While watching a Twenty20 game, how often have you wondered how a cricketer from the yesteryears would have fared in this format? We imagine Sir Vivian Richards lording over hapless medium pacers and dibbly dobbly spinners with an absolute license to kill. More intriguing is the thought, whether or not some of the great bowlers from the past would have been just as effective in the format that is so cruel on the bowlers. When a bowler gets plonked mercilessly by someone like Chris Gayle, one wonders how one of his fellow West Indian pacers of the 1970s would have handled him.
Thanks to the ongoing IPL 2012, we got a golden opportunity to quench this inquisition by picking the brain of the man who had mastered both, the red and the white ball during his playing days. What made him the best person to talk to on the subject is that he’s closely involved in the Twenty20 format presently, as a coach.
We, at iplt20.com, put Wasim Akram – a magician with the cricket ball in his hand and the bowling mentor of the Kolkata Knight Riders – in the hot seat. Akram said that he would’ve loved to play more Twenty20 cricket than he did, and gave priceless insight on how he’d have gone about it. The legendary fast bowler also spoke about his current favourite bowler in this format and a bowler from the past he’d have loved to watch bowl in Twenty20s.
Do you think you’d have enjoyed playing the T20 format?
I missed on playing Twenty20 cricket; I only played two games for Hampshire in 2003 when the format was just introduced. I believe this format would have suited my game – my bowling and batting. I think T20 has changed cricket a lot in the last six-seven years. The idea of T20 cricket is to generate interest among the younger crowd; to inspire them to take up the sport. And I believe it has worked.
What’s the first thing you’d look into while picking a bowling attack for a T20 game?
If I have wicket-taking bowlers, I’ll pick all of them because that’s how you win games in T20. It is an entertaining format, but it kills the bowlers, especially on the subcontinent tracks. According to me, in T20, getting wickets is the key. Generally, the batting teams look to get to 100-110 in 15 overs with wickets in hand, and then, have a go in the last five overs.
Who is your favourite T20 bowler?
Muttiah Muralitharan has still got the magic in his doosra. In fast bowlers, I like Dale Steyn. He runs in hard every ball and varies his pace. He’s got the yorkers, the bouncers, swing – everything a fast bowler should have.
How about Brett Lee – one of your wards at the Kolkata Knight Riders?
Even Brett Lee runs in, but he’s a bit expensive on the Indian tracks because he relies too heavily on pace. He doesn’t have as many variations as Steyn does, but he’s learning. He’s a quick learner.
Given how harsh this format is on the bowlers, sometimes, does mental toughness become more important than skills?
That’s right. More than pace, swing, talent, everything, it’s the mind that matters. It all depends on how intelligently you bowl. Sitting in the dugout, I can tell when the batsman is going to go after the bowler. At times, I wish I had a microphone through which I could tell my bowlers what to bowl next. In T20, if you bowl two dot balls in a row, you can be 100 percent sure the batsman will go after you, either over the fine-leg, or if it’s in the slot, he’ll hit it straight. That’s where variation comes into the picture, and that’s when you should bowl what the batsman is not expecting.
There are many successful T20 bowlers who struggle in the longer formats. Your take on them.
In T20, the bowlers bowl a lot of slower balls. These bowlers are T20 specialists and might not get wickets in the longer formats where you need to swing the ball, you need good pace. In T20, all you need to do is keep varying the pace. These are the guys who know their limitations and bowl within them. They’re not sharp and quick, and they don’t try to bowl quick. They concentrate on their strength, which is variation, and that’s the key to their IPL success.
Which bowler from the past you’d have liked to see bowl in the T20 format?
I’d have loved to see Joel Garner and Malcom Marshall. For me, Marshall was the best bowler ever in the history of the game. I rate bowlers who get wickets in subcontinent and Marshal got wickets everywhere in the world. He was a very clever bowler and what separated him from the others was that he picked the weakness of the batsman in a split second. These qualities would’ve made him interesting to watch in this format.
How do you rate the various IPL captains?
MS Dhoni has won the tournament twice, so obviously he has to be a very good captain. Gautam [Gambhir] has done well with KKR. He’s very much involved as a captain. Sourav Ganguly is a very good tactician. He’s a street-smart captain. Vettori has a very simple method. All captains have different styles. Gautam is quickly learning to play on the opposition’s mind. He’s getting the knack of the tactic that one should not do what the opponents are expecting him to do. Do something out of the box. That’s how captains make a difference.