Siddarth Kaul is very much a product of the IPL, his consistent performances for Sunrisers Hyderabad even helping him graduate to the national team. Here, he talks about sharing the dressing room with Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah, learning from Zaheer Khan and Ashish Nehra, and much else - including, first, that red headband.
What's the story behind your headband?
There is no story as such. Someone [his guru] who I admire, (who has) taught me many things in life, told me that I should wear this. So I started wearing it and it started getting lucky for me. I started from domestic cricket, with a white band in days-cricket. That clicked it, and then he told me I should wear a red band. So it's nothing like some story behind it.
You have now shared the Indian dressing room with Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah. What have you learnt?
When I talk to Bhuvi and Bumrah, it's all about consistency, and it's all about your thinking. Make a simple plan; you don't have to show that you can bowl this ball, that ball or any other ball. You just have to make sure [to know] the team is playing against which players and what are their weak points. Just keep on bowling those areas. Because, in international cricket, there is very less margin for error. You have to just keep on thinking how you have to bowl to the batsman. Bhuvi and Bumrah's experience helped me a lot when I was bowling with them.
"I was playing my second game for Sunrisers Hyderabad. Mahi bhai was playing for Pune Warriors. In the last over, they required 11 runs. He made the runs, but I made him play till the last ball. That was the biggest thing for me at the time because Mahi bhai is a player who can finish it in two balls. So I can say that I extended him till the last ball - it was a proud moment for me."
Bowling with them could have a disadvantage - batsmen might want to play them out and attack you. How do you adjust to that
It's always a little bit of pressure. But I take it in a good way because if you click, you will be recognised as well. So it's all part and parcel of the game. It is a job for me. I have to give my best for my country. Sometimes it clicks, sometimes it doesn't. I don't take it any other way. If somebody is trying to hit me, it's not bad. If I get him out, then it's a bonus.
When somebody is trying to attack you, how do you maintain your calm?
It's important to keep thinking about the processes and basics I was doing in the nets. I will not think about what he [the batsman] is going to do - if I don't execute a yorker, he will hit me for a six, or if I don't execute a slower one, he will hit me for a four or a six or whatever. I just keep a positive mind that I have to execute it, rest we will see what happens. I don't have to think about the result.
What are the variations you use in the death overs?
A yorker, a good slower one, a good knuckle ball. I have been working on the slower bouncer as well.
You have also taught Sandeep Sharma the knuckle ball - how did you pick it up?
I was watching in 2011 when Zak pa [Zaheer Khan] was bowling. He is my mentor and he taught me a lot of things during my recent interactions with him and some net sessions. So I was watching that 2011 game where he bowled the knuckle ball to Mike Hussey, he got him bowled. That time I saw it but I was not sure if I would be able to execute it. Then, two-three seasons back, I was bowling knuckle balls in the nets and in domestic cricket. And when I came over here [Sunrisers Hyderabad], I was bowling it in matches, I was trying to execute that ball and, touch wood, it was executing really well. Then I became confident and I kept bowling it in the IPL.
"There should be no free-hits. For a no-ball you can give two runs but no free-hit, because they are already waiting to hit you. Free-hits make bowlers nervous."
When did you first interact with Zaheer?
In 2013-14, when I was just coming into the Ranji circuit and he was with the Mumbai team. They won that match, but I learnt a lot of things from him and from that time we've kept talking. In the last six months, I've had many bowling sessions with him and whenever I feel I have to talk to someone, I go to him or Ashish Nehra. I keep talking to those people and they have helped me a lot in my bowling.
What specific things have you focused on when it comes to Zaheer?
Just basics. We were not doing special deliveries or anything like that. How to make your body work towards your bowling, how to make all your muscles work towards your bowling action, how do you work your bowling action into your speed, how do you bring your run-up into your bowling action - all those things. I would say after that six-month period when I was bowling with the Indian team, it was very different, what I was feeling. And some of the batsmen told me 'you have changed your pace' and 'your ball is moving a little bit more as compared to earlier'.
When it comes to bowling at the death, is there someone you look up to?
I don't look up to any particular bowler, I always watch every bowler: who is bowling in the death overs, who is bowling in the middle-overs or who is bowling at the start. So I keep grabbing everything what they are successful at, and see how they are doing those things. And how they were consistent in that particular game or in those particular years and how they became legends. So I watch Shami bhai [Mohammed Shami], I watch Bhuvi, I watch Bumrah. And whenever I am free, I just watch Brett Lee's bowling. He is a very good friend of mine and I keep on talking to him as well.
But if there is someone I love to watch, it is Bhuvi. Because he's like me, he's slim like me, his action is like my action. I keep talking to him and think about how he is always one step ahead of the batsman.
Is there any one thing Bhuvneshwar has told you that has really made sense?
He has never taught me something that would make me go "oh!". What I feel is his aura. His calmness, his easiness. When he is bowling he is the same, when he is sitting out he is the same. How he sustains so much, how he is so relaxed, how stable he is in his bowling and normal life as well. I keep on grabbing those things so that makes me calmer when I am bowling in those situations.
And what have you discussed with Brett Lee?
In the Asia Cup [last year], we met and we discussed a lot of things. How the field should be, how you should be thinking, don't think about international cricket too much…because of what I was going through, I was asking him questions. He said it will happen. One day you will click and then you will say, 'oh, I belong here.'
He told me to think about what made me get here: my performances and hard work. He said, don't think you don't belong over here. Some day when you will click, you will automatically see you can easily bowl here.
How difficult is it bowling at the death as compared to in the middle-overs or at the start?
I think when you are bowling for your team, it's always a pleasure. It's always difficult in every aspect of the game. Because if you are bowling at the start, you get two fielders outside the ring. And when you are bowling in the slog [overs], the batsman is ready to hit you whichever ball you bowl. So it's all about your mindset, and what you are thinking and if you are one step ahead of the batsman.
So I would say it's not about the situation, it's all about yourself, your confidence. Give me the ball, I will bowl for you - I am that kind of a person. I have played all my cricket this way: give me the ball, I will give you wickets or save those runs for the team. Maybe sometimes I won't click, but I will try my 110%.
If the option is given to you, what stage of the match would you prefer bowling in?
I will bowl anywhere, I just want to bowl. I am talking to you because of my bowling. Whichever situation I get in front of me, I will keep on bowling because that's what has made me Sid Kaul.
Against Australia in a T20I recently, you bowled the 20th over. With nine needed, Glenn Maxwell hit you for a six and a four. What was going through your mind while bowling that over?
My plan was simple - that I have to execute the yorkers. The first three [two] balls, I bowled very good yorkers. Then the fourth [third] ball I bowled a yorker, he came forward and picked it up very well and hit it for six. It's all about what I was telling you. Sometimes you execute really well and sometimes the batsman executes better than you. It was not like I was not trying my best to save those nine runs. I was giving my 110%, but sometimes he was one step ahead of me. That's why he could hit those runs.
You are bowling the 20th over of a chase with opposition's best batsman at the crease. How many runs do you think you can defend?
Ten or 11. I will try to do that. Recently, I was playing my second game for Sunrisers Hyderabad. Mahi bhai [MS Dhoni] was playing for Pune. In the last over, they required 11 runs. He made the runs, but I made him play till the last ball. That was the biggest thing for me at the time because Mahi bhai is a player who can finish it in two balls. So I can say that I extended him till the last ball - it was a proud moment for me.
If there were one batsman from past you want to dismiss, who would it be?
Matthew Hayden. He is the guy who is the strongest, looks-wise and batting as well. And he was a very different batsman, he would give you a fast bowler's aggression, like, 'come on, I will show you.' So it's like a give and take thing with him. He is that kind of batsman. I think I would have liked to get him out.
Who is the most difficult batsman to bowl to?
AB de Villiers and Virat Kohli. Because they can play you anywhere when they are on song. I think these two are the legends.
If you have to bowl to these two in the death overs, what would be your plan?
You should be good in your basics, and what your plans are, what the team requires and what your field is. If you execute the right ball to good batsmen, you will succeed. It's all about that day. If I don't execute, not just Kohli, but any batsman can hit me anywhere he wants to.
You have talked a lot about execution. What's the one dismissal that you remember as going perfectly to plan?
Rayudu bhai [Ambati Rayudu] in the first Eliminator against Chennai Super Kings last year. I bowled an outswinging yorker. So that was like a dream come true. In dreams you keep on thinking, I will bowl from middle stump and it will swing and it will get him out, bowled or edged-behind. I was willing to do that and executed it really well.
One new rule you would want introduced in the game?
There should be no free-hits. For a no-ball you can give two runs but no free-hit, because they are already waiting to hit you. Free-hits make bowlers nervous.
What have the inputs from the Sunrisers coaching set-up been like?
They have been very positive and very helpful for me. When I was not playing, they kept on telling me I am in the line and that I will get a chance, because others who have played international cricket were getting chances.
When I got a chance, they gave me ten matches. I performed and became a permanent member. Because of how I performed, next year they gave me a permanent spot. It's what I told you before - how you perform and how good you are for your team. That's important for me. For me that comes first, and then my name. That's what I feel. Name comes later, what I am wearing on my chest, that's more important. And they always tell us what the team requires.
What was your mindset like when you were sitting out?
I was just waiting for my chance. In 2017 IPL, Ashish bhai [Nehra] had told me, 'Siddarth, the day I don't play, you will play for sure.' Unfortunately, he tore his hamstring, and then he called me to his room and told me, 'see, I have done my hamstring, so you are playing'.
I told him that I didn't want a chance like that, 'I wanted to play with you, so I can get tips on where to bowl, what to do'. He said, 'don't worry, I have seen you in the nets, you are bowling very well; keep doing that and don't think about anything else.'
So those words, that belief and the good hearts of senior players like Ashish bhaiyya, Zak pa, those people are like legends, they are something else. They don't think, 'he's playing and I am not playing'. They are like - give him a chance. So that made me feel very good.