Irrespective of the colour of the ball, all three kinds of left-handed skills are structural to a winning combination - a batter in the top five, a spinner and a pacer. Currently, India has defined two of those roles with Axar and Arshdeep flourishing in their roles. Pant needs to be the missing piece of the puzzle.
Arshdeep Singh, Rishabh Pant, Axar Patel
Cricket only works if played with the right angles. But it is kind of biased towards its left angles.
On his day, Axar Patel will hit the stumps while bowling and fielding. He also has the ability to the hit the ball out of the park. He bowls with the newish ball inside the powerplay which is an absolute boon. With the white-ball skidding on to the stumps, hitting him across the line is a low-percentage and a high-risk option. This allows the captain to protect the straighter boundaries and entice the batters to go squarer.
Axar has always been one of the smartest fielders you can have on the park. He played a small but significant role in the run-out that Virat Kohli inflicted in the second T20I to dismiss Cameron Green. Kohli sprinted and threw the ball adjacent to the stumps. It seemed as if that throw melted in the hands of Axar and he removed the bails swiftly. Green, even after desperately diving still fell short of the crease.
Although Axar's batting credentials haven't been fully optimised, it is certain that he will be team's designated left-arm spinner in the absence of Ravindra Jadeja. At the same time, the extra bit that Jadeja provided was to play the role of a lefty floater batter. Thus India must find another lefty batter in their ranks to use the natural advantage that is on offer.
The advantage left-handed batters have over their right handed peers is fairly well documented in the modern era. A study conducted to find out which of the two swings is more difficult to face while striking a cricket ball, found it to be the out swing. Most fast bowlers are right-arm options and most of them swing the ball away from the right-handed batsmen.
The LBW law also gives the southpaws a unique advantage. While bowling from over the wicket which is the most common practice makes them less susceptible to this form dismissal.
For the exact same reason that the ball moving away is trickier, most teams comprise a left-arm off spinner and a right-arm leg spinner. Both of them have an advantage to turn the ball away from the overrepresented right-handed top order batters in the game.
Having a lefty in top five allows you to dominate the match-up option if and when the left-arm spinner or the leggie comes into play. Rishabh Pant is the most obvious choice in the current scenario. For him and Dinesh Karthik both to be playing, India needs to have Axar as their only spinner and Hardik along with three pacers to bowl their full quota of overs.
In doing so, India will be able to counter attack in the middle overs better. If the argument is that as soon as the lefty comes in, the opposition might summon their right-arm offspinner to bowl only to take the ball away; it will bring the right-hander batting with Pant in a position to take the match-up on.
More than the reverse match-up debate, Pant's T20I numbers aren't exactly sparkling. He scores lesser boundaries per over and gets out more times at the highest level when compared to his numbers at the Indian Premier League (IPL).
It is quite clear that the tempo for Pant has to be Pant-like which is to score quickly maximizing the scoring option. If that is to dominate a particular phase then so be it or else he is always an option down the order as well.
Irrespective of the colour of the ball, all three kinds of left-handed skills are structural to a winning combination - a batter in the top five, a spinner and a pacer. Currently, India has defined two of those with Axar and Arshdeep flourishing in their roles. Pant needs to be the missing piece of the puzzle.
(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are the author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.)
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