May 16, 2015

'I've always enjoyed the shorter format the most'

International T20 freelancer Johan Botha talks about the IPL, the Sheffield Shield, and having lost interest in playing in South Africa

"I'm just going to focus on short-format cricket around the world" © Getty Images

You were rejected at February's IPL auction, but belatedly recruited by Kolkata Knight Riders a month later.
It was a major boost in the end. Obviously, like any player does, I had some hopes, but I wasn't picked up at the auction. I thought that was that, I would just play out the rest of the Australian summer and then go home, to South Africa, in early April for about six weeks and then go over to the West Indies for the Caribbean Premier League. It's good to be playing some cricket. Even if I don't play every game, I am getting in some good training sessions, to build up for the CPL.

You've now represented Rajasthan Royals, Delhi Daredevils and Kolkata Knight Riders. Has each experience been distinctly different?
In my first year with Royals, they had won the first IPL tournament the previous year, in 2008, which took a bit of pressure off them. Rajasthan were always the underdogs, with lesser-known Indian players and a few good international players huddled around Shane Warne. The Rajasthan mindset was always to upset the bigger teams, who had more cash, more support and more sponsors behind them.

Moving on to Delhi, that was probably the most difficult of the three IPL teams to be involved with. There was a lot of chopping and changing. As soon as they lost a couple of games, they would change the team. It shows in the poor results.

The Knight Riders franchise is the best I've been involved in. They are very stable and have obviously had some success, which calms guys down and shows they know what they can do. Look at last year, when they won two of the first seven matches and went nine straight to win the tournament. There have been some changes this season, with Shakib Al Hasan returning to Bangladesh to play Pakistan, and Sunil Narine has had some bowling issues. But Brad Hogg and I have stepped in well. Shakib is back now, so we will have to see how selection goes.

"In South Africa, all the guys want to do well in T20 cricket, so they can get to play in the Champions League T20 or the IPL. That's understandable. The rand is not very strong when it comes to the exchange rate"

You can relate to Narine and Saeed Ajmal's bans for illegitimate bowling actions. Have you seen their remodelled actions?
I can't really comment on Ajmal, because I've probably only seen two deliveries on television in passing - without slow-motion replays. I can speak more about Narine's action. We're team-mates at Kolkata and I can see that he has put in some good work. He is bowling beautifully again and is starting to regain some confidence. All the work he is putting in off the field is starting to play its part in match situations. It was a bit harsh for them to test him a second time. Obviously he has worked through that. I've offered him some advice but he knows what he needs to do. He is quality - and that's why teams want him in their line-up. Guys who can spin the ball both ways, with subtle variations, those are the guys you want to pick.

You are no longer captain of South Australia in first-class cricket. Is this your career now - a globetrotting T20 cricketer?
I've always enjoyed the shorter format the most. Going back a bit, three years ago, when Darren Berry [South Australia coach] asked me to go over to South Australia, I really wanted to take that chance. I did not want to sit at home in ten years' time and think, "I should have done it." Another reason was to see if I could give my first-class cricket a full, final go - to see where I could get to, what I could get out of it. I thoroughly enjoyed those three years of Shield cricket in Australia. It was a great challenge - and some of the best first-class cricket I have been involved in.

As the seasons went on and they said they did not need me any longer, I thought it was a good time to explore the T20 options more and more. I did not want to leave it until I was 36 or 37 years old. Aged 33 now, there are still a few more years of T20 cricket left in me, maybe even some one-day cricket. Those will be the formats I will concentrate on from here on in.

"Kolkata Knight Riders is the best franchise I've been involved in. They are very stable" © BCCI

Are you happy with the appointment of Travis Head as your successor at South Australia?
I think it was a big, brave decision to appoint Travis. They asked me about it and I said they should appoint him. If it goes really well, you have a skipper who can do it for the next eight or so years. It's no good just giving the captaincy to one of the senior players for a year and then moving on to another. It's not good when the captaincy keeps changing hands. We had a good stretch of momentum going, but there are other teams also getting better. Before I got there, they had only won one Shield game in three years, so it can be turned around. They can go further than being one wicket away from a Shield final, like we were in recent seasons. The key is the senior players in the whole situation. They need to drive the show.

Are you picky about the T20 franchises you join, or do you accept the first offer received?
Playing for teams like Knight Riders or Trinidad & Tobago Red Steel in the CPL - those decisions are made for you, via the auction or late approach. The same can't be said for me joining the Sydney Sixers in the Big Bash League. In Australia, there are probably three teams I could play for. I've always liked the way the Sixers play. They've been a very good team for a very long time. They are always there and thereabouts when it comes to the playoffs. I've always enjoyed playing against them too. It's probably just the Sydney Sixers deal that has been my own decision.

"Sunil Narine is bowling beautifully again and is starting to regain some confidence. All the work he is putting in off the field is starting to play its part in match situations"

You'll be joined by fellow South Africans Jacques Kallis and Cameron Delport at Trinidad & Tobago Red Steel for the CPL. Have you weighed up the rest of the squad?
On paper, they are a well-balanced side. They've got some really good West Indian cricketers in there. Samuel Badree has been really good in the shortest format for a long time. Three of the international players will be toward the top of the order, and there is Kamran Akmal, as a solid wicketkeeper-batsman. Hopefully I can slot into the middle order after Darren and Dwayne Bravo. Red Steel have been there and thereabouts at the business end of the tournament. I think they've made it to the semi-finals each year but not gone further. Our first goal will be to get into the playoffs again, and hopefully on the day we will get it right and get into the final in my first CPL.

England's NatWest T20 Blast is missing from your résumé.
I would love to get involved in that. The rules are against you if you have not played international cricket in the last two years. I have heard whispers that they might relax those rules around the visas, where anyone from around the world can be signed. I'm obviously outside that window because I've been away from international cricket for almost three years. I had one season with Northamptonshire in the past and I'd love to go back to the United Kingdom to play cricket if those rules are relaxed. It's one of my favourite places to play the game.

"Sheffield Shield cricket stands out from the rest. That is the competition that all players in Australia want to win" © Getty Images

A South Africa recall seems increasingly unlikely.
Russell Domingo [South Africa coach] has made it clear that I have to play cricket in South Africa if I wanted to be considered. I've lost a bit of interest now, though. We've settled, as a family, in Australia. We are probably about 14 or 15 months away from applying for citizenship. It has never been about me trying to play for Australia or anything like that. It has just been about us living there and for our children to have more options when they grow up. Cricket-wise, I'm just going to focus on short-format cricket around the world. That's going to simplify things.

Are you one of the most qualified to comment on the state of first-class cricket in Australia versus South Africa?
The biggest thing for me is how Sheffield Shield cricket stands out from the rest. That is the competition that all players in Australia want to win. It's even close to being bigger than the Big Bash League. It's about the players' mindsets - they want to do well in the Shield to play Test cricket for Australia. In South Africa, though, all the guys want to do well in T20 cricket so they can get to play in the Champions League T20 or the IPL. It's a real boost for South Africans, money-wise, to get to play in tournaments like the IPL. That's understandable, though. The rand is not very strong when it comes to the exchange rate. The Australian guys get paid very well and get looked after very well, even in age-level cricket.

The one thing that has changed in Australia over the last two years is the change in domestic one-day cricket, which is now played in a tournament style. When I first came to Australia, you'd play a Shield game and then have a day off - and then play a one-day game before going home. The same applied when you played at home. That was great - to play a one-day game at the WACA, Gabba, SCG or MCG. But in the last two years the Matador Cup has just been held in Brisbane and Sydney, at club venues.

Are you in favour of the recent introduction of a Cricket Australia XI, made up of uncontracted players, to the Matador Cup?
Having spoken to a couple of senior Australian players and Trevor Bayliss, they're not too sure about it yet. While picking two or three rookies from every state for this CA squad shows initiative, we might see two or three players from existing squads not getting much game time - but the guys in the CA squad get seven or eight solid domestic one-day games. It is always good to get new teams involved, though. Seven teams is good to work with - more than that and the tournament drags on for more than a month. We will see how it goes. At least it isn't just a case of Cricket Australia sitting back and letting things happen.

Jonhenry Wilson is a cricket writer for Cricket365, SA Cricket magazine and TEAMtalk Media, among others