Arshdeep Singh: I am eager to start my red-ball journey

In this interview with Sportstar, Arshdeep Singh talks about India’s T20 World Cup win, his penultimate over in the final, his love for rajma chawal and more.

Published : Jul 11, 2024 16:04 IST , CHANDIGARH - 16 MINS READ

India pacer Arshdeep Singh at his residence in Chandigarh.
India pacer Arshdeep Singh at his residence in Chandigarh. | Photo Credit: R.V. Moorthy/The Hindu

India pacer Arshdeep Singh at his residence in Chandigarh. | Photo Credit: R.V. Moorthy/The Hindu

The serpentine lanes of NRI Colony, on the outskirts of Mohali, can be overwhelming to a first-timer. But walk around the calm and quiet locality, and you will come across a three-storey building that houses the Aulakhs.

As we waited outside the residence, Arshdeep Singh - India’s young fast-bowling talent and an architect of the historic T20 World Cup win - walked up to open the gate. “ Dhoondh ne mein mushkil toh nahi hua? (Did you have difficulty finding the place?)” he asked.

His trophy cabinet and a framed India U-19 jersey welcomed us as we walked into the drawing room. Ever since returning home, Arshdeep couldn’t sleep much due to jet lag, but his parents Darshan Singh and Daljeet Kaur have ensured that their younger son gets all the ‘home-cooked food’ that he was craving for while on tour.

“I love the Rajma chawal that my mom cooks,” Arshdeep said with a smile as we started our conversation over a cup of cardamom tea and some local savouries.

Watch the interview here:

As a fast bowler, how did you prepare for the T20 World Cup?

The process started really early. We had conversations with the captain and the coach in terms of how we should approach the tournament, and thereafter, it was all about understanding how to adjust to the conditions and play according to the situation.

Leading up to the World Cup, we had a couple of home series in which we bowled a lot of slow balls. We did not think of what was happening (in terms of the outcome) in that particular series, but the idea was to get ready for the T20 World Cup and bowling those slower deliveries helped us understand where we needed to work on before the marquee tournament. The plan was to master the skills that we would use on those surfaces (in the US and the West Indies) and not worry too much about the results at home. That planning helped, and then it was about executing those plans during the tournament. A lot of credit goes to the coaching staff and the captain for preparing us this way.

Since India played in both the US and the Caribbeans, what are the specific areas that you worked on to get used to the conditions, which were quite different from each other?

It wasn’t easy to acclimatise because of jet lag, but the credit goes to the team that was working behind the scenes - the strength and conditioning, the physios, the coaching staff - for helping us get into the groove during practice sessions. The practice sessions were match-based and competitive, and we took advantage of the facilities available. We knew that the wickets in the US were supportive to the fast bowlers, so we had to hit the right areas. After a couple of practice sessions, we knew what we were going to do and we planned accordingly. Those little things helped us get the desired result.

Arshdeep Singh has a stacked collection in his trophy cabinet at home.
Arshdeep Singh has a stacked collection in his trophy cabinet at home. | Photo Credit: R.V. Moorthy/The Hindu

Arshdeep Singh has a stacked collection in his trophy cabinet at home. | Photo Credit: R.V. Moorthy/The Hindu

What are your thoughts on the current lot of Indian pacers? Could you throw some light on how competitive the environment is with Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Siraj and Hardik Pandya around?

It’s really nice to have that healthy competition within the team. As an individual, you are always looking to get better and compete with your teammates, and that is a great positive because it brings out the best results from everyone and eventually, the team benefits from it. With Jassi (Bumrah) bhai, Siraj bhai or Shami bhai around, you are also trying to match their skills and what they bring to the table. By trying to match them, you are also putting in the hard yards and getting the best out of yourself. Even during the target sessions while training, we try to be competitive and that’s how you hone your skills. If you can bowl well to the legendary batters in your team, then it gives you that confidence and boosts your morale.

I know when you are playing with Jassi bhai, it’s impossible to match his skills, but we try to get as close to him as possible, so that we improve our game and also help the team do better.

Personally, I am just trying to learn as much as I can from them in terms of managing the body, sharpening the skills and being disciplined.

READ | Most wickets in T20 World Cup 2024: Farooqi, Arshdeep finish on top; Bumrah third

Talking about the final, what was going on in your mind when you were handed the 19th over in the final? How did you calm the nerves?

Ever since making it to the Indian team in 2022, I was told that my role will be to bowl in the death overs and the team management has been pretty clear about it right from the beginning. So, I am used to it, by now. Before I came to bowl the 19th over, the build-up was nice. The two overs from Jassi bhai and one from Hardik bhai set the tone for us as we got two crucial wickets and squeezed out the required rate as well.

So my job was to ensure that I didn’t concede too many runs and give the extra cushion to Hardik bhai in the final over. The plan was to keep it simple and use my variations against a new batter at the crease, and it worked out well and we had enough runs to defend in the last over.

Not long ago, you would bowl too many variations, resulting in getting hit on a few crunch situations. But over the last one year, that seems to have changed. How much did the county stint with Kent help you on that front?

Before the Kent stint, I was playing a lot of T20 cricket. When you are playing just T20s, you often tend to use a lot of variations, but once I went to Kent, I bowled a lot of long spells there and got to know how effective length ball can be, and those things helped me big time. Earlier, whenever a batter went after me, I would rely on yorkers or a slow ball, but the Kent stint helped me bowl a lot of length deliveries as well. It made me believe that if I bowl at a good length, it won’t be easy for a batter to score easy runs.

After the Kent stint, I played ODIs in South Africa and I got good results for hitting those hard lengths and got the ball to move around a bit. A lot of credit goes to the BCCI as well, who pushed me to take up the county stint and that helped me improve my skills with the red ball as well.

Arshdeep claimed two wickets in the T20 World Cup final and bowled the penultimate over, conceding just four runs.
Arshdeep claimed two wickets in the T20 World Cup final and bowled the penultimate over, conceding just four runs. | Photo Credit: ANI

Arshdeep claimed two wickets in the T20 World Cup final and bowled the penultimate over, conceding just four runs. | Photo Credit: ANI

Now that you are considered a T20 specialist, do you dream of featuring in Test cricket as well?

Of course. Growing up, you always dream of playing (in Tests) for the country. Winning a World Cup is also a target that a youngster sets for himself. I do dream of donning the whites and bowling with that red cherry. I want to play all three formats, and whenever I have spoken to Jassi bhai, he has told me, “ Tere ko tin ho format khelna hai. White ball khelega toh achha hai, but jab tu red ball khelega (You have to play all three formats. Playing white ball is good, but when you play red ball), you can create a legacy…” He has always motivated me to focus on red ball cricket as well. During most of our conversations, Jassi bhai asks me, “ tujhe khelna hai red ball?” and I always tell him that I am very eager to start my red ball journey with the Indian team and prove myself on that front, too.

You spoke about your camaraderie with Bumrah. But on the field, we have often seen Bumrah and Rohit getting into animated discussions with you, especially during the death overs. How do those discussions go?

(Smiles) Rohit bhai and Jassi bhai are legends of the game. They have been dominating the international arena for a long time now. Whenever I have a point, I ask them whether I can implement it. They ensure that my suggestions are taken into account and the field is set accordingly. That helps me focus on the job at hand. As a batter, Rohit bhai understands which are the areas that trouble the batting unit, so he suggests a thing or two in terms of how to bowl an over and those little things matter in crunch times.

Arshdeep has credited Bumrah for his guidance during the games.
Arshdeep has credited Bumrah for his guidance during the games. | Photo Credit: Getty Images

Arshdeep has credited Bumrah for his guidance during the games. | Photo Credit: Getty Images

Jassi bhai is a unique bowler with a different bowling action, so the things that work for him might not work for others, but he makes it a point to guide me on how to adjust the bounce and even suggest areas  jahan pe ball jaldi reverse hoga (where the ball will reverse quicker) During the World Cup, he told me not to go for swing early on because on those surfaces, the ball won’t swing much, so it was better to hit the hard lengths. He keeps telling me those things throughout the match and our discussions often get animated because  apna bhi toh young khoon hai, so at times, hum bhi disagree kar jatein hain un ke saath (I am a young blood, so at times, I do disagree with him) laughs).

But later, I realised that the suggestions given by Jassi bhai would have indeed worked had I listened to him. And, I learn from my mistakes and try to get better.

Did anything of that sort happen in the T20 World Cup as well?

(Smiles) Yes. During the match against Afghanistan, the ball was reversing a lot, so he suggested a few field placements accordingly. But I thought otherwise, and suggested a different field setting. He told me calmly, “ tu mujh pe bharosa kar (you should have faith in me), and send the fielder to where I am suggesting…” I listened to him and bowled in the right areas. As luck would have it, we got an edge and the ball went straight to the fielder, and then, Jassi bhai walked up to me with a smile and said, “ Dekha na! Tu mujh pe bharosa rakh and bowl your best…(see, you should have faith in me...)

From being a member of the U-19 World Cup-winning team in 2018 to winning the T20 World Cup for the senior team - it has been a long journey. How has the experience been? 

When you play the U-19 World Cup, you feel that you are at the top of your game, but in reality, that’s just a stepping stone. Real cricket starts when you play senior cricket, and that is a test of character and patience. Unlike U-19 cricket, there’s hardly any room for errors in the senior category and it is important to plan things well if you want to grab wickets and trouble the batters. There are also days when you may not claim a wicket despite putting in the hard yards, so it’s important to be mentally strong.

A lot of the credit goes to Rahul (Dravid) sir as he tracked my journey since the U-19 days and that helped me a lot. With him around, it has been relatively easier for me to make the transition from the U-19 to the senior level. Since he had known me for a long time, it was easy to interact with him and he was aware of my skill set and my limitations.

The family also helped a lot, but I think it’s all about adapting to the situation. If you are flexible, and not rigid in your approach, it helps you immensely. For instance, in T20s, there will be days when you have to bowl 20 slower balls out of the 24 legal deliveries. And, there will be days, when you have to back your skills and just keep things simple. So, adaptability and flexibility have been the key.

You spoke about flexibility. So, how do you approach a game - is it just wicket-specific or do you hit the drawing board with plans for certain batters from the opposition?

I don’t dwell on the past and try to live in the present. In terms of preparation, I watch old videos of the batters and analyse their strengths and weaknesses. The surface certainly plays a key role and you need to check what are the deliveries that would be suitable on a particular pitch. We have a lot of team meetings and they (the team management) tell us how we should approach a game, and there are times you need to look beyond your strength and yet ensure that you find breakthroughs.

But in the end, everything boils down to the execution. You may plan several things and even practice quite a lot, but ultimately, it’s the execution on the match day that matters. Like I said, you can’t be rigid and always stick to a set plan. You need to understand the situation and be flexible.

Arshdeep Singh with his parents, Darshan Singh and Daljeet Kaur.
Arshdeep Singh with his parents, Darshan Singh and Daljeet Kaur. | Photo Credit: R.V. Moorthy/The Hindu

Arshdeep Singh with his parents, Darshan Singh and Daljeet Kaur. | Photo Credit: R.V. Moorthy/The Hindu

Fitness and diet are two important aspects for an athlete - if you could throw some light on your fitness regime and your diet plans. Is there a cheat day for you?

More than diet, fitness is important for the players. When you play multiple formats, your body takes an immense amount of load and not always do you have time for recovery. So, it’s about how quickly you bounce back. The physios and the S&C play a huge role in getting us back in shape, and I feel that for a player, the most crucial part is how fast you can recover.

The more you bowl and run, the fitter you get and of course, the gym sessions are important. So, I feel, there needs to be a balance.

I am not too strict about my diet. I eat whatever I like, and since I come from a Punjabi household,  mere khaane mein swaad bhi zaroori hai (taste is a necessity in my food) There has to be spices and butter in my food (laughs). But that does not mean I have burgers and all that stuff. I look for healthier options, which are nutritious and also tasty. However, you need to avoid overeating and burn the calories to remain healthy and fitter.

What’s your favourite food?

When I am at home, I love the Rajma Chawal that my mom cooks. I also like having  aloo ke parathe, sweet curd and lassi for breakfast once a week. Of course, I don’t eat them regularly since diet is important, but when I return home after a series, I make it a point to have paratha for breakfast and Rajma Chawal for lunch.

How do you unwind?

I love sleeping. These days, it’s becoming a tad difficult because of jet lag, but whenever I think too much or feel a bit under pressure, I prefer sleeping as it helps me start afresh.

I also love cycling, but of course, it gets a bit difficult to go out cycling these days because of selfies or autograph requests from people. But I genuinely love cycling.

You spoke about selfie requests from the fans. Do you enjoy this attention?

People love me a lot and ever since returning home from the T20 World Cup, I have got a lot of affection from everyone, and I am grateful for that. It gives me immense happiness if I can inspire any youngster, and I usually try to oblige to all the selfie or autograph requests. It’s an honour to play for the country and with all the love we receive, this is the least we can do for our fans.

When things don’t go your way, how do you handle things?

Right from the start, I have learned that no matter how you fare on the field, it’s important to be level-headed. It’s human nature to bask in the glory after success and be in a rough state of mind when things go awry. But you need to be calm and stay focused irrespective of the time. There are times when you might strike back on the fourth delivery and win the game for your team despite leaking runs early on. And, that comeback is only possible when you have self-belief and confidence.

Ultimately, it’s a team game and it’s important to back all the team-mates through thick and thin and enjoy every moment on the pitch.

Do you follow social media?

I would be lying if I said I don’t follow social media. In today’s time, it’s impossible to ignore that. I definitely follow social media and also have a laugh at the creativity and the imagination of the people, especially because of the memes that they come up with.  Kaafi maaza aata hai woh sab dekhke (it’s fun watching them), but I try to ensure that it does not affect my game.

India’s Virat Kohli, Arshdeep Singh, Rinku Singh and others celebrate by doing the ‘Bhangra’ dance following the T20 World Cup win.
India’s Virat Kohli, Arshdeep Singh, Rinku Singh and others celebrate by doing the ‘Bhangra’ dance following the T20 World Cup win. | Photo Credit: ANI

India’s Virat Kohli, Arshdeep Singh, Rinku Singh and others celebrate by doing the ‘Bhangra’ dance following the T20 World Cup win. | Photo Credit: ANI

Apparently, you also have an additional role in the team now?

(Laughs)  Haan ji, paaji. I am the official DJ of the team and I am trying to fulfil my duties to the best of my abilities. Most of the time, I play the music in the team bus, and it’s my duty to ensure that we play Hindi, Punjabi and even English numbers. These days, we are listening to Mexican and Spanish numbers and also El Alfa’s ‘ La Mama De La Mama’ ahead of the games. The members of the team come up with their recommendations from time to time and the idea is to enjoy the moment and play songs depending on the situation and the mood. On travel days, we normally prefer soothing songs, while on match days, peppy numbers are preferred to pump up the confidence.

Coming back to the game, earlier in the conversation, you mentioned Dravid. How has this long journey been with him?

Right from the start, I have shared a good bond with Rahul sir. I made it a point to pick his brains and always ask questions about the game - and those conversations have always helped me improve as a cricketer, both on and off the field. I have enjoyed some really good moments with Sir, and it was a rare sight to see him so emotional after we won the T20 World Cup. It also feels good to see someone of his stature getting the reward - a World Cup title - that he thoroughly deserves for all the efforts he has put in over the years. I am glad that we were able to give him a fitting farewell by winning the title.

Where do you see yourself in the next couple of years? Have you set any personal benchmarks?

I love living in the present and that’s how I approach things. I am not thinking too far ahead. I would like to contribute to my team’s success and handle situations as they come. 

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