Innovation is key in T20 bowling: Pathan

DD all-rounder reveals what works best in the 20-over format for a bowler

New Delhi 17 May 2012
Irfan Pathan has been an unsung hero for the Delhi Daredevils in many ways. The left-arm pacer might not have got as many wickets as he would have liked, but has been economical and kept batsmen on their toes while creating pressure from one end. The all-rounder has chipped in with useful contributions to help his team win in tight situations as well.

One such example was DD’s last game against KXIP when Irfan returned with figures of 4-0-24-0 and later, scored an unbeaten 19 to help in his team’s successful run-chase.

In a free-flowing chat with Irfan Pathan passionately spoke about plying his trade and the innovations that Twenty20 has brought into cricket.

Excerpts from his interview:

How has Twenty20 impacted bowling?

The way people sometimes criticize [and say] that T20 is not cricket, I would like to disagree with them because so much innovation in happening in T20 cricket. The batsmen have started playing reverse-sweep to fast bowlers; switch-hits. Batsmen like Kevin Pietersen hit sixes being a left-hander while people struggle to hit sixes with the right hand. I have seen a humongous six hit by David Warner in Australia with the switch-hit. Obviously then, the bowler has to innovate. That means you require the skill [to play]. Without the skill, you can’t innovate [...]. When you bowl 24 balls, it means that you need to be on the target all the time. [...] In T20, game one over makes a difference.

In the game against KXIP, one over from Parvinvder Awana went for 15 runs [and that made the difference]. Before that, the game was evenly poised. So a bowler has to be on the money and the batsman as well.

On innovating

Innovation and doing the right things at the right time is very very important. Basically you need to hit your target, [by bowling] yorkers, slower deliveries. I am trying to learn some new slower ones. I bowled a few yesterday, a different type of slower one because the batsmen get used to you as well. The one delivery, people know that if you bowl one slower one batsman knows that; the batsman is going to be ready, so you got to keep thinking. You need to keep adding things to your armoury.

There is so much technology [which helps others figure you out]. We have those tablets on which we keep watching the videos of batsmen and bowlers and get a bit of an idea of what they do. People keep watching you, so you need to get better and better all the time. Doing the basic [things right] is very important. Doing the simple thing is sometimes the best thing, but you need to have the armoury and that little innovation, little slower one, little different, which actually makes you special.

[Lasith] Malinga is so successfully in IPL because he is very different. Not everyone can bowl like Malinga because it is different, and therefore, it is very hard to pick. If you have a normal conventional action, you need to keep improving and keep adding something knew [to your bowling]. Even the smallest thing, which helps you keep in the loop, and batsmen will think, “Oh he can bowl some different slower one.”

On whether there are specific new deliveries that the pacers are developing

The bowlers are doing quite a few new things. They used just roll the fingers, now we actually [use] over-the-wrist slower one, back-of-the-hand slower one, [and there’s] rolling of the fingers. There are a lot of the things that they try to do. I am trying to do one thing as well, but it might take some time. I am trying to learn a new slower one, which might help me in the long term. But sometimes that [particular] skill and that something new [that] you are trying before you try in the match you need to work even more in the nets. But at the same time, every bowler does something or the other.

The use of the angle, the crease, bluffing the batsman sometimes, changing the field; those sorts of things you have to be doing it. [...] There are a lot of bowlers who try to bowl round-arm if they have high-arm action. There are one or two deliveries, which [we] try to bowl round-arm, just to catch the batsman off-guard. And trying to do something different might take away one run.

While bowling in T20 cricket, getting one run in one ball is like a win for a bowler. [...] I really think that innovation is going to keep happening in T20 cricket because it is a great skill in cricket. [...] [In batting there are] reverse slaps, switch-hits. [It’s] outstanding some of the cricket out there ; hitting straight, hitting over the covers also. But then, switch-hit… who would have thought but things have come in and people like to see it.

On motivating young bowlers after they are taken for runs

Being a senior [...] I have spoken to a lot Umesh [Yadav]; Varun [Aaron] has just started coming in. I [would] tell Varun to just look after [himself] and being fit and do a lot of core work; whatever little before he wasn’t playing [since] he was injured. To Umesh I tell, always aim for bigger things because he can achieve bigger things. I really believe that don’t be satisfied by small things; achieve, aim more and try and achieve at that level. If you are going to aim [at] that level, you are going to keep working harder and harder.

As far as motivating them goes, I keep checking their body language. If I find body language is in trouble that’s when I go and talk to them. Otherwise, I don’t say much because they are also very professional and sometimes leaving them be [is better]. [...] People understand that they are going to go for runs, but at the same time having that positive body language it is very important.

For me as well, sometimes, it is difficult because it being [given] a responsibility when you go for runs, it is tough. [...] Sometimes you get frustrated. There are one or two balls I have bowled being frustrated, and then, bowl a bad ball. But most of the time, I keep telling myself make sure that the next ball is important. If you are going for runs, make sure minimize that boundary or six as much as you can. Sometimes, it is difficult, but I keep telling myself keep in control. I think right now, especially in the last couple of games, I have been more relaxed. Very relaxed.

On the art bowling in death overs and powerplay overs

I have been working with [TA] Sekar sir and Eric [Simons] about bowling. But at the same time, I also try to think about variations, etc. Batsmen are going to pick you if you have only one variation, so am trying to work on that as well as making sure to try and be in the stumps as much as possible. [...] I would have liked to take more wickets, but I am happy [being economical and contributing].

At the end of the day, being an all-rounder, being in the team, batting at No. 6 and 7 sometimes float [in the line-up] as well. My job is to bowl well; if I get wickets, fine. If I don’t get wickets, make sure I don’t go for too many runs. There are two or three games where I have gone for runs, which can happen too, I have accepted that. But apart from that, I have been economical as well. It is God’s grace that has been working well for me so far this season. Chipping in with a few crucial runs lower down the order is my job also being an all-rounder. [...] Making sure that I stay till the end if I can, and try and take risk when it’s necessary in batting.

When it comes to bowling, my job is to make sure that first I don’t give that many runs. If I get a wicket well and good, because there are other bowlers there attacking and taking wickets as well. Sometimes your role changes as well, but it is always good to get wickets.
I want to make sure that I help my team in whatever little way that I can.

On whether he aims for wickets or a low economy rate

If I am bowling my first over with the new ball [then I] try and get wickets. And then obviously, when I am bowling in the middle overs or above ten, I make sure that I try and look for economy. [...] My job is to make sure that I bowl well. If I get wickets, well and good. If I don’t, I make sure that I don’t go for runs. I don’t mind shifting the job as well, try to be more aggressive. [...] But you have to make sure whatever team and captain requires from you be ready for the job.

On which format is most difficult

Test match is difficult. In terms of endurance, […] you have to go on for a long time. [...] So mentally and physically you get tired in that sense. [...] You have to bowl one line and batsmen won’t create difficulties. But I love bowling long spells and swinging the ball because you get to do a lot of things with the fingers. You use your fingers with the ball and swing the balls and do variations. Sometimes you tend to take one step back in T20 cricket and don’t use those fingers that much in terms of swing, but [bowl] slower balls, etc […]. In One-day cricket, you need to have to bowl two or three spells, but at the same time it goes till fifty overs. Each of the formats have some or the other challenges. But I just love playing cricket, doesn’t matter what format; I just want to keep playing. Each has one or two difficult things, but you have to be ready for everything if you want to be a professional international cricketer.

On whether bowlers play a bigger role in Twenty20

Yes, I really believe that the bowling unit is most crucial unit in any team. The batsmen are there and they will do the job; [that is] they [will] always hit. Nothing to take away from them because it’s a skill, [and] you need the skills to hit big shots or innovations and to be changing gears as well. [...] Bowling has become more important unit in T20 game. If you have five bowlers and they are doing their job, your team is going to do well more often than not. Even if you have skillful bowlers or bowlers who can do the basic things as well as some innovation at the right time in the right overs in right number of balls, you know you will do well; which is very important because the less runs on the board, the better it is for the batsman to chase it down.

Lots of people thought it is a batsman’s game. It is a batsman’s game, but that makes it even better for the bowlers to come good and feel more important.

On the challenge of bowling to RCB’s Chris Gayle and AB de Villiers

I am looking forward to that challenge because they have been wonderful cricketers. The way Gayle hits and the way de Villiers is batting… He is batting in the form of his life the way he is hitting [and] timing the ball. The way he took apart Dale Steyn in one over, not many batsmen could do that.

[...] I love challenges. I don’t mind bowling against the best batsmen. I have done that for a few years. I love that challenge.
I am excited about the game tomorrow.
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