When Ravi Bishnoi was included in India's T20I squad for the away match against South Africa, it was perhaps the clearest indication of his place in the think tank's long-term plans with next year's T20 World Cup in mind. With just six T20Is left for India before the showpiece event, the 23-year-old leg-spinner can be assumed to have moved up in the pecking order ahead of veteran Yuzvendra Chahal, at least for now. Chahal is not part of the Indian T20I side that will face the Proteas. Chahal is 33 and Bishnoi is 23, but the latter getting equal or more playing time in T20Is is not just about a natural generational transition. Chahal has played nine T20Is this year, taking as many wickets, while Bishnoi appeared in 11 matches and took 18 wickets. The difference is visible to everyone.
In the just concluded series against Australia, Bishnoi was India's favorite bowler and he repaid the faith reposed in him by emerging as the 'Player of the Series', taking nine wickets from five matches.
It was not just about the wickets, but the entire attitude he displayed while bowling in any condition or situation was commendable.
In fact, Bishnoi had an eminently forgettable first match in Visakhapatnam, leaking 54 runs in four overs and his fielding was also a shambles, marred by a missed catch and a couple of misfields.
But he fought back with gusto and his run-rate never exceeded eight after that.
Of the 20 overs he bowled against the Aussies, seven were in the Power Play segment (1-6 overs). In this phase he took five wickets at a fine economy rate of 6.45, besides bowling 20 dot balls.
Australian skipper Matthew Wade admitted that facing Bishnoi was not an easy job, even on some of the batting-friendly tracks here.
“Their spinners bowled well. They kept us stuck and we couldn't really escape in that middle period. So that was probably the biggest difference in the game.
“Bishnoi has obviously been great over the four games. It was tough to get to him. Some of our guys with less experience will learn a lot from facing him,” said Wade.
But if you look from the outside, Bishnoi's bowling has this pattern of him trying to buy wickets with a series of googles.
He is also not a great ball turner and almost never tries to outwit the batters, as Chahal does with 'wide of the off-stump' bowling.
But Bishnoi quickly comes off the surface and slides the ball to the batters to catch them napping.
Legendary Sri Lankan spinner Muttiah Muralitharan underlined this part of Bishnoi's game.
“Bishnoi is unlike any other leg spinner. He bowls faster and he slides the ball a lot and it is difficult to meet him on helpful wickets,” Muralitharan said on Jio Cinema.
The young Indian spinner actually showed through the dismissal of Travis Head.
The Australian opener has been nothing short of a thorn in India's side this year, crushing them by hundreds in the WTC and World Cup finals.
The left-hander also looked dangerous in Bengaluru on the road with his 18-ball 28, which featured five fours and a six.
Indian skipper Suryakumar handed the ball to Bishnoi in the fifth over. Head had initial success, sweeping the spinner for a six over mid-wicket.
But in the very next ball, Bishnoi slid the ball away at a reasonable speed to beat a cautious jab from Head that rattled his wood. Australia's early momentum was broken.
However, Bishnoi will face tougher challenges within the team itself to find a place in the 11 when senior pros like Kuldeep Yadav and Ravindra Jadeja return to take up the mantle of leading spinners.
But Bishnoi has made a strong impression on himself ahead of the big event next year.
“Bishnoi has now given this Indian team the option of a solid third spinner. It's not easy to replace someone like Chahal. But Bishnoi has made it look easy and I hope he continues that,” said a former Indian spinner to PTI. .
“The T20 World Cup will be played in the West Indies and the United States and the pitches there can provide some help to the spinners. Having three quality players in that department will give the team some edge,” he added.
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