Interview: Sohail Tanvir December 16, 2007

Quick learner

Armed with a quirky action, Sohail Tanvir has swung his way from obscurity to the big league in three months. Nagraj Gollapudi spoke to him

Sohail Tanvir announced himself to the world with his unusual action during the Twenty20 World Cup. An unknown from Rawalpindi in Pakistan, Tanvir has since adapted to big-time cricket, impressing in the one-day series in India last month, and earning himself a call-up for the Tests that followed. He tells Cricinfo his story so far.



Tanvir: from tape-ball to top drawer © AFP

How did it all start for you?
I started playing cricket even before I started studying. We are four brothers and two sisters. The cricket started in the Jhand Chichi mohalla [neighbourhood] where we lived, and it was my favourite pastime to play tape-ball cricket - with my brothers first, and then with other kids.

How much of a role did tape-ball cricket play in your game?
Seventy per cent of my cricket has been played with the tape ball. Unfortunately, I don't have the time for it anymore.

I was popular for my batting in tape-ball cricket. I was a big hitter. Batting in that form is just hitting, there are hardly any singles and doubles. I had a lot of fun playing it and I was fond of setting up a challenge with the bowler where I would tell him that I would hit a six off him and then do so. My aim was basically to hit a six every ball. And mostly, on an average, I would come out the winner.

What sort of impact did it have on your bowling?
As a fast bowler in tape-ball cricket you have to use all your strength to deliver it fast. That's why Pakistan has produced a lot of fast bowlers. So by the time you start bowling with a proper cricket ball, you're already delivering at a good pace.

As a batsman your reflexes get sharper because the ball comes at you really fast and you've to react really fast.

You also bowl left-arm spin. How come?
When I was young I was primarily a batsman in mohalla cricket and then in school. But when I started playing at the club level I started bowling on pitches which are usually broken and unprepared. So I started to bowl spin, and I used to get sharp spin. I bowled spin in the Patron's Trophy, grade II.

So how did the transformation into a fast bowler happen?
The pitches in Pakistan at first-class level are normally in favour of fast bowlers, so the spinner hardly has a chance of prospering. In a squad of 15 there's one spinner and he'll play just a handful of games in a season. To add to it, there were many senior left-arm spinners who were competing for a place, so I felt I had no chance. My grade two coach, Sabi Azhar, who knew about my tape-ball skills, encouraged me to start bowling fast. I did so during a national team camp and troubled quite a few batsmen. I didn't have any understanding of swing; I just charged in and tried bowling as fast as possible. Then I went for the first-class trials three years back and got lucky. That was how my career as a fast bowler started.

You have a fairly unique action. Did you develop it that way on purpose?
Not at all. I don't think you can develop an action as tricky as mine. Right from the tape-ball days I've always had this action, so it's natural. Yes, others have always told me how difficult my action is to pick, but I would tell them that it's just normal, like others. When I saw videos of myself, I realised the difference.

We believe Aaqib Javed, your PCB academy coach, recommended you to people in the know as one for the future?
In the domestic season last year I scored good runs and got around 33 wickets in seven matches. Then against a Bangladesh academy side I bowled well on pitches that were flat, and even if I didn't take wickets, I impressed the coach. Within ten days of my return I was heading for England to play league cricket, but at the same time there was a camp conducted by Wasim bhai [Akram]. Aaqib bhai stopped me from going to England and asked me to attend the camp. He told me I had talent which I needed to develop. He felt Wasim bhai could help me develop my inswinger.

On the very first day of the camp, the very first ball, I bowled my natural outswing. Wasim bhai called me and showed me how to hold the ball for an inswinger. The very first ball after that, I bowled inswing. He was stunned. He told me how he himself had taken a long time to learn inswing. I still don't have control over it, but now I know the skill of how to deliver inswing. It takes time to develop a skill. I haven't had enough time to practise after joining the Pakistan squad from the World Twenty20.

In a matter of three months things have moved pretty fast for you. Have you felt under pressure at any time?
This is a unique thing: I haven't ever felt pressure. The confidence comes from playing tape-ball cricket - the intensity is the same as in India-Pakistan games! I would take the new ball in those games, so I was responsible for my team. That helped me.

I made my debut against India during the Twenty20 and didn't feel the pressure. The conditions were overcast and when I was brought in as one-change, I thought if I could find the swing, then no one would be able to play me. My first ball was delivered from wide of the crease to [Mahendra Singh] Dhoni and it swung away from him. I knew then that I could do it. My main strength is confidence.

Any spells or deliveries you will cherish?
In the Twenty20 the three wickets against Australia, in one-dayers the four against India [in Jaipur] and in Tests the three in the first innings in Delhi.

The best balls would be the one with which I bowled [Sanath] Jayasuriya in the Twenty20, and then bowling Rahul Dravid at Feroz Shah Kotla in the first innings.

 
 
I haven't ever felt pressure. My confidence comes from playing tape-ball cricket - the intensity there is the same as in India-Pakistan games
 

The Dravid wicket was similar to how Wasim bhai got Dravid in 1999 [Chennai Test] - the only difference was he got reverse swing with the old ball and I did it with a semi-new ball. Dravid had hit me for a few fours with on-drives but I knew that if I could swing it in, I could get him. He was deceived by the length and the ball came in and I got my wicket.

How much of an influence has Geoff Lawson had?
He's been helping on the tactics front. I've played only about 20 first-class games, so I don't have much idea about strategies. He keeps sending messages during the game to help me plan out batsmen, and that has helped. I listen to everyone but pick the advice I feel will help me.

What are the major lessons you've learned so far in your short career?
It's too early to say anything, but having bowled on green pitches back home, where the ball swings all the time, and now to bowl on dead and flat pitches in both forms of the game is something I'm learning. I've started working on line and length, understanding the batsman's strengths and weakness, trying to read him and not allowing him to settle. This comes by talking with senior players. I have been a very quick learner always. The other thing is, I adapt fast.

I don't have enough pace. Even if I try I can stretch it to 140kph at the most maybe. My strength is my swing, and a successful bowler is one who knows his strengths.

I need to work on my temperament because I lose it very easily. If I beat the bat four or five balls in a row, I start thinking, "Why didn't he edge it? Why didn't he get bowled?" And when the batsman hits me for runs, I get angry at myself, but I'm learning to relax. I have the habit of making a comeback.

How much has your life changed in the last few months?
My mind is unable to accept that I've become a little special. I still follow the routines of going around with friends and hanging out at the old spots. My parents remind me that it's time to cut down on that, and that I should be responsible. But it takes a while.

I'm happy with what I'm doing with my game. I'm not satisfied, but I've exceeded people's expectations. No-one in Pakistan knew about me apart from the players. Critics thought sending an unknown to an event like the World Twenty20 ahead of some seniors was the wrong move, so there was pressure on me. But Alhamdulillah I've done well so far wherever I've played.

Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at Cricinfo