Every dark cloud has its silver lining and Royal Challengers Bangalore’s silver lining in this tumultuous IPL season has been the emergence of Pawan Negi as a worthy all-rounder.
Negi’s 23-ball innings of 35 which included three huge sixes came as a whiff of fresh air for beleaguered RCB and gave them a fighting chance against Mumbai Indians on Monday. RCB were reeling at 108 for the loss of five of their main batsmen when Negi walked in and featured in a 54-run partnership with Kedar Jadhav. This helped take the total to 162; not impregnable, but a challenging target even for the strong Mumbai Indians side.
Negi was not done yet. He came back with the ball at a time when the home team was threatening to run away with the match and grabbed two quick wickets, of Jos Butler and Nitish Rana, to sow doubts in Mumbai Indians mind. His final figures of 2 for 17 in four overs kept RCB in the contest till the penultimate ball of the match.
The 24-year-old Negi, left-arm spinner and left-hand batsman, had shown glimpses of his potential, thus marking him out as a future all rounder to watch out for.
While the match against Mumbai brought his all-round skills to the fore, Negi had come good in a most unexpected manner in one of RCB’s early matches.
Delhi Daredevils, his former team, had needed 19 runs in the last over when stand-in skjpper Shane Watson tossed the ball to him.
“It was just my gut feeling,” said Watson during the post-match media briefing at the start of the current IPL season.
Rishab Pant, the India ‘A’ left-hand batsman was going great guns and threatened to take the match away from RCB when Watson, for the first time, introduced Negi to the bowling crease.
“Yes, it was a bit of a gamble, him bowling the 20th over. But I had seen him bowl and knew what to expect. Negi bowls with variations of speed and line and I knew he would be better suited than most others in that situation,” said Watson after the game.
“Pant had batted against Iqbal Abdullah (the other left-arm spinner) but Negi was coming on for the first time. I also knew he was ready to take on his old team.”
The move worked brilliantly. Negi, in that final over, gave away just three runs but bagged two wickets to ensure that RCB won by 15 runs.
This was not the first time that the talented all rounder had played a pivotal role in a win. A couple of years ago, while turning out for Chennai Super Kings in a Champions Trophy T20 final, his haul of 5 for 22 fetched him the man of the final award and his team the title.
His confident showing for CSK, as an occasional pinch-hitter and left-arm spinner earned him a spot in the Indian team for the T20 series against Sri Lanka and inclusion in the squad for the Asia Cup and World T20 tournaments in 2015.
Negi, however, played only in one Asia Cup match, bagging 1 for 16 in three overs against UAE. But what really shook the cricketing world was that this left arm spinner who was earlier bought by CSK for the base price of Rs 10 lakh, was snapped up by Delhi Daredevils for a whopping Rs 8.5 crore.
The auction sale made headlines and was the talking point to the extent that it put enormous pressure on the young lad. The price tag was always bandied about to the extent that it became a sort of millstone around his neck. DD also failed to utilise his services sufficiently to the extent that he played just eight matches.
“I feel Delhi didn't back my skills with bat and ball. Maybe, it was a rotation policy, because I was never told that I was dropped. The hardest part was, before every match, I had no clue whether I would play or not,” he told a New Delhi newspaper in an interview.
"Sitting on the bench was hard to digest as I never expected to watch the action from the sidelines. I was mentally down,” he had said.
It came as no surprise that he was released at the end of last season. In the following auction, RCB bagged the youngster for Rs 1 crore.
Negi was not RCB’s first choice left-arm spinner. But he did reasonably well for them. He opened the bowling against Gujarat Lions and came away with a creditable 1 for 21 from 4 overs. He also chipped in with the bat, making 32.
Gradually the team came to rely more on him, to the extent that he pushed ahead of Iqbal Abdulla and all-rounder Stuart Binny in the team’s scheme of things.
Sure, Negi is not an outstanding success as yet. But given that RCB has had such limited reason to cheer, Negi is one of their better performing assets. With all-round skills and age on his side, Negi has what it takes to be one of the big stars of the near future. Watch this space.