As the willow wielders look to hit the ball out of the park, containing them, especially in the death is a tough job. And it is the experienced campaigners in the teams who seem to specialise in that area that requires high skills.
One such bowler is Dirk Nannes, in the Yellows of Chennai Super Kings for this Pepsi Indian Premier League season. The fast-bowler, who by his own admission, once enjoyed the pressure of bowling in the death overs is still working out strategies to counter the batsmen as they try to clobber the bowling. The left-arm pacer confesses, “batsmen are getting so much better that we have to keep improving all the time”.
The bowler who had once kept Glenn McGrath out of the playing XI in one of the earlier editions while representing another team spoke to iplt20.com about outsmarting the batters and turning out for CSK, in a free flowing chat at the Feroz Shah Kotla, ahead of the match against the Delhi Daredevils.
While discussing the team’s bowling, Nannes who is impressed with the young blood in the team showered high praise on Ankit Rajpoot and especially his ability to bowl yorkers.
Excerpts from the interview:
Is death bowling an area of concern for CSK?
We have had a couple of good games and bad games as well. It is pretty hard bowling to Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers, they are freaks at what they do and it is very difficult to defend against people like that when they are going so well. In the PWI game, Steve Smith had a great day out and he hit the ball everywhere and it is difficult to plan bowling to someone like that (because) he is so inventive. You think you know exactly what to do and he finds a way to beat you.
What are the plans for countering the concern?
We have got to get better at execution. I think the times when we have gone for the yorkers we have not hit it properly. The times that we have gone for a wide line we have been a bit inside. When we have gone for the bouncer we haven’t been short enough. Execution is one thing and that is what you have to work at training but also (need to be) thinking clearly when we are under the pump. I think we have been a bit undecided in the way we want to go about it. We have had a talk about that and I am sure everyone is going to come out there and do a lot better the next time. And then you have to realise that some days you come out there and for some reason, no matter how much you have trained, you just can’t hit the yorker for the life of you and that happens. People have good days and people have bad days; you can’t put a finger on why that happens. We have had a few games where the bowling unit has been exceptional. We had one or two games where we have been wayward. I still think we were okay against RCB but against PWI we didn’t have a great performance going.
What’s your take on the young Indians pacers in the team, Ankit Rajpoot and Imtiyaz Ahmed and others?
I am impressed with the guys in our squad. We played a few practice games and some of their skills have been outstanding. There are still parts of the game that they need to learn and they are learning it quickly. Particularly in a group like ours where there are so many experienced heads, they learn quickly and I am sure that if they get a chance they will do well. The guys that have come in, they have bowled pretty well. Rajpoot, in our practice games, was outstanding in bowling yorkers. It was just phenomenal how well he was bowling them. These guys have got good skill and good pace. Mohit (Sharma) bowled pretty well the other night. He has been pretty impressive with his change outs and everything. The guys are playing well and unfortunately you can’t fit everyone into the team.
So do they have a shot at playing for India?
Why not? It’s difficult to say because every squad has good players and how these guys stack up against the guys from other teams, who are not quite getting a game yet, will have to be seen. But they certainly have a lot of potential with them.
Talk us through your IPL journey.
For me it has been a long journey because I have been to three franchises now. I think that the overall package of the IPL has improved in terms of the professionalism in the way it is run. I think it just comes from doing it for five years. People are getting better at what they do because they are learning from their mistakes
The quality of cricket has improved markedly. Some players (who have been playing in the IPL regularly) are now quality players. Where earlier they probably wouldn’t have got a game with overseas competition, now they know they thoroughly deserve to be in the team. And I love the IPL and it’s the best tournament of the year for me. It’s great fun to be here, the people are fantastic and cricket is good.
As a traveling T20 cricketer how do you cope with different conditions you encounter in the various countries?
It is a difficult one to answer. Everywhere you go there is so much (cricket and so different). I think it is all about learning quickly and about how to adapt to different conditions. The more cricket you play, the more you get used to the different facilities and different wickets. For me, for example, on a slower wicket I know what works for me and I know what works on a fast wicket. And I think that is what you learn with experience and playing in some of these different conditions all the time. You just know your game better and that is probably the biggest thing you learn of all those different environments.
After impressing with raw pace initially, you have developed other aspects in your bowling. How has that come about?
I think the problem is that the batsmen are getting so much better that we have to keep improving. I remember back in the first year of the IPL, I always used to think, ‘give me nine overs to defend to the death and I will win it every time’. Now 15 (odd runs) is suddenly easily gettable in the last over so. It is just a completely different mentality now and the batsmen have got better at playing all sorts of bowling. I remember the first time I came here, the sort of the younger Indian players would be the 9th, 10th and 11th to be picked. You would be able to come and just bowl short at them but now the Indians are getting so much better at playing short bowling that no longer is that a weapon that you can use all the time. Regardless (of everything) you have to adapt, and some bowlers are doing it differently now. Some bowl slower bouncers, some people are great at bowling a lot of different variety, some just try and use real pace. The batsmen are getting better so the bowling is getting better as a result and it is hard work. What makes the IPL so good is that you are playing in front of so many people, from so many walks of life though we are all working on the game in a different way.
Do left-arm pacers have a distinct advantage?
We still have an advantage for sure, but not as big as it used to be? Maybe not, but like I said batsmen are getting better.
How often how you experienced batsman shuffle in modern day cricket to negate swing?
All the time! You get people moving around all the time. That’s another thing that batsman are getting better with as well. It used to be so, batsmen always move one way and you follow them and then you bowl a dot ball. That has changed now. People move both ways on the crease and they are getting better and as result we have got to get better as well.
Now that even the yorker doesn’t guarantee to be an unplayable delivery, has the pressure on bowlers increased?
The big thing is to come up with some new way to try and bowl a dot. If you bowl one you are winning the battle so the whole idea is to try and find a way that you can bowl and win each ball and then try to string a lot of those together.
What is the key in blending pace and swing?
That is just purely your bowling action. It is natural. You either swing it or you don’t. It is pretty difficult to teach someone to swing a ball if they haven’t got the natural action ... Sometimes you can try and bowl too quick and it doesn’t swing, But then a lot of people who can swing the ball are often guilty of trying to swing it too much and get clobbered as a result because they bowl too full, they try and get greedy. It is just a matter of hitting the pitch and for me as a fast bowler my job is to hit the pitch as hard as I can and that’s all I try and do. If I hit the pitch hard with the thought process of trying to break in a hole in the wicket, every time then that’s kind of work for me and if you can try and bowl swing in the mean time… great.
Do you bowl to pick wickets or contain runs?
They are very different bowlers. They have a very different mentality. I have never actually gone for wickets. I am always a bowler who has always tried to bowl a dot or one that’s my mentality the whole time and wickets come as a result of that. I am not trying to blast a batsman out on first ball, I am trying to bowl a dot, dot, dot and then try and get them to play a stupid shot.
What’s the secret to bowling successfully in death overs?
There is no secret to it. I am just trying to think one step ahead of what the batsman is trying to do. My idea is to get the batsman to hit where I want him to hit it. That’s all I am trying to do. If I know that a batsman is great at hitting the ball to the leg side I am not going to bowl him a ball that he can hit to the leg side.
It is all about knowing what the batsman is trying to do at the other end and trying to keep one step ahead of him. That is especially important to me as a left-arm fast bowler, Generally speaking I will bowl with my mid-on up because I know that is damn hard to hit me over mid-off and I will bowl balls to make sure that I don’t get hit there. A lot of people think what kind of a bowler wants to bring the man in from the outfield, but for me it is automatic; mid-off is always up for me generally speaking. That is something that had worked for me.
As a young fast bowler you have to work out what your strength is, and most importantly, what the batsman’s strength is and bowl the ball to make sure that the batsman is hitting it the way you want him to him to. It’s not about trying to bowl your best ball all the time. If your best ball is the bouncer but the batsman’s best shot is the hook you are not going to win that battle, particularly on small grounds here in India. Maybe in Australia where they have got an 80-meter boundary, you can do that. You just have to do what is best for the team at the time that you are bowling to that particular batsman. Until people know their game inside out it is very difficult to use a cookie-cutter approach and say everyone should try and do this. It doesn’t work like that.