when the former has been on leave of absence, and this climate has encouraged emerging talent to shed their shells of diffidence and express themselves without fear or indecision. There are few better exemplars than Bishnoi, the world's No. 1 T20I bowler, but still restless, still plotting, still aiming for the stars. And an elusive World Cup.
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