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Tom Moody on Sunrisers' dream fast-bowling line-up: 'You should be able to take wickets in all phases of the innings'

The Sunrisers Hyderabad head coach talks about Umran Malik, how the side ended up building an Indian bowling core, and more

Umran Malik: "born in a Ferrari"  •  BCCI

Umran Malik: "born in a Ferrari"  •  BCCI

After successive losses at the start of their IPL 2022 campaign, Sunrisers Hyderabad went on a five-match winning run. Unlike teams who have built their unit around batting, Sunrisers have a pedigreed bowling attack, largely Indian. Tom Moody, their head coach, who has been with the side for much of their journey in the IPL, explains what has gone into the making of their attack.
Over the years, Sunrisers' fast bowling core has largely been Indian. Has that been one of the big focus areas?
A lot of people have recognised over the years in T20 cricket that the 120 balls you defend are absolutely vital. I've always had the philosophy of making sure you should have the ability to take wickets in all three phases of your innings. With that in mind, ideally it's nice to be able to secure Indian talent to fulfil those roles.
Like for any specific role in the squad, you need to look at the supply and demand of what is available and make your judgement under pressure on auction day. So for us, having the familiarity of a couple of players we have brought back into the squad in 2022 was a no-brainer. Someone like Bhuvi [Bhuvneshwar Kumar], who has done so much over a long period of time in IPL and India, we believe he still has plenty of years to come with his specific skills, that is to be able to bowl what I'd call the bookends of the game. And then you've got Nattu [T Natarajan] who has grown and grown as a mature fast bowler, gotten better and better. Yes, he had a slight hiccup with injury, but he's not the first fast bowler to go through that.
Natarajan has developed as this on-demand yorker specialist. Was he always one?
We knew of him as the yorker specialist from Tamil Nadu, and he'd had his success in the T20 League [TNPL] down there. But in his initial couple of years with us at Sunrisers there was a significant gulf between [his performances] in domestic cricket and IPL, but to his credit he has worked extremely hard on his skills and the physical side of fast bowling. He has continued to refine and perfect those skills he clearly had at the beginning. He just had to sharpen them a little further to provide that consistency at the IPL level and internationally.
Some players can make the adjustment upwards and deliver their natural strength at the highest level; others find it difficult. Nattu has got better and better at refining his skill and remaining committed and authentic to who he is as a fast bowler. He hasn't tried to do anything, but has got perfect at what he is really good at. In the T20 format, bowlers of his calibre are very rare.
You've backed a number of Indian fast bowlers - Khaleel Ahmed, Basil Thampi, Sandeep Sharma, Bhuvneshwar, Natarajan, Umran Malik… the list is long. Tell us about your scouting process.
Scouting is important but what we do recognise, particularly now with Indian cricket is, nearly everyone knows what talent is out there, even though there is an overwhelming amount of talent. But it's very rare that you can uncover a hidden gem. We were very fortunate to be able to do that with Umran Malik, but those examples are rare. We also managed to do that with Abdul Samad, who comes from the same state [Jammu and Kashmir]. We first gave Umran an opportunity through net bowling and the rest is history. The actual finding of players of that calibre are rare. Often young fast bowlers who have had any sort of recognition are pretty much on some sort of pathway, whether it's through their state or through the Indian high-performance centre. Everyone has got the same advantage. It's a question of identifying which one you feel can fit your strategy and set-up.
It's one thing to see players, another to back them, isn't it?
A lot of people have commented over the years on how we have tended to bank [on] a lot of Indian fast bowlers. I don't think we have gone out there with a conscious approach to have a squad full of Indian fast bowlers. What we have done is, we've gone out there with a conscious effort to make sure we have those specific roles nailed down within our squad. We have not only guys like Bhuvi as a leader of the pack with the new ball, we've got someone who can come in if Bhuvi is injured for a game or two or whatever it might be. And our focus has leaned toward Indian pace.
It's also because when Sunrisers Hyderabad took over from the Deccan Chargers in 2013, we didn't inherit a lot of Indian international batsmen. They [Chargers] had Rohit [Sharma], but he got transferred to Mumbai Indians [in 2011], so we lost a world-class batter there. We managed to retain Shikhar Dhawan, but basically we had an inexperienced batting unit. So we had to build our batting around international players because there were very few Indians in the market to fill that role.
Talking specifically about Umran Malik, it must delight you to see the wicketkeeper and slip fielders standing at the 30-yard ring when he bowls?
Look, it's not just me. He's thrilling the cricketing world with his appetite for pace and natural flair. There's nothing better than seeing someone turn up and bowl 150 clicks, unless you're at the other end.
Umran has been terrific. We know his journey has just begun and he will have his challenges, like any other cricketer. Whether that be continuing to evolve and develop as a fast bowler or other challenges, he's got a strong unit around him at Sunrisers. He's got a great mentor in Dale Steyn. He's a very focused and hard-working kid, so there's a lot of upsides for him with Sunrisers and for Indian cricket.
A lot of Indian fast bowlers in the past have gone from express to line and length because of injuries.
I don't think he'll ever be a line-and-length bowler. He's born in a Ferrari and he's going to drive the Ferrari (laughs). He, like any fast bowler, will have his challenges, with injuries or whatever else, but the knowledge around managing fast bowlers and managing their aggression as they develop in their early years is a lot better now, so it's a case of making sure he's getting the right guidance, the right mentoring, and that he's surrounded by key people who don't overcomplicate the process. Given he's a part of the Sunrisers family, that's something I and the likes of Dale Steyn will make sure we communicate constantly throughout the year with the key people - with him, at the state level, and also at the high-performance level, to make sure that we're all on the same page, looking after a rare diamond.
Have you seen a marked difference in the bowler who left the IPL last year and the one who arrived for this season?
I've seen improvements just in the games he has played this year. He was getting a little bit of negative feedback with regards to how expensive he was. His economy was quite high in the earlier games, but I think people have got to understand that when you have speed in the short format, you're naturally going to have a high price. You need to accept there's going to be a high economy, but what you want is a positive wicket return. He is encouraged not so much to focus on the runs he's going for but his attacking approach and how he's looking to pick wickets. And we support him with that by giving him some tactical inputs and game sense around his approach, depending on where we're playing and who we're playing. He is forever evolving, improving and understanding the game, because he's still very young and has a lot to learn.
What kind of a person is he?
He's pretty relaxed, hard-working. He's a character, has a bright personality and is a popular member of the squad, so a lot of people naturally gravitate towards him. Over the last 12 months, his English has got better and better, and our communication has become lot more fluent. His English has got a lot better than my Hindi over the last 12 months. He's a very likeable character. The one thing that impressed us even before he became a contracted IPL player is that even when he was a net bowler, he was eager to learn, he'd ask a lot of questions. If he had to use Abdul Samad as a translator, he wouldn't be shy to do that. He was always eager to learn, about his action, run-up, what he needs to be doing in the gym with regards to his strength programme, his rehab, etc. He's been very proactive in that regard, which is a great sign for a young cricketer - for him to naturally gravitate to that approach as against having to be encouraged to go down that path.
Let's talk about Marco Jansen, another fast bowler in your ranks.
He's unique. When you're 6'9" and bowling left-arm and with the ability to swing the ball, there are a few things going for you. One thing we really liked about Marco was, his style brought a point of difference to the IPL. A lot of players are not used to that extra bounce someone of that height can generate, so it gives our attack a point of difference when you've got someone delivering from that height who can get steep bounce and movement. The other thing is, we have a lot of hopes on Marco with regards to his batting ability. We haven't seen it in the IPL yet, but in the mid- to long-term, we see him as a genuine allrounder, someone who can fill a role for us in the top six or seven and have a great impact with the ball as well.
Halfway into the season, how satisfied have you been with the bowling recalibration, especially since you don't have the bankability of Rashid Khan?
Rashid is a unique bowler. Any team that secures his services is going to have a huge value with the 24 balls that he delivers. But for whatever the circumstances were with regards to the auction and retention, unfortunately we couldn't continue that story. But we have got a different approach this year. We have had to rethink our strategy.
With the retention of Umran we knew he was going to play a role for us in the middle overs. We're addressing the middle overs slightly differently now, and Umran is the aggressor in that role. Generally there the wristspinners - [Yuzvendra] Chahal or Rashid, or whoever it might be - are the aggressors in a different way. We have a different approach. We've had to work around with our balance. Washington Sundar, who has missed a few games because of injury, plays an important role. He is someone who can bat and play a key role as spinner in powerplay overs or outside them, depending on the match-ups. We find the balance working for us but one of the most important parts about our success over the last few games is our impact as a unit in the powerplay, and also the way we've controlled and shut down the back end of the innings.

Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo