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Dan Christian has unfinished IPL business

His record in the tournament, for four teams, has been middling, but on the back of his recent success as a hitter and finisher, he's looking to change that with RCB

Matt Roller
Matt Roller
Dan Christian: "All I'm really thinking about these days is just trying to win"  •  Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images

Dan Christian: "All I'm really thinking about these days is just trying to win"  •  Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images

Dan Christian's most recent IPL game was a stinker. Brought into the Delhi Daredevils side after two weeks on the bench, he managed 7 not out off nine balls from No. 7, strangled by the Sunrisers Hyderabad's pace-off options. In the chase, the Sunrisers needed 14 to win at the start of the final over. Christian was whacked for a six and a four by Yusuf Pathan, finishing with figures of 0 for 37 as the game was lost with a ball to spare. He was promptly dropped, and at 35 it seemed as though his unfulfilled IPL career had come to a subdued end.
Three years later Christian is back, with success on the global short-form circuit under his belt - including four trophies. He was signed for Rs 4.8 crore (US$657,000 approx) by the Royal Challengers Bangalore in last month's IPL auction and is looking to add a tenth title to his T20 trophy cabinet.
The reason Christian is coveted is simple: he remains one of the best in the world at hitting boundaries at the end of an innings. Since the 2018 IPL final, only Kieron Pollard has scored more runs at the death than Christian around the world, and Christian's strike rate in the last four overs - 192.69 - puts him in the same bracket as T20's elite death-over hitters. Throw in the fact that he offers teams a sixth bowling option, the experience of 347 games - including nine wins in finals - and it is obvious why teams like what he brings them.
"I've no doubt that I'm a better player than when I first played in the IPL - or when I've ever played in it," Christian says from the UAE, where he is preparing for the season with Ben Cutting and Chris Lynn, following the postponement of the second half of the PSL. "I just feel like I'm a really good place with my game.
"I'm confident in what I'm trying to do when I'm out there, and from a batting perspective I'm really happy with how things are going. I just feel confident and comfortable in the role I'm playing in every side. All I'm really thinking about these days is just trying to win, so whatever a team needs at a certain time, I'm going out trying to do that."
The roots of Christian's late-career flourish can be found in the end of his red-ball career. He lost his state contract with Victoria in early 2018, when he was phased out in favour of younger alternatives, and the result has been the opportunity to focus solely on his T20 skills - and in particular, his six-hitting swing.
"It turned out to be a bit of a blessing in disguise, really," he says. "I got the opportunity to play a few more tournaments and it's worked out pretty well in the end. I think that the grounding that I got from playing four-day cricket is the majority of the reason that I'm still having some success, but being able to focus my training on T20 skills has helped me quite a lot.
"It's been about five years now of just playing this specific role: it doesn't really matter where I am in the order, but I've been coming in around about the 10th-12th over mark - sometimes a little bit later, depending on which team I'm in - and playing that finishing role with the bat. I've been able to specifically train for that. With that grounding, you work out how to do it and what you need to do at what time.
Specific training is not always straightforward when you live a nomadic, contract-to-contract lifestyle, but Christian has found a home away from home at Nottinghamshire. Since signing as a replacement for Daren Sammy midway through the 2015 T20 Blast, he has been a key part of the side's short-form success, and has captained them since 2016.
As a result, Paul Franks and Peter Moores, the club's assistant coach and head coach respectively, have been key influences. "Those two are the ones that have probably helped me the most," Christian says. "Generally if I'm playing in another competition and I feel like I need to talk to someone about something, they're the two that I'd go to.
"I do a little bit of scenario stuff, where I'll set up little games, with a coach who will be throwing balls or using the flingers, and I'll need x off however many balls. But the main things I do are specific nets, where I'm facing bowlers and treating it like a one-day game - trying not to face any dots, knocking ones around, and then occasionally hitting a boundary. And then separate throwdowns or bowling-machine stuff, where I'm working on grooving my six-hitting swing and trying to hit the ball as far as I can while making sure that my shapes are still good.
"I've done a lot of research and watched a lot of videos of baseballers and golfers and how they generate their power to help me with that. My personal opinion is that batting at the end, you almost need a completely different swing - a slogging swing - to what you do when you're batting normally."
Golf has been of particular help for Christian, who plays off a handicap of three. "Watch the way a golfer swings and the way they use the lower part of their body to generate that power, driving up out of the ground - and the way their body coils before they release and then swing through the ball. I've tried to bring in a bit of that, just to help with that power.
"I know it's a completely different game - stationary ball versus a moving ball, and the fact there are so many other variables involved with batting - but there are some common themes with the way that you swing. I play a lot of golf - clubs are the first thing I'd pack going on a trip somewhere - and it's certainly helped me with the general mechanics of it."
The result is that Christian arrives at the IPL feeling as though he has a real chance to improve on his own mixed record in the competition and propel RCB into the latter stages of the season. Since he was signed for Rs 4.14 crore ($900,000) by the Deccan Chargers in the 2011 auction, Christian has been a semi-regular squad player in the tournament. He feels as though he has unfinished business after the heartbreak of the 2017 final, where he played for the Rising Pune Supergiant and needed to hit the last ball of the innings for four and could only manage two. Now he's heading back to a franchise that picked him only twice in their XI in the 2013 season.
"I'm really excited to be back and hopefully to have some success - both personally, and also trying to win one. I got really close in 2017, which was pretty disappointing and the IPL is one that I'd love to add to the trophy cabinet. I'm really looking forward to being back at Bangalore too - playing under Virat [Kohli] and with AB [de Villiers], Glenn Maxwell, and playing under Simon Katich, who I played with at New South Wales years ago and have known for a long time.
"Last time I was at RCB, I was on the bench for the Gayle 175 game. That was extraordinary to watch - as good a show of hitting as you'll ever see. One of the highlights that season was playing against Mumbai and opening the bowling against [Ricky] Ponting and [Sachin] Tendulkar - two guys that I idolised growing up, and two legends of the game.
"I've made a bit of a joke on my social media recently that whenever I've won something, I put a caption saying 'That's why you play', but it's the truth. When you're a kid and you first do something, you want to win - that's where it all comes from. As your professional career ebbs and flows, you have other [goals] that might sometimes cloud that, but as you get older, you go full circle and go back to thinking about how you started, which for me was always that competitiveness of trying to win."
Christian is not an automatic starter for RCB, with Maxwell, de Villiers, and big-money recruit Kyle Jamieson set to fill three of their four overseas slots for the majority of the season. But as he completes yet another period of quarantine - he has spent more than a month in mandatory self-isolation over the last year travelling for tournaments, playing online chess to kill time - he may reflect that any success he has in Indian conditions could help him press a case for an international recall.
For all Christian's experience as a short-format globetrotter, he has faced a paltry 28 balls in a T20I career spanning seven years, despite the fact that since his most recent appearance, on the 2017-18 tour of India, the finishing role has been a problem position for Australia. With two T20 World Cups looming, it is not completely out of the question that he could yet make a return.
"I haven't had much opportunity with the bat for Australia at all," he says. "When I've played in the past, it's generally been as a bowling allrounder. I'd love another opportunity - obviously Australia have never won a T20 World Cup, and being part of a World Cup-winning squad is one thing I'd love to do.
"I've kept in touch [with the selectors]. I played a lot with George Bailey, so we speak a bit, and I've talked to Justin Langer a little bit as well - he might send me a 'congratulations' text if I've done something well.
"I think it is realistic - I'm not completely on the outer, put it that way. If I'm putting performances on the board, staying fit, and the teams I'm playing in are winning, then I'd like to think that I'm certainly a chance."

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98