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Interviews

Tim David: 'For me to be effective, I have to be able to clear the boundary whenever I want'

The Singapore-born batter opens up on his stratospheric rise in stardom, playing in different leagues, setting the PSL alight, and more

Danyal Rasool
Danyal Rasool
26-Feb-2022
Tim David - "My skills were better equipped to being able to hit and play aggressively through the middle"  •  Cricket Australia via Getty Images

Tim David - "My skills were better equipped to being able to hit and play aggressively through the middle"  •  Cricket Australia via Getty Images

There's a long, circumspect pause down the other end of the Zoom call. It is so extended that a quick check is needed to ensure the connection hasn't been cut. It hasn't. Tim David is merely considering his next words.
It's a frequent occurrence during the conversation with Multan Sultans' platinum pick this year. Time and again, the soft-spoken David stops mid-sentence, almost editing himself in real time as he snips out a word here, adds in a phrase there. There's a crispness to his diction many would struggle to match in print. It's precise, surgical, almost delicate. For a man who boasts a strike rate of 199.20 in the PSL this year, and over 150 since the start of last year, those aren't words too keenly associated with him.
He might be dressed in his Sultans shirt for the interview, but there's more to David the man than the fearsome power-hitting that's fast becoming his trademark. The hunger to improve is, as with nearly all elite sportspeople, insatiable, but so is a shrewd understanding of how to give himself the best chance of making it in the cutthroat world of T20 franchise competition.
"Sure I'd love opening the batting in T20 cricket," he tells ESPNcricinfo at one point. "That's awesome; you get to face as many balls as you can. But in such a competitive market, there's not spots for that. And so for me to get myself into a Big Bash team [last year], I needed to work on those skills and the biggest opening I saw where my skill set would fit in was to be able to play in the middle order and play with power."
When David was plucked by the Lahore Qalandars last year for the second leg of the PSL, he was almost an unknown quantity outside Australia. A Singapore international who only had one solid season in the Big Bash League didn't quite glitter like some of the other big names the PSL has seen, but David knew the work that had gone behind his BBL success, and felt it was both sustainable and replicable.
"I think it was a case of finding what I was best at. My skills were better equipped to being able to hit and play aggressively through the middle. For me to be effective, I have to be able to clear the boundary when I want. The experience you get through batting in the middle order, you learn how to chase, finish off an innings or maximise the scoring when the game's pretty much dictated to you.
"Opening batters go out and they can essentially play however they want to, whereas a lot of times the middle order players have to play to what the game demands. So, I've got to walk out, I might have to get going in my first three balls. Sometimes that's not easy, but that's what you have to practice for, because that's what's required of me."
That revaluation of his career and skillset has produced astonishing results. The 2020-21 BBL season saw him score at a strike rate of 153.29 - among players who scored more runs, only Chris Lynn and Ben Cutting boasted a superior strike rate. The second leg of the PSL, played in relatively low-scoring UAE, saw David become emerge as a breakout star even as the Qalandars crashed and burned, his 180 runs coming at 166.66. He would go on to enjoy success in the CPL, land an IPL gig and have a stellar follow-up season at the BBL. Just last week, Mumbai Indians paid over USD 1 million to snap up his services for this year's IPL, a competition he said he was "definitely" excited for.
"Each league has a different identity," he says. "Perhaps you go to the CPL where sometimes the wickets aren't as good and you get a high dot ball percentage. Guys might play, say, three, four dots and over then hit a six when they get the opportunity. The Big Bash can be tough because you can play on bigger grounds, so obviously your margin for error is larger. If you have a mishit, you can get caught in the deep. I'd probably say the biggest factor [that determines the ease of power hitting] is potentially ground sizes in Australia. Some grounds aren't so big or there's certain areas of the ground you have to target."
For now, though, it is the Sultans who're enjoying the fruits of his services. At the PSL draft, last year's defending champions snapped him up in the Platinum category, a meteoric rise for a player who was little more than a wildcard just six months earlier. Slotting into an Andy Flower-led franchise that prides itself on using extensive analytical data to wring every last drop of performance out of their team, the Sultans-David relationship feels much more natural. Does he feel the same way?
True to form, David is more measured in his assessment. "I guess I haven't played enough for both teams to really [compare]", he eventually says. "We've obviously been in some really good form here at Multan, whereas last year with Lahore we had a strong side but we didn't play our best, we weren't winning games. That was disappointing, [but] I don't think I was at Lahore long enough to be able to pass comment on it.
"I've got to be comfortable with accepting that fact that playing in the middle order in T20 cricket is so dynamic. My output can't be measured by runs or necessarily strike rate. It's nice if those things look favourably upon me, but I think it's about match impact and that's what I just try to be. The more I play each time I reflect back on how I have as much of a positive impact to the team as I can."
On that count, he ticks all boxes handsomely for the Sultans this season. A 29-ball 71 and an unbeaten 51 off 19 in consecutive games - two innings that saw him smash 12 sixes in 48 balls - stand out as obvious highlights; he's also joint top six-hitter (20) this PSL with leading runscorer Fakhar Zaman, who has taken 379 balls to hit the same number as David has in 126. The Sultans have been in imperious form all season, winning 10 of their 11 games to cruise into the final.
"I think it's important to be realistic. I've definitely performed well at times, but after every tournament I've left thinking I could have done better"
While David has been a key reason for that success, there's perhaps an argument he's still being wasted a little batting as low as he does. In Mohammad Rizwan and Shan Masood, the Sultans have a formidable opening partnership, but it is one that tends to bat through large chunks of the innings without quite achieving the same level of destructiveness that David or Khushdil Shah provide. In a game against Karachi Kings earlier this month, the pair batted for 14.2 overs for 100 runs, with the asking rate rising above 15 by the time the partnership was broken; David faced just 7 balls for 13 runs. In the qualifier against the Qalandars on Wednesday, Rizwan scored an unbeaten 53 in 51 balls, carrying his bat. Multan lost just two wickets, and David never got to bat at all.
"I would be very hesitant to be critical of Shan and Rizwan," he says, as ever, weighing every word before uttering it, "because they've been such big strengths for us this season. I still think they are in every game. They set such a strong platform. It really sets it up for our team the way we're structured with a strong middle order. We like to think that all of the guys in the middle order could bat up top if we needed to. If we need to bat in the first 10 overs, we all can. We all want to face as many balls as we can, but we understand the role of the team and I think everyone in this side is going out to try and do their best for the side."
One of the highlights of the season came in an early game, with Quetta Gladiators seven runs from victory down to their number 11 against the Sultans. Skipper Rizwan moved the six-foot-four David to the deep midwicket boundary all the way from the other side of the ground. Next ball, Naseem Shah smashed it to exactly that place, with David needing every inch of his frame to grasp the ball, spoon it back up as he overbalanced past the rope, and take the catch on the return to seal a sensational win. It was emblematic of Rizwan, who cannot seem to put a foot wrong at the moment, as batter, wicketkeeper or indeed captain.
"I've really enjoyed playing with Rizwan as my captain," David grins. "He just encourages our team to have fun, play with a smile. That's easy to say when you've won seven out of your eight games.
"He's probably a little bit more relaxed off the field, I think it'd be fair to say. But he's been great for us to perform our best. We keep it simple. We're trying to play bravely so we can just put in our best performance in the match. And you know, part of being a professional cricketer is accepting that you can't have a perfect performance every day."
The heights David has hit have been so stratospheric at times it's impossible not to wonder if it's sustainable. Australia are likely to look at him very closely for this year's home T20 World Cup; the days of playing for Singapore are done and dusted. David accepts that he'll invariably run into a rough patch sooner or later, but rejects the idea he is simply a cricketer going through a purple patch.
"I think it's important to be realistic. I've definitely performed well at times, but after every tournament I've left thinking I could have done better. I'd be wary of calling it a purple patch. I know I've had good form and I've played well, but I'd like to think that it's very sustainable. It's encouraging to me that I've been able to do it in different leagues, across different competitions. I'm aware that form can change, and I'm sure that will come at some point. And that's another skill of learning how to manage yourself through those periods. I've just been learning so much through each tournament. I feel already so much more confident in my own game I'm having a really good time."
But the idea of the T20 World Cup gets short shrift.
"I don't think it weighs heavily on me at all. If my performances are providing me the opportunity to be a part of those things, then that's great. But honestly it sounds cliched, but I'm just literally focused on our game tomorrow."
That "game tomorrow", the PSL final against the Qalandars, really is a rather big deal, and for once, there's little hesitation in David's answer. For a man who has seen his fortune turn - and indeed built - in a little over 12 months, talking about a competition eight months away makes little sense.
"I hope I've given you enough," he smiles, a little sheepishly. "I want to leave everything I do out on the field."

Danyal Rasool is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @Danny61000