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Interviews

Lockie Ferguson: 'Batters are becoming fearless now, and so the yorker is our way of fighting back'

The New Zealand quick on his road ahead, learning from the likes of Shami and Joseph, bowling that ball to Buttler in the IPL, and more

After a mini-break from cricket, Ferguson is "back into work mode now"  •  Hannah Peters/Getty Images

After a mini-break from cricket, Ferguson is "back into work mode now"  •  Hannah Peters/Getty Images

New Zealand tearaway Lockie Ferguson has had a rollercoaster ride since last October, when he was sidelined from the 2021 T20 World Cup. The 31-year-old has since worked his way back from the calf injury and has played key roles in the Ford Trophy title triumph with Auckland and then the IPL title win with Gujarat Titans earlier this year. Ferguson opens up to ESPNcricinfo about nailing the yorker, learning from the likes of Mohammed Shami and Alzarri Joseph, and his road ahead with New Zealand.
You had a bit of a break after winning the IPL and then tuned up at Headingley in the lead-up to the Ireland trip. What's your rhythm like?
Yeah, Yorkshire got through to the [Vitality T20 Blast] finals. Been watching them and it's been exciting. A good mate of mine, Finn [Allen] played for them this year and he absolutely loved it. I certainly had a good time there last year and it was nice to get a break from cricket obviously and then get my bowling in and go to see the Black Caps boys at Headingley. But yeah, it [the rhythm] is good. I've had a month off without playing cricket, but I've been training through and enjoying some time away with my girlfriend, which has been great. But, yeah, definitely back into work mode now and nice to be here in Ireland for the first time before we start on Sunday.
The last ODI you played was at the start of the pandemic in Australia in 2020, when you had a Covid-19 scare
It wasn't really a Covid scare. It was just the process and the protocols… I didn't have it then, but have got it twice since. Obviously, we haven't played a lot of one-day cricket [in the recent past], but having said that I played most of the Ford Trophy in New Zealand and yeah, we had a great tournament and got across the line with a win.
It was nice to bowl with the new ball there, so I [personally] feel like it hasn't been too long since I played some one-day cricket. And then I had quite a big stint at the IPL. So, yeah, just feels nice to come after this break and we have a pretty young, exciting squad, with a lot of the Test players going home. And this Ireland team is incredibly strong at home and there's no doubt that they will be firing on all cylinders.
Finn Allen and Glenn Phillips are among those exciting players in your side. Having closely followed their progress, what is your assessment of the two potential ODI debutants?
Those two boys have played all around the world and they have done well. So, I'm sure coming to Ireland - although it's probably a new place to play - they are pretty settled in their cricket. I guess they're excited at the opportunity to potentially play some one-day cricket for New Zealand, but looking across the whole squad perhaps, it's not the exact faces you remember, but as a group, we haven't played a huge amount of one-day cricket for a couple of years. So it's quite hard to nail down what the team might be, but it's a great opportunity for some young batters to put their hands up as we go into more one-day cricket and then the [ODI] World Cup next year that they'll be aiming for, just as much as me, to try and be part of that squad.
Can you recall your way back after sustaining the calf injury in the UAE?
Probably one of the tough injuries, mostly because it was only a small tear that somewhat healed quickly - I played the India series straight after the T20 World Cup. It pretty much put me out for two-three weeks of that. But, such is life, and I have good motivation going forward to keep myself as fit as possible because I obviously want to play as many World Cups as possible.
But, at the time it was exciting for the Black Caps to go all the way and have a chance to raise a trophy. It wasn't our day in the final, but it was nice to be along the journey.
As for rehab, to be honest, because it was a small tear, it kind of came back pretty quick and then you have so much experience in Tommy Simsek (physio) and Chris Donaldson (trainer) and they give you a lot of faith in coming back to playing quickly. Of course, they didn't push me, but, yeah, the rehab process went well and I'm very well looked after by the Black Caps set-up - one of the best in the world for sure. It was nice to come back into the T20I squad for India [tour] and then back home [for domestic cricket] after quite a big stint away.
You were bowling rockets during the Ford Trophy. How much will that stint help you get into the groove for the upcoming ODIs?
As much as any. Potentially, my biggest development was probably leadership within that group. Going back and actually having an extended period with the Auckland side. Obviously, you've got a lot of young bowlers and young players who are part of that squad and we had a tough Super Smash. But, having said that, I thought the bowling attack was very good throughout the Super Smash. Probably, it was one of those tournaments, where we couldn't quite get the runs, which happens.
But, yeah, I guess the leadership part of the squad and trying to lead from the front actually helped develop my game a lot more because it made me think in depth about my role going forward. So, if anything, I developed my game even more and it gave me an opportunity to reflect on where I was with my T20 cricket and one-day cricket and also to try out some new things. Bowling with the new ball was great fun with Ben Lister who, I think, is knocking on the doors for higher honours the way he's been bowling; so, yeah, it was a good couple of months [with Auckland]. Obviously, with Covid being what it was last year, I was away from home for about eight months, so was just having some time in my own bed (laughs). It's always nice to see family and friends and things like that.
It was disappointing that there wasn't much one-day cricket for Black Caps, but such is life, and the benefit of it was more time at home.
Can you elaborate on the leadership role at Auckland?
Look, I have very close ties with the Auckland side. Every time I'm back [from New Zealand duties], I try to play for them, if I can. Even if I'm back for a few days, I can watch or go out there and chat with them. Even in the previous year, when I had a big injury, I was spending a lot of time with the younger bowlers.
Certainly, when I was coming up through the ranks, people like Mitch McClenaghan and Michael Bates and Andrew Adams were super helpful for me. It wasn't always about giving off the perfect advice, it was about just rebounding ideas and giving them someone to talk to about their bowling. It can be a tough job at times, particularly white-ball cricket, but, if anything, I was just trying to talk to the players and make them realise that when things don't go your way, it's not always because of how you're bowling. It's just the way the game rolls sometimes and the most important thing is, of course, [focusing] on the next ball or the next game and it was just nice to work with the team.
Of course, we had great success in the one-dayers and they took that through to the four-day cricket as well and won the Plunket Shield. So, it's going to be another exciting season for the Auckland team. With a new coach Doug Watson and with Luke Wright around - he's now here with the Black Caps - we're going from strength to strength. So, I can say, [it is] worth keeping an eye on some of those players. I think some of them will be playing in Black Caps colours not too far away.
Former Auckland coach Heinrich Malan is now in charge of the Ireland side. He's currently down with Covid-19, but how exciting is the prospect of going against him at some point on this tour?
Yeah, it's great for him to coach an international side. I'm sure he's very excited at the prospect, but he will say a few words at the ground. But as I said, it's going to be an exciting few weeks for us playing against Ireland and they've played some amazing cricket up till now, with a reasonably settled team. They have the home-team advantage and I'm sure, they will all be fizzing and ready to go.
It is a new beginning of sorts for Adam Milne as well, having recovered from the injury he sustained at the IPL. You've played just two white-ball internationals together for New Zealand. Are you looking forward to bowling in tandem with another genuine quick?
Milne has had a tough career with injuries - he'll explain it better. That's part of the job and unfortunately, these things happen, but his attitude and the positivity he brings into the team each time is…there's no better. Everyone knows I'm a huge fan of fast bowling, so getting one of our fastest bowlers in the country back in the mix and jumping onto the field with him is going to be great.
I think he did so well at the T20 World Cup [in the UAE]. With my injury, although it's tough to watch from the sidelines, I was very happy for him for how well he did. It's exciting for New Zealand cricket that we've got the depth for someone like Milne to come back into the squad and he's absolutely chomping to get out there and perform. I've got no doubts he'll do exactly that.
It's going to be a good few weeks. We've got a decent stint now as a squad together for Ireland, Scotland and the Netherlands tour. I'm sure you will see some special stuff from him and definitely, yeah, great to have him back in the mix.
What're your best memories from IPL 2022?
Yeah, it was an exciting tournament. I've reached two IPL finals and lost both times [before the 2022 season]. Just to get across the line and get that monkey off my back was good. The way the team is set up with Hardik [Pandya] and Ashish Nehra leading us, it's a pretty calm and collected group. It was fun to play with and David Miller had one of the all-time tournaments and you always love seeing it when it happens to a good guy. So, yeah, great team to be a part of.
That slower yorker to Jos Buttler was among the balls of the tournament. How did you plan and execute it?
It was a tough moment. Jos Buttler is world-class and he was probably playing the best I've ever seen him play at the IPL and making the boundaries look smaller than they were and not even hitting bad balls for six, but hitting the best balls for six. Certainly, with his lap shot, he tends to take out a bit of my strength [pace]. But then I just thought I would change pace with the second ball and luckily, the ball got a bit of drift and sort of slid into off stump. So, yeah, always nice to see the back of that guy (laughs). But, I think, the Titans bowled well to him across the tournament and put him under pressure, even in the final. So, collectively as a team, the Gujarat Titans talked about it. Of course, we had some superstars, but we were a team where anyone could stand up and win a game for the team.
I think for me personally, it's similar to the Black Caps where we do have superstars of course, but every member of the team can stand up and win the game - that's the sort of belief we have in our team here. Similarly, with the Gujarat Titans, it was one of the big positives to come out of the tournament.
In one of the ANZ junior tips videos, you said bowling the yorker is a 'feel' thing for you and that you sometimes have to be arrogant to execute it. Can you talk us through that mindset?
You talk to any sportsman... I'm still learning a lot about it [yorker] as well. The self-talk, confidence, potentially you could call it arrogance, to complete the skill - whatever it might be. It's such a big part of being able to do it on the field. The ones who have that confidence are normally the ones who achieve it. Yorker is one of those balls [you execute] when you're full of confidence. It's one of the great balls to bowl because all you can see when you are bowling is it's going to hit the stumps (laughs) and then, of course, there are other times. It happens when you're seeing where it is landing [beyond the boundary]. At those times - it has happened a couple of times in the IPL - it's one of the most stressful balls to bowl. If you can't land the yorker, then they are hitting you for six.
Generally speaking, self-talk is where it starts. Of course, you got to do the work at the nets and then if it comes out nicely, great. I think it's probably becoming more prevalent with fast bowling now because the batters are so fearless and yorker is our way of fighting back as much as it is with the slower-ball bouncer. But bouncer-yorker is one of the greatest things in cricket, I think so, and there's no doubt we will be trying some of those things in this series, [given] the strength of the Irish batting, but it's definitely one of my favourite balls.
The 157.3kph yorker to Buttler in the final was the fastest ball of IPL 2022. What were the things that fell in place for that ball?
Look, I'll be honest; I don't focus on the speed during the game. It's never really a thought and I think there are so many other thoughts around scouting, the batter I'm bowling to, and what I'm trying to achieve with that ball. Speed of the ball is probably the last thought I've got while bowling. Obviously, I'm not a huge swing bowler and I don't tend to bowl as much [with the new ball] in T20 cricket, so pace is the X-factor that I bring.
Of course, I'm constantly working on it and it's nice to clock up the fastest ball, but at the time, it was very much me vs Jos thing and what ball I can get him out with. Full and fast was probably the option there because he picked up lengths so well and it all happened so quickly out there that I wasn't so focused on the actual speed of the ball.
At Titans, you got an opportunity to work with Mohammed Shami and Alzarri Joseph who is an enforcer with the ball as well. Did you find time to swap notes with them?
The more I've played and talked to bowlers, the more I've recognised that even if a bowler is similar to you, we all operate in such different ways. Even someone like Alzarri - he has a lovely bowling action and gets the extra bounce and tries to bowl into the batter, similar to me, and bowls at a very quick speed. But the way he operates is different to me and his change-ups, fields and perception of how the game flows are different. But then, there's always something to learn, particularly from Shami, with the amount of games he has played in India. There was plenty to learn from him about how to ride the ups and downs in the IPL - that's actually the most challenging part.
One game you can be a hero and the next game a zero, having to bowl the death overs. IPL having smaller boundaries and balls flying everywhere… So, I think the mental game is where it becomes more important and Alzarri had some tough games as well. I had tough games, but as fast bowlers, we will be the first people to get around each other and that brotherhood is probably my favourite part about playing cricket around the world. In the weeks you spend with them, you tend to relate to them quickly; someone like Hardik as well. He's in a similar boat, so yeah, it was an enjoyable few months.
The chat was largely about the mental side of things rather than technical. Shami's action is beautiful and clean and he can bowl all day. Alzarri's nice as well and mine looks like it probably needs more effort (laughs). Technically speaking, they're different, but having said that my slower ball is different and Shami is someone who doesn't bowl the back-of-the-hand [variation] often, Alzarri less so as well. I was talking to them about working on my offcutter and things like that, but we're always learning. That's the benefit of being at the nets and trying new things at training. Talking to those guys is great and the IPL is fantastic for that. You play with so many different players from around the world and you never know what you might unearth next, but there's always an opportunity to learn.
The 2022 T20 World Cup in Australia is less than 100 days away. Having been sidelined from the last edition in the UAE, do you have one eye on the forthcoming tournament now?
Definitely. Yeah. Of course. That [missing the 2021 T20 World Cup] was probably one of the low points in my career. Missing that opportunity, particularly in the UAE, where I've had some success in the IPL… I was feeling good about my bowling leading into that tournament and always joining my good mates and playing for the Black Caps is something I cherish. You can't really look back too much and you've to look forward.
We've got a lot of cricket and a lot of travel coming up, then home for a little bit, and a few series leading into the World Cup. So, there is an opportunity there to work on my game and make sure that it's as good as possible leading into that World Cup. We've got an exciting squad, again, and the boys enjoy playing World Cups. It will be nice to be across the ditch in Aussie, where we could have a lot of the New Zealand fans watching us. I think any opportunity to play in a World Cup is something you always cherish.
The 2019 [ODI World Cup] was some of the best cricket we played and it sort of kick-started my career in a lot of ways and I have a lot of fond memories. So, it will be nice to play again this year, hopefully. We've now got the Ireland series and we will go from there. So, I'll be doing all I can to make sure I'm fit and ready for it.

Deivarayan Muthu is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo