India announced their playing XI ahead of the third Test at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) starting tomorrow (7th of January). While Rohit Sharma was expected to replace Mayank Agarwal, the real surprise was the inclusion of the speedster, Navdeep Saini who was included as the third seamer ahead of the more experienced (in first-class matches) Shardul Thakur. Saini had impressed with his extra pace and picked three wickets in the first innings against Australia A in the Day and Night Tour Match at the SCG in December – this might have tilted the balance in his favour.
Sumit Narwal, the former Delhi cricketer, had spotted Saini during a tennis-ball tournament back in 2013-14 and was impressed with his ability to bowl yorkers at pace. He was then introduced to the Delhi Ranji Trophy captain, Gautam Gambhir, who tested him in the nets, recognized his talent and facilitated his move from Haryana to Delhi.
Saini did not disappoint. He was the leading wicket-taker for Delhi in the 2017-18 season in which he returned with 34 wickets in 8 matches at an average of 22.73 and strike rate of 48.2 including match-figures of 7-90 in the innings’ win against Bengal in the semi-final in Pune. Saini was also the highest wicket-taker for Delhi in the 2018 Vijay Hazare Trophy where he returned with 16 dismissals in just 8 matches.
Saini’s biggest weapon is his extra pace – he has the ability to consistently crank it up around 140-145 kmph per hour. Coupled with that is the bounce he generates with his height and this makes him into a lethal force in Australia. His experiences with the India A team have made him a seasoned campaigner with the red ball.
Saini was born in Karnal, Haryana. His grandfather, Karam Singh, was part of the Azad Hind Fauj. The lanky pacer has played 46 first-class matches in which he has accounted for 128 wickets at a bowling average of 28.46 and strike rate of 59.9.
Saini made his international debut in a T20I match against the West Indies in Lauderhill in August, 2019 and returned with 3-17 in his 4 overs – he got the wickets of Pooran, Pollard and Hetmyer – and was the Player of the Match in his very first appearance for India – showing no signs of nerves at all. Saini has represented India in 10 T20Is and 7 ODI matches so far in his international career. Although he has not done much with the ball in 50-over cricket, he hammered 45 off 49 balls from number 9 in the second ODI against New Zealand in Auckland in 2020, almost pulling off a remarkable chase for India.
Saini has also represented Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) in 26 matches over 2019 and 2020 and picked 17 wickets.
With the wicket at the SCG expected to be hard with some grass on the surface, Navdeep Saini might just make a few Australian batsmen jump with his pace and bounce.