Punjab Kings and the last over finishes are like a couple madly in love but they also form a toxic relationship. There have been the highs of the double Super Over win over Mumbai Indians but also the lows of their recent choke against Rajasthan Royals. Like last year, this year too the focus has been on PBKS’s inability to finish the game and the inconsistency of their batting unit in general.
The biggest tragedy of PBKS’s batting vulnerabilities has been the fact that it’s taken the focus away from their bowling core of Mohammed Shami, Arshdeep Singh and Ravi Bishnoi. The fact that after 12 matches and seven losses, PBKS can still dream to make it to the playoffs is because of the three bowlers. On Friday, against Kolkata Knight Riders, it was the bowling troika that set up the win before the batsmen just about managed to take the side home.
It was Ravi Bishnoi who appliedthe brakes before Shami and Arshdeep exposed KKR’s fragilities. On the night, the PBKS overseas bowlers had leaked 8-0-84-0 and yet KKR ended with just 165. In the last 15 deliveries – bowled by Shami and Arshdeep – KKR failed to score even a single boundary to post a par total. So it wasn’t a surprise when PBKS bowling coach Damien Wright stressed his two pacers made the difference between the two sides.
“There’s been a lot of hard work, Shami’s an experienced bowler as well. His over tonight laid the platform and Arshdeep finished it with a wicket in the end,” Wright pointed out. “If I am totally honest, I feel their last two overs were the difference in the game.”
While Bishnoi has been the attacking option for KL Rahul, Shami and Arshdeep have been the rocks of the PBKS bowling unit. To put things in perspective, Shami has 15 wickets from 12 matches and has bowled the most dot balls (132) in the tournament so far. In the ten matches Arshdeep has played, he’s bagged 16 wickets and has been wicketless in just two of those matches.
In Shami and Arshdeep, Rahul has found two options with two different skillsets to attack. Shami, despite his Test credentials, has some pretty significant limitations when it comes to T20 cricket. He doesn’t have the heavy ball because of the skiddy nature of his action but has improved his yorker significantly something that former West Indies pacer Ishan Bishop felt has helped him improve his IPL performances. Arshdeep, on the other hand, doesn’t have the express pace but has solid control over his variations to keep the batters guessing.
“To Arshdeep my message has always been very simple, he has a long road ahead of him and all he needs to do is keep his mind clear and be clever with his plans,” Shami told the IPL’s official website. about his partnership with Arshdeep. “As a senior bowler, I guide the younger bowlers in the side. In the death overs, I am okay if they bowl a full toss but I keep on reminding them that there shouldn’t be a half-volley. For me, it’s about using the variations smartly and keep things simple.”
While their partnership has been bubbling for a while, there have been several harsh lessons as well which has helped the pair grow. Take the third game for instance PBKS played this year where Shami was taken for 53 from his four overs by the Delhi Capitals batters. In the next match, Arshdeep had to endure a tough outing and had figures of 3.4-0-31-0 which could have been completely different had two catches not been dropped of his bowling.
There have been plenty of sunny days as well. Against Rajasthan Royals in Mumbai, Arshdeep gave just eight when the chasing side needed 13 in the 221-chase. Against MI in Chennai, the duo gave just 20 in the last three and picked wickets of Rohit Sharma, Hardik Pandya and Krunal Pandya to shut the door on the defending champions. Against RR in Dubai, where the batsmen choked, the pair had given away just 20 from the last four overs with Arshdeep bagging his career-best 5 for 32 while Shami got three. When it comes to death bowling, between overs 17 and 20, Shami has picked 12 wickets while Arshdeep has 11 since 2020. No other PBKS bowler features in the list and that also shows the impact the duo has had.
“They’ve worked hard and that’s just paying off. There’s some huge talent in our squad in the Indian bowlers and then we have a leader like Shami who can do the job,” Wright said about the pair. “It’s purely down to how they train and apply themselves. It’s been an area of their game where we’ve been really strong.”
PBKS have been searching for death bowlers and have tried several options in Jhye Richardson, Riley Meredith, Chris Jordan and Nathan Ellis. While the first three have been below-par, Ellis is still finding his feet in the IPL. With the overseas options turning out to be disappointing, Shami and Arshdeep have given Rahul some respite as they gear up for their final dash towards a playoff berth. With two bowlers in form and bowling well at the death, and the attacking option of Bishnoi in the middle overs, the onus is now on the batters to ensure they don’t face the same disappointments that they did last year.