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He talks the way he bats. Simple and to the point. No half measures, no holds barred; Dwayne Smith made batting look easy at the Eden Gardens on Wednesday. Boundaries and sixes flew off his bat with the same kind of swiftness off that of an arrow released from an archer’s bow. None of the KKR bowlers except Sunil Narine were able to curtail Smith who pummeled the ball to different parts of the ground with utter disdain. Mind you, he was playing only his third game this year in the IPL.
A match winning half century and Smith was a man full of confidence, with the only regret that he could not finish the game. In this exclusive chat with IPLT20.com, Smith speaks about his approach to T20s and his fearless style of stroke play.
Just your third game this season, you seemed to have enjoyed your knock today?
Yes I thoroughly relished my stay at the crease. We came here with three wins and three losses and we really needed to get a win under our belt and build some momentum from here. It is good to get a win and I really enjoyed myself today.
What was the message given to you in the dressing room when you walked out to chase 160?
(Laughs) Nothing at all. I think my message to myself was to go there and believe in myself, get in and do what I want; because I knew they won’t be able to stop me that easy. I am the kind of guy who believes in doing what I know best. Today I just thought, I had to give my team a good start and I did it.
Opening the batting with Sachin Tendulkar, did he give you advices in the middle?
I have opened with Sachin before as well. He has always been encouraging me and has been a very good team player. He gives advices that help me in the end. I am glad to be opening with a guy like him.
You developed a liking towards Iqbal Abdulla scoring 31 off 19 against him. Was it a plan to target him, considering Sunil Narine and Sachithra Senanayake were more challenging to play?
I did not target any bowler. My plan was to get as much as possible from any bowler bowling to me, apart from Sunil Narine, because he was the one who was taking the wickets for them. Eventually I gave away my wicket to him which was disappointing. I should have batted on and tried to get the side home.
But obviously, you had a better idea of Narine, since you both play for West Indies.
I have not faced Narine in the nets much when we played together for West Indies. It is just that I had the confidence today that I would do well against any bowler. I just backed myself to do the job for the team and I am glad we ended up on the winning side.
Chris Gayle is in monstrous form. Keiron Pollard is one of the mainstays for MI and now you have got going. What is with West Indies and the big hitters?
I think it is just the way we play our cricket. We are fearless and it is good to see that the West Indians are doing well in this IPL and I hope that we continue to do it till the end of the tournament.
How difficult is it to sit out for a few matches and then perform well when you are asked to?
It is nothing new to me. I have been accustomed to it. I just keep myself motivated and stay positive all the time. My plan is to become more consistent with my scores and get Mumbai Indians winning games. I want to score a lot of runs and help the side win the competition.
Sometimes, a mentor-student relationship goes beyond the confines of the teach-and-learn boundary, becoming the ground of mutual sharing of knowledge. This happens when a master of the previous era meets the champion of the present times.
The coming together of Waqar Younis and Dale Steyn has created a similar setting in the Sunrisers Hyderabad camp. Younis, that incredible pioneer of the art of reverse swing and one-half of the greatest fast bowling pair of the 1990s, advices the best and most complete fast bowler in the world today.
From India’s point of view, this pair of coach and senior fast bowler of the team proves to be most advantageous to Ishant Sharma. While his talent has never been in doubt, his international numbers don’t do justice to the gift he possesses.
Younis explains two of his premier pacers at Sunrisers:
Unity in diversity
The Sunrisers bowling coach feels the varied styles of his main pacers has troubled the opposition batsmen this season.
“When it comes to our pacers, they’re not only from different countries but are also different types of bowlers. Ishant is tall and can generate bounce while Steyn swings the ball at pace and Perera can bowl the wide yorker and the slower one well with his slingy action. That blend of different styles makes us an even better side. The batsman is already struggling against Steyn and then he has to face a ball delivered by Ishant from eight feet high.”
Younis then spoke elaborately about Steyn and Ishant
Fast, fit and a unanimous favourite
What makes Steyn special? Waqar Younis reckons it’s not only his abilities with the cricket ball
“I have been watching Steyn since he played his first game for South Africa but this is the first time that I have met him. I have been a big fan. Not only me but everyone in the cricket world loves him for the way he plays the game. That’s not only because of his bowling but other things that he brings onto the table.
“His fitness is the key behind his success. Also, he likes to talk. He’s amazing when he talks to the coaches and youngsters alike. He participates and shows interest in all the team matters. That’s one reason why the team is doing so well. The fact that we have mutual admiration and respect towards each other, makes it easier for us to talk about certain things and it works really well for the team.”
An all-time great
Where does Younis, a great fast bowler himself, place Steyn in the pantheon of greats?
“I don’t want to offend anyone because there have been some seriously great bowlers in the last four-five decades that I can remember. We’ve had Imran Khan, Kapil Dev, Dennis Lillee, Glenn McGrath, Wasim Akram, Michael Holding and so many big names.
“But Dale Steyn is definitely in the top three for me. And if he keeps going like this for the next two-three seasons, he’ll hit the top. Not many bowlers have swung the ball at his pace and have had his fitness.”
The unbridled admiration
The legend had no qualms in admitting he’s a big Steyn fan and working with him is a learning experience for him too.
“I’m glad that I met him and spoke to him about bowling. It’s not only him learning a thing or two from me but more of me getting knowledge from him. He’s an amazing athlete.
“If somebody wants to learn something from Steyn, just watch him bowl. He can bowl a 12-over spell of tearing pace with ease and then will go back and field with ease too. He’s a great man to have in a team, not only as a bowler but also as a person.”
The curious case
Ishant Sharma has disappointed those who expected great things off him after that spell to Ricky Ponting at Perth. His SRH coach, however, has faith in him.
“He is a very, very hard-working kid. He really wants to learn. He talks to you about his bowling and tries to get better each time. Fair enough, he hasn’t lived up to his potential up until now but he is on his way. I believe he will do well in the future.”
Younis cited the unhelpful pitches in India and a core group of fast bowlers to work with as the main reasons why Ishant hasn’t been able to establish himself at the highest level despite playing 50 Test matches.
“The first and the biggest reason are the slow pitches in India. They don’t suit his bowling style. He has played most of his 50 Test matches in India. When the team plays three spinners and one fast bowler, the pacer is not going to bowl much. On these flat pitches it’s hard to get wickets, not only for Ishant but for anyone.
“Even in Pakistan we have similar flat pitches but people like Wasim Akram, Shoaib Akhtar and myself always hunted in packs. We were two-three of us together and we used to gang up against the spin bowlers. When you’re the lone pacer, it becomes difficult to make the same impact.”
“Ishant is not express quick but he is tall and gets good bounce. When he goes overseas he’s a different bowler and bowls much better. But when you haven’t done enough at home, it is very difficult to go abroad and suddenly blast the opposition out. It can happen occasionally but not every time.”
Consistency and patience the key
Younis admits Ishant needs to increase his level of patience when bowling on the Indian tracks. That way he will not get desperate but keep trying something new and will bowl a string of good deliveries at the same batsman.
“That’s what we’re talking to him about and working on. We are telling him, ‘look, you have to chain the good deliveries together and bowl maybe four, five or six of them on the trot’. I think it has a lot to do with his action as well. He’s got a hard action and his height makes it even tougher for him. At times, he also tries to do too much when he doesn’t get wickets. We are trying to get him to bowl more good deliveries in a row.”
“He’s a tall bowler and so, his length is different from that of the other bowlers. I think he has to bowl a little short of a length to get that extra bounce. He’s not one of those who will be hitting the stumps all the time or getting lbws all the time. He’ll get you edges and get people caught off the glove. But for that, he needs to get the channel right and he is keenly working on it.”
Comparisons with Morkel unfair
While admitting their tall frame makes Ishant and Morne Morkel similar type of bowlers, Younis says the comparison should end there. He feels it is unfair to compare Morkel’s growth and success as a fast bowler and with Ishant’s lack of it because of the vast different in the conditions they both encounter at home.
“They are similar bowlers. But don’t forget that Morne Morkel has grown up on the South African pitches. He knows how to generate that extra bounce off those tracks. Plus, he is taller and a touch quicker than Ishant. Bring Morkel here and he will struggle. It’s not easy to bowl on these wickets as a fast bowler, trust me on that.”
Blast from the past
The current generation has embraced the Twenty20 format wholeheartedly. But Younis feels his generation of cricketers would have fared equally well in the shortest format.
“I would have succeeded (in T20 cricket). I enjoyed every bit of what I achieved in my career and I have no complaints. But I think a lot of guys from our era would have succeeded in this format. Shane Warne proved that in the first couple of IPL seasons. Our era has shown glimpses to this generation of cricketers that we wouldn’t have done too badly in this format as well. We had some seriously good cricketers in our era.”