6, 6, 6.
Three days later, Prasidh is bowling to Virat Kohli in the second over of Qualifier 2. He’s bowled three balls already, all of them quick – 140, 141 and 147kph – and with varying degrees of inswing.
He sends down the fourth ball, and the effort he makes to hit the pitch as hard as he possibly can causes him to spring off his feet upon releasing the ball. Like his height, his build, and his pace of him, this quirk in his action of him is redolent of Ishant Sharma, the man he’s been tipped to take over from in India’s Test-match attack.
And the effort causes the ball, landing just short of a length in the fifth-stump channel, to rear off the pitch. Kohli fences at it and nicks off.
This sort of bounce, from this sort of length, is Prasidh’s biggest strength. This pitch in Ahmedabad is designed to maximize the threat of this sort of ball. And this sort of ball, behaving in this manner, is among Kohli’s least favorite to face, particularly early in his innings.
The perfect plan, executed by the perfect man for the job.
When Prasidh begins the 19th over of Royal Challengers Bangalore’s innings, they are 146 for 6. Rajasthan Royals’ bowlers have had an excellent match so far, but Dinesh Karthik is at the crease, looking to spoil their good work in the next 12 balls.
Prasidh begins the over with a death-overs economy rate of 11.37 for the season. Of all the bowlers to have gone at above 11 in this phase, he’s the only one to have bowled more than 100 balls. The others have either not played often enough, or have bowled more of their overs in phases they are better suited to. Prasidh, playing for a team without out-and-out end-overs options, has little choice but to bowl at this time.
And it’s only three days since he ran into Miller.
His first ball is wide of off stump, and on the fuller side of a good length. It’s wide enough to make Karthik reach for the ball even though he’s taken a big, early step across his stumps, and it’s full enough to make him look to hit it down the ground, but it isn’t so full that it’s a straightforward task . And the ball behaves unusually. It clocks 144kph, but it comes out with the seam scrambled, and it bites into the pitch and stops on Karthik. He’s through his shot early, and catches it with the toe-end of his bat. Instead of clearing long-on, the ball plops gently into the fielder’s hands.
Did this wicket come about by accident or design? Prasidh probably didn’t intend for the ball to stop on Karthik, but the wide line seemed like a sound idea for two reasons. He was making it harder for Karthik to access the smaller square boundary, which was on the leg side, and Royals may have made it a point to try and deny Karthik leg-side access anyway – soon after the wicket fell, Shiva Jayaraman from ESPNcricinfo’s stats team noted that Karthik’s leg-side strike rate of 291.52 in IPL 2022 was the highest of any batter in any season.
It’s possible, of course, that the wicket was just the sort of chance event that’s always swimming about in the bouillabaisse of randomness that is T20, but sometimes, a bowler deserves a bit of luck.
Sometimes, a bowler deserves to have a new batter to bowl to – hello, Wanindu Hasaranga – so he can spear a yorker at his feet and leave his middle and leg stumps splattered on the ground. Goodbye, Wanindu Hasaranga.
How do you react to going through something like that last over against Titans? How do you step back from the emotional swirl of the moment and examine it in a manner approaching objectivity? How do you find space for learning and growth in the middle ground between beating yourself up for losing your team a winnable game and dismissing what you’ve gone through as something that could happen to any bowler in this fickle and unforgiving format?
According to Kumar Sangakkara, Royals’ head coach, the process begins with the player being honest – with himself and his team.
“Special mention to Prasidh,” he told Star Sports after Royals wrapped up a seven-wicket win over Royal Challengers and sealed their place in Sunday’s final. “Sixteen to defend in the last game, three sixes by Miller, and that’s a huge dent in your confidence with just a couple of days to turn it around, and the way he responded at training, the way he was honest with me and the rest of the group about what he could do better, was really impressive to see. He’s a very special talent.”
Sangakkara elaborated on that point in his post-match press conference. I have suggested that where Prasidh had gone wrong in the game against Titans was in a lack of clarity about his plans from him to Miller. Watch those three balls again, and this certainly seems to be the case – a wide yorker executed imperfectly, not slanted far enough across the left-hander; a slower ball offering easy (in relative terms) leg-side access; then a switch to round the wicket and a full ball angled into Miller’s arc.
“The only thing you’ve got to understand is whether it was an executional error, or just a lack of general clarity and awareness,” Sangakkara said. “If it’s just an executional error it’s very simple to rectify. It’s skill versus skill, bowler versus batter, you try and execute the best ball, to the field that you’ve set, the batter gets on top of you, that’s fine. If you miss your mark you immediately know, well, I bowled the right delivery, I just didn’t get it right, you walk back to your mark and then you go again.
“The real key is to have clarity at the top of the mark: number one, the fields that you’ve set; number two, the strengths of the batter as discussed and the plans that you’ve set beforehand. If nothing has changed in terms of the match that is being played, you try and simply go back to those plans that you’re in control of.
“Prasidh is exceptionally skilled. He thinks very deeply and quite a lot about how he plays, and the game, which is a very good thing, but at the same time, to arrange your bowling and the execution in a manageable form where you try and just concentrate on the things that you can control, and don’t worry too much about, you know, anything else that can distract you.
“The other thing is, you’ve just got to be honest and own your skill, and how you apply that skill. And there’s of course trust, where he knows that if there’s anything that myself or the rest of the coaches will contribute to him, it’s always with the idea of getting him better and making him even more special than he already is.
“It all works together as a combination, but the character he’s shown, a day to turn around a very tough performance in the last game, and he just showed that he’s got what it takes to succeed at any level.”
The challenge Prasidh came through in Ahmedabad on May 27 wasn’t the same one he suffered through in Kolkata on May 24. His early success came during a phase he has excelled in right through the season – he had a powerplay economy rate of 6.64 coming into the game – on a pitch made for his style of bowling, and by the time he had to bowl at the death, Royals were already largely in control.
But life doesn’t follow neatly symmetric narrative arcs, and that’s okay. Some day in the not-too-distant future, Prasidh may successfully defend a small number of runs in the final over of a high-stakes game. For now, you have the pleasure of watching a thrillingly talented cricketer grow to his full potential from him.
Karthik Krishnaswamy is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo