How Dipendra Singh Airee changed his Technique to ace T20 Batting
Rajan Shah speaks to Airee and examines his changes in technique after the pandemic
‘I’m ready to bat, bowl or field whenever my team needs me to,’ said Dipendra Singh Airee when he sat down with All Over Cricket for an exclusive chat in June of this year.
This sums up what Airee is all about. He always wants to be involved in the game. The former men’s U-19 captain batted at number four on his international debut against Kenya in March 2017, replacing then injured Paras Khadka. Five years down the line, Airee is once again playing against Kenya but has replaced the now retired Khadka as Nepal’s biggest batting hope.
‘Tiger’ as he was nicknamed by Khadka went through a roller-coaster ride in the early stages of his career before he was a regular in the national team. For one, he wasn’t an off-spinner like he is now. Instead, he was an up-and-coming teenage pace bowler who batted mostly in the lower order and struggled with back injuries. To ensure an injury-free career, he had to give up fast bowling and has gradually moved up the order since then.
He captained Nepal’s Under-19s to a famous 19-run win against India during the Asia Cup group match back in November 12 2017. He scored 88 runs, picked up four wickets, and took two catches to limit India to 166. This was an early sign of the package deal he brought with his skills.
As a testament to his enormous potential, he was already given a Nepal senior team debut earlier in the same year. Fast forward a couple of years, and he was trusted with the vice-captain’s role. Even though he no longer holds this position, his stock as a batter has risen exponentially since then and he has established himself as a senior player for Nepal.
Airee has great numbers in T20I cricket. This is helped by the fact that Nepal has played more T20Is than ODIs. The 22-year-old always tops the batting charts in domestic cricket but he didn’t make a seamless transition to international cricket.
In his first 21 T20Is, his average was hovering around 20 with a strike of less than 110. He didn’t have a single fifty to his name either. The pandemic was a blessing in disguise for Airee as he found time to think about his career and fine-tune aspects of his game.
‘I used to practice with Kushal [Bhurtel] and Rohit [Kumar Paudel] during the pandemic. I saw my old footage a lot. I closely observed what I was doing wrong from the videos of my dismissals. I concentrated to play more in front of the wicket,’ said Airee.
There is a clear change in technique in pre and post-pandemic Airee. Previously, the right-handed batter’s front foot was stiff, unbalancing the weight of his body. His front foot was doing all the work with minimal back foot movement.
More often than not, due to his backlift, he’d struggle to generate any sort of power in his shots. Yet, his strong hand-eye coordination allowed him to score runs along with a penchant for manipulating the field with his signature reverse sweeps.
After the pandemic, however, his back foot started anchoring his front foot movements allowing a smoother transfer of body weight. Airee doesn’t compulsively plant his front foot forward anymore, and he sets himself up to slap the ball through the covers as he gets his shoulders and chest into his shots. His open stance allows him to create width as well as access the leg side. Unlike the Airee of 2019, Dippy 2.0 generates power with a free-flowing swing of the bat.
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In T20Is, he has become a package that could soon entice franchises around the world. As a big-hitting batter, quick runner between the wickets, and an economical off-spinner, who is also a gun fielder, Airee can slot into any T20 lineup and contribute in any of the three departments.
Airee, the ODI batter is still a work in progress. He is yet to hit the same level of consistency that sets him apart in T20Is, but he did notch up his maiden hundred against PNG in the home bilateral series held in March 2022. It was an innings that rolled back the years to March 2018 when he scored a half-century and picked up four wickets against the same opponents to help Nepal secure ODI status at the Men’s Cricket World Cup Qualifier in Zimbabwe.
Controversies and the way forward
Earlier this year, Airee was embroiled in a board-player controversy that cost him the vice-captaincy. His favorite batting partner Rohit Kumar Paudel was announced as the new vice-captain before the ICC Cricket World Cup League 2 series against the USA and Oman. Airee admits there were times during the initial period of controversy when he thought about completely quitting the sport. He claims to have stopped thinking about leaving the sport and does not have any leadership ambitions as things stand.
‘Pubudu Dassanyake [Nepal’s coach at the time] asked me if I was interested to be reinstated as a vice-captain before leaving for the US. I denied to take up the role. I just can’t relate myself as a vice-captain anymore. I don’t feel the need for it. I am happy to be a player and win matches for Nepal,’ he admits.
Leaving controversies in the past, Airee has emerged as the go-to all-rounder for current skipper Sandeep Lamichhane. That both have a history together in the Under-19s has helped the pair understand how to work together. However, as a top order batter and a full-quota bowler, Airee recognizes the need to balance workload, especially in League 2 tri-series.
‘Obviously, if I have to play two matches in two days, it can be physically challenging, but our trainers are working hard to keep us in shape and prepare accordingly.’
Many followers of Nepal cricket are concerned about the possibility of Airee burning out while shouldering such a vast responsibility with both bat and ball. He is one of the mainstays in batting after the retirement of Paras Khadka, the phasing out of Sharad Vesawkar, and the uncertainty over Gyanendra Malla’s place in the eleven. While refusing to be drawn into comments about selection, Airee stressed how important it is for Nepal to have experienced heads in the team.
‘The inclusion of senior players always does a world of good to any team in transition. Experience-wise or setting up a proper team culture, any team needs the presence of veterans who have been there and done that at this level.’
Picked for Nepal’s ongoing tour of Kenya, Malla top-scored with 46 (41) in a player-of-the-match performance to give Nepal a 2-1 lead in the ongoing 5-match T20I series, and reinforce the point Airee was making. With the plethora of franchise T20 leagues played in Nepal over the years, it is no surprise that T20 is arguably Nepal’s favored format. Nepal narrowly missed out on qualifying for the 2022 Men’s T20 World Cup after losing to UAE in a winner-takes-all bout at the Qualifier A tournament in February.
While the future of the likes of the Everest Premier League, Pokhara Premier League and Dhangadi Premier League remains uncertain (a topic that deserves its own article) Airee is optimistic about the CAN-run Nepal T20.
‘We will get quality matches. It also gives a proper pathway to young players and a financial stream to establish them as professionals.’
Airee, however, echoed the calls that have been made by many players over the years.
‘If a domestic season was announced, it could have been much better,’ he said in no uncertain terms.
Airee currently averages a shade below 17 in ODI cricket. Nepal currently sits second from bottom at the Cricket World Cup League 2 table with just eight wins in their first 20 games. If they miss out on a top three position, they will fail to advance directly to the Qualifier for the 2023 World Cup, needing to go through the Qualifier Playoff instead.
It might be too late to remedy this situation, but the sooner the Cricket Association of Nepal can establish a full-fledged domestic structure, the sooner they can get the best out of their players, improve results across formats and accelerate Nepal’s road to full membership. You know this. And Dipendra Singh Airee knows this too.
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