Over the past few weeks, Naveen-ul-Haq has been a part of countless cricketing conversations in several households, and they have not always been about his IPL exploits.
Part of that was down to the altercation he had with Virat Kohli during the Lucknow Super Giants’ fixture against the Royal Challengers Bangalore. It was then followed up by a string of Instagram stories that may or may not have hit the right notes (based on allegiances).
While most of it, at some point or the other, felt unwarranted and for the lack of a better word, cringy, it was another cruel reminder of just how the IPL cookie crumbles and how players, after all, are humans and prone to letting their emotions boil over.
Prior to the IPL 2023 Eliminator against the Mumbai Indians, that was what Naveen was becoming synonymous for. Not for the way he was bowling. Not for how he was suddenly thrown into the deep end by LSG. But about the number of Instagram stories he had been posting and how he had gotten into on-field scuffles previously.
This sport, though, gives players a chance to illustrate their worth, and at times, those opportunities come about when it is least expected. For Naveen, that came when MI were cruising in the Eliminator, with Cameron Green and Suryakumar Yadav smashing the ball to all parts.
Naveen-ul-Haq finishes with best IPL 2023 figures in the Eliminator
To say that Naveen responded and passed that particular test with flying colours would be an understatement. Not only did he bowl a two-wicket over, which comprised Green and Suryakumar’s scalps, he did so with utter conviction.
The ball that dismissed Suryakumar completely flummoxed the India batter. He could not pick Naveen’s leg-cutter and spooned it straight to long off. Green’s dismissal was even more picturesque, for Naveen got the ball to swerve and dip viciously. The Australia batter went searching for it and got castled, with the off stump lying flat on the ground.
Earlier in the game, Naveen had already accounted for Rohit Sharma, getting the ball to zip off the surface and forcing the MI captain to mistime his attempted lofted shot over extra cover. Towards the end of that innings, he also dismissed N Tilak Varma, holding his nerve and his line outside off stump to induce a mistake.
At the half-way stage, when asked about his role, Naveen provided a very revealing response. He said that being the leader of the attack, those around him expected him to provide crucial breakthroughs.
This is a 23-year-old who has played international cricket but is very much an IPL greenhorn. For him to talk in this fashion, let alone deliver, is enough to tell you that he has something about him.
It may not have materialized as often as LSG or Naveen would have wanted this season. But this performance, against MI in the Eliminator, was just enough to highlight that he could be a prominent feature in the IPL for years to come.
He ends this IPL season with 11 wickets in eight games, at an average of less than 20 and an economy rate lesser than 8 – superb numbers for someone tasked with bowling in the powerplay and at the death.
Naveen has also played plenty of T20 cricket around the world, and is, more often than not, a mainstay in the Afghanistan national side. His action is slightly quirky; he generates an awkward angle, bowls an assortment of slower deliveries and can slip in a sharp yorker too.
He has a tendency to lose his rag on occasions, and is not quite the finished product yet. But he is only 23, and if given the right sort of experience and environment, he will only grow. And after a stellar outing against MI in the IPL 2023 Eliminator, he has something tangible to show for his toil too and has perhaps done enough to warranty at least another gig in the IPL.
View it in perspective of what has happened throughout this IPL season, and it makes his character stand out even more.
Naveen has had an eventful IPL 2023, make no mistake about it. Before the tournament began, he might not have been very hopeful of playing a starring role for LSG. Then, he got into that altercation with Kohli – the effects of which can still be seen whenever he runs in to bowl or goes to field on the fence.
That entire episode (rightly or wrongly) made him the pantomime villain among RCB fans, and the way things are these days, it would have most certainly led to plenty of cruel and vile social media stuff.
Among all of those things, he found the wherewithal to stand up when LSG needed him most – in a clutch contest away from home, and against a team with one of the best batting units going around.
And that is what might now become the telling image from Naveen’s IPL 2023 sojourn. Not the altercations, not the cryptic Instagram stories, not the unnecessary digging into his past. But the way he shut out the white noise and proved his IPL worth.
That is what it should have been about all along.