Umran Malik or Arshdeep Singh: Who should India take to the T20 World Cup?

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Since the introduction of the IPL in 2008, T20 cricket in India has slowly become much more prominent. Players such as Virender Sehwag, MS Dhoni and Virat Kohli have established themselves as modern legends of white ball cricket.

Yet India have faltered on the big stage, failing to win a T20 World Cup since the inaugural tournament in 2007. With the next edition taking place this October in Australia, known for its fast, bouncy pitches, choosing the right seam attack will be crucial.

In the first half of the IPL, two uncapped quicks have stood out above the rest: Punjab’s Arshdeep Singh and Hyderabad’s Umran Malik. Given that India would like a blend of youth and experience, who should be on the plane to Australia?

Arshdeep Singh made his IPL debut in 2019, yet had his breakthrough season last year, taking 18 wickets at an economy of 8.27, making him the sixth highest wicket taker. Although the five players above him were all Indian seamers, Arshdeep offers a different challenge to batsmen.

Firstly, he is a left arm bowler, presenting an alternative angle where he can bowl across the body of the batsman, which can be a very tricky line to deal with. Interestingly, the only other Indian left arm quick who is in serious contention of a place at the World Cup is T Natarajan, yet he too is inexperienced on the international stage and has a history of injury problems.

Arshdeep and Harshal would be a very potent combination

Secondly, Arshdeep has become famous for being a death overs specialist this season. Whilst he has only taken three wickets in the first seven matches, his economy in the final five overs has been a miserly 5.66 runs per over. He has comfortably been the best bowler at the death in the tournament due to his ability to consistently nail yorkers.

If he starts for India, he will potentially be bowling at the death alongside Harshal Patel, who specialises in variation and slower balls, which helps him take so many wickets. This was evident in 2021, when he won the purple cap, becoming the first uncapped player to do so. Arshdeep and Harshal would be a very potent combination, and their shared variation will be a threat to any batsman.

On the other hand, his bowling style is similar to that of Jasprit Bumrah, who will be one of the first names on the team sheet. If India elect to go for two spinners, this would leave them short of opening bowlers, who can make the most out of the little swing that the new ball can get.

Umran Malik is unlike other Indian seam bowlers for one main reason. He bowls blisteringly quickly. He is able to exceed 150 kph with ease and, throughout this IPL season, he has developed from an erratic bowler who lacked the necessary precision and discipline for T20 cricket to a regular wicket taker.

He has been responsible for SRH’s five-match winning streak, which has propelled them from backmarkers into genuine contenders for the playoff places. He has taken 13 wickets in his last five matches and has been able to competently bowl during all phases of the game.

If India can restrict runs in the powerplay, it would cause teams to take risks against spinners in the middle overs

Given that pace will be paramount when bowling in Australia, Malik’s pace will be able to match or even better his rivals. It will give India the extra fear factor that they have been lacking over the years.

He will certainly be useful as part of a squad, where versatility is a requirement and, unlike Arshdeep, would be able to open the bowling with Bumrah. An opening attack of Bumrah and Malik is terrifying to say the least and could make India one of the most miserly teams in the powerplay.

It could neutralise the power of top order batsmen such as Jason Roy, Quinton de Kock and Mohammad Rizwan. If India are able to restrict runs in the powerplay, it would cause teams to take risks against the spinners in the middle overs, which often results in the wickets tumbling.

An Indian bowling attack with Umran Malik would certainly contain balance but would it have consistency? Malik is still in his breakthrough season and catapulting him into the starting eleven would be a big risk. Although his rise has been stratospheric, cricket has taught us that his fall to irrelevance could come just as quickly.

The World Cup starts in under six months, which at least buys India some time. Both would be credible options, but even one poor over can derail a team’s bid for glory. Think of Ben Stokes defending 19 against Carlos Braithwaite, only to get smashed for four consecutive sixes.

Whilst there could be space for both, experienced names such as Mohammed Shami and Umesh Yadav might be preferred. Fortunately, both Malik and Arshdeep have more time to prove themselves but, given how often seam bowlers get injured, injuries could make or break their bids to make their Indian debut at the World Cup.

Image: Marc via Flickr

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