"I did not have a very good IPL last year, but all players go through that phase,” Pawan Negi admitted from the RCB nets this season as revealed by the Hindustan Times but was also quick to point out, "After that, I worked really hard in practice, and tried to correct my weaknesses. Not once did not performing well make me feel low. The only thought I had in mind was to keep working hard.”
One cannot blame the Delhi all-rounder. The glam and glitz of IPL hit him in 2016 when Delhi Daredevils snapped him up for Rs 8.5 crores, making him the largest paid uncapped cricketer ever in the Indian Premier League. The big fee came after his exploits in the previous season for the Chennai Super Kings.
Under Captain Cool, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Pawan Negi excelled as a pinch-hitting all-rounder and containing bowler. His slog-sweeps off spinners became a common sight in the 2015 IPL season and gained him a reputation as a pretty handy T20 player. Many might even say that he overshadowed the other left-arm spinner in the Chennai franchise, a certain Ravindra Jadeja.
But the joy was short-lived as he struggled to fit into Delhi's scheme of things. The constant chop and change in the line-up also did not help matters and Negi returned from the season as one of the biggest earning flops. The season saw him play just eight matches, in which he bowled as low as nine overs for a single wicket and scored just 57 runs in all.
However, he was picked in the Indian T20 squad before the Delhi stint and even made it to the World T20 team although he remained on the sidelines right throughout the campaigns. His only game for India came in a dead rubber in the Asia Cup against UAE where he bowled three overs for 16 runs and took a wicket. But he was dumped soon after the World T20 and the IPL 2016 show also did not help matters.
The season with Delhi Daredevils in Negi's words
"I kept wondering why wasn't I given more opportunities," Negi told the Asian Age. "And the team management didn't tell me the reason either. When I was with CSK [Chennai Super Kings], Mahi bhai [MS Dhoni] backed my abilities. Maybe, 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. People kept asking me why I didn't play much. I didn't have a proper answer."
"Sitting on the bench was hard to digest as I never expected to watch the action from the sidelines. I was mentally down, but I didn't lose hope. After the season, TA Sekhar and our manager Sunil Valson pepped me up saying that I didn't get enough opportunities to showcase my abilities."
The RCB stint in 2017
Negi was expected to fade off as yet another one-season wonder but Royal Challengers Bangalore made a surprise choice by picking him up for Rs. 1 crore in the IPL 2017 auctions. Given that Bangalore had Yuzvendra Chahal and Iqbal Abdulla to turn the ball away from the right-handers, another left-arm spinner was a wildcard pick.
After all, Negi had done little to deserve another IPL deal in the crores after the poor season in 2016. His first match for RCB came against his previous franchise, Delhi Daredevils. It was a tight game with Delhi needing 19 to win off the last over when Negi was given the ball for the first time.
Rishabh Pant, who had almost single-handedly taken Delhi close to the target stood between RCB and victory. Negi bowled Pant around his legs off the first ball and went on to concede a mere three runs while taking one more wicket to impress the RCB management.
Despite his promising show in RCB's second match against Delhi, Negi failed to get more overs under his belt. He was used sparingly in the next two games, bowling only three overs in all and coming into bat with only an over or two remaining.
All that changed with the game against Rising Pune Supergiant. He bowled a tidy spell of 3-0-12-1 to restrict the scoring rate and Kohli seemed to have found a way of using his spinning all-rounder.
The consistent show
The confidence was back as Negi put in another stellar display in the next game against the Gujarat Lions, with Kohli opening the bowling with him. Negi accounted for the big scalp of Aaron Finch and bowled four tidy overs for just 21 runs. Another good spell against Kolkata Knight Riders (3-0-15-2) next game sealed his spot in the eleven.
In the next match against Gujarat, Negi contributed a handy 32 off 19 balls with the bat, smashing two elegant sixes and three fours. He also accounted for Finch yet again even as Bangalore continued to lose games.
Negi was used in a containing role but managed to sneak in wickets as well. In the last game of the season, Negi once again shone against his former franchise, Delhi Daredevils. He took three wickets for just 10 runs in two overs to help finish RCB's season with a win.
Season in statistical terms
His contributions with the bat also improved as the season progressed. He ended up making 144 runs in 111 balls in the whole season with a strike rate of 129.72. Negi's show with the ball was, however, far more impressive.
The left-hand spinner picked up 16 wickets in 12 games at an average of 12.31 and economy of 6.12. This was a considerable improvement from his stats in the previous years. He had taken just 14 wickets in 29 matches before this season.
His overall T20 record also speaks for itself. He has 67 wickets in 82 matches at an average of 23.56 and an economy of 7.26. His best performance came in the Champions League final for Chennai Super Kings when he earned the Man of the Match award for his spell of 5/22 – helping the team to victory.
What does the future hold?
Negi's impressive show this season should see him picked up in the next season of the IPL when all players are expected to be back in the pool. Hopes of an Indian recall are, however, far-fetched at this stage but a good domestic season should set that right.
However, with Axar Patel and Ravindra Jadeja offering left arm spin options, Negi's inclusion is a possibility only if he can string together some handy performances with both bat and ball. At 24, age is on his side and if this season is anything to go by, Negi's career is on the upward curve.