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'The knuckleball is proactive'

"Bowlers need to figure out what the batsmen are trying to do. I am always looking to develop something new - different methods of training, run-ups, varieties" BCCI

Andrew Tye has tricked several batsmen with his mastery of variations, particular the knuckleball, in T20 cricket. In his most recent performance - 4 for 16 against Mumbai Indians at the Wankhede - Tye ended up saving 18.92 runs and his smart economy of -0.73 was the second-best in IPL 2018. He's also the top wicket-taker this season with 24 wickets in 13 matches, including three four-wicket hauls. And the knuckle ball has been responsible for 12 of those wickets. He talks to ESPNcricinfo about his bag of tricks, aspirations to play Test cricket, and more.

How difficult is it for a bowler to stay ahead of the curve in T20s?
It certainly has its own challenges. Being able to adapt and read batsmen is the key. From whatever chats I have had with AB [de Villiers], he reacts and reads the mind of the bowlers. And that's probably the reason why he succeeds in T20 cricket. The same way the bowlers need to figure out what the batsmen are trying to do. I am always someone looking to develop something new or something different - whether different methods of training, something in the run-ups, different varieties.

Against Mumbai, the first ball you bowled was a knuckleball that snuck through the gate and bowled Evin Lewis. What's your method behind bowling this mad variation?
The knuckleball is a proactive option. I am doing everything I can to get the batsman out, or at least restrict him. I try to create pressure on the batsman and then get him out with the build-up of pressure. There are times when the knuckleball is a reactive thing, but it's largely about a proactive approach.

Many other bowlers are bowling the knuckleball this season. Is your mystery fading?
You just have to figure out what works for you and this season I have bowled it in different areas. I have gone a lot shorter and wider and tried different lengths to make it difficult for the batsmen. If the batsman still picks the change-up, then he still has to hit it and manufacture his own pace. One little mistake and the ball misses the middle of the bat by inches and ends up hitting the top of the bat. So there are some things in your favour as a bowler in T20 cricket and some things against you. You have to keep learning and developing it.

"Zamps asked me: 'AJ, do you know how much you went for in the IPL auction?' I almost fell down when he said I had gone for US$1.4 million"

Have you been imparting these skills to the younger crop at Kings XI?
I have been trying to help the lads here as much as I can. Some of them have different variations, while some of them can't even bowl the knuckleball as they can't bend their fingers and knuckle enough. I have shared ideas of other variations. The bowlers have had a tough time this season. Knowledge sharing will be part of going into next year's stint and we try and let them have an impact in the competition.

Apart from the knuckleball, what are your other variations?
I can bowl offcutters. One such ball got KKR's Sunil Narine, and I can recall bowling some back-of-the-hand legbreaks to Virat Kohli. There is a proper legcutter too and I have tried the split-finger variation to Karun Nair at the Kings XI nets. Just have to try different things on different pitches and explore.

Your fluorescent orange socks were quite a hit in the Big Bash. Are you the style icon of your team?
Not really. It brought some success in the nets and I started using them in the matches. I like adding colourful socks to my collection. See now, I'm wearing an LA Lakers socks. If it brings a smile on somebody's face, it's worth it.

Did hitting a million dollars at the IPL auction earlier in January bring a smile to your face?
Well, we had just finished the fifth ODI against England, at the new Perth Stadium. The post-match presentation was done and I was just walking back to my change room. Zamps [Adam Zampa] was walking with me and asked me: "AJ, do you know how much you went for in the IPL auction?" I told him I'll find out later. I put my arm around him and fortunately I did because I almost fell down when Zamps said I had gone for US$1.4 million. I said "no way!" and did not even believe him. I was in a different frame of mind. I didn't even ask who I was sold to. With my hometown being Perth, my mum and dad were around, as was my girlfriend. I gave my girlfriend a big hug and asked her if $1.4 million is true. She said yes too (laughs). Then she told me I was sold to Kings XI Punjab. That was some story.

Life must have been different when you weren't a professional cricketer?
That was just a different part of my life. I had tried to play professionally in the UK in my early days, trialled with a couple of counties, and even moved there for 18 months. I had also laid pitches for my club team Scarborough. When I got home, I didn't have a job and literally two hours after landing, I was offered a job of preparing wickets. I was told I have to start off at 5am next morning. I said, "Phew! I just got off the plane, so can we make it 7am?" From there, I went to the Western Australia trials.

How did you impress Justin Langer at Western Australia?
I grew up playing in Scarborough, which is also JL's club. I had played a few grade games with him before he eventually became my coach. I had, and I have, a great relationship with him and he got me to bowl to the Perth Scorchers one day. That day I was slapped with a speeding fine, I remember clearly. I was just too eager to get there. I did not really worry about anything and just intended to have fun. I was bowling in the nets to Simon Katich, Mike Hussey, Marcus North and Herschelle Gibbs. Maybe JL was impressed. He was trying to build a developmental squad and many from grade cricket made it.

You returned to England, again, for a stint with Gloucestershire. Your team-mate there, Benny Howell is another fine exponent of the knuckleball. Do you guys swap notes?
Benny is a great lad and he has looked at techniques used by pitchers in baseball to develop his knuckleball. I always enjoy having a chat with Benny about slower balls. He tends to cover up the ball when he runs in whereas I don't do that. Maybe I will try to take it from Benny and look at the option in the future. I always feel when I run in with the ball in my other hand, I don't have much success. I now prefer holding the ball in my bowling hand. It maybe something I need to develop. I can't wait to join up with him soon in the T20 Blast.

What's it like bowling to big hitters like Chris Lynn in the nets and then playing against him?
It's a huge challenge. I bowl to him in the Australia nets but we're pitted against each other at the BBL and IPL. You try to understand where he's strong and where he's not and see what works in that contest at nets and apply it when you're against him in other T20 competitions. It's always a learning experience to bowl at guys like Lynn in the nets.

One of your Australia team-mates, Billy Stanlake, is working towards breaking into the Test team. Do you see a similar path for yourself as well?
I'd love to. Test cricket has always been a dream of mine since I was a child. Whether that happens or not, I understand now my specific skill sets are more suited to white-ball cricket. But I still harbour hopes of playing Test cricket for Australia. Cricket is a funny game and anything can happen at any point. I'll just keep working on it and see what happens.