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Interviews

'You simply have to hurt your body, take it to the limits'

Shaun Tait on the role of outright pace in the shortest format, and how the game has changed over its decade of existence

"There is always going to be a demand for a guy bowling 140, 145, 150"  •  Getty Images

"There is always going to be a demand for a guy bowling 140, 145, 150"  •  Getty Images

"You don't really know what part of the world you are in. I was walking in the mall and thought I had to do something today. I totally forgot [about the interview]." Shaun Tait apologises for being late. It is the curse of having an itinerant lifestyle and Tait is no different to many athletes who are always checking in and out of hotels, countries and continents.
It is mid-February and we are in Dubai, where Tait is playing for Peshawar Zalmi in the Pakistan Super League. Wearing a red cap, grey T-shirt and shorts, he is a bit weary after a late night, and has a match to play that evening. Our conversation lasts a half-hour, and during it Tait admits the spark that once used to be there when he ran in to bowl has gone missing. He does not rue the fact he will likely never play for Australia again, but as he reveals, he is hungry to sign out of cricket on a high.
Tiger Tait the guys at Rajasthan Royals called you. Can you talk about the aggressive side of you, the fast bowler?
Probably I have mellowed out as I have got a bit older. When I was younger I was probably a bit more aggressive. I don't know, I suppose when you get a bit older in life in general you mellow out a bit, don't you? I think sometimes you don't want to look like too much of an idiot! I don't mind being aggressive if it helps your bowling in the right way, to intimidate a batsman or put a batsman off his game. But if you are going to be aggressive personally, I think it is not right. And it doesn't look good on TV. It doesn't look good for anyone. You lose respect if you carry on like a pork chop all the time. You have got to have some sort of humility and use your aggression the right way.
What about being aggressive with the ball in hand? Does it work in T20 cricket?
Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. It goes both ways. You run in and bowl fast, try and intimidate batsmen, try and take wickets, and be aggressive in that attacking way. Some days it goes your way - you might get two early wickets. Some days you might get none for 25 off two. It has been like that through my career - I had some really good games, I had some really bad games. You've got to roll with the punches and get on with it.
Rod Marsh said about picking you for the India series: "Shaun Tait returns on the basis that he is the quickest bowler going around in Australia at the moment and he offers us that explosive option if we choose to use it." Did that come as a shot in the arm at the time?
Well, it was. I played those two games. I didn't bowl very well. I didn't do myself any favours. But it was nice to get picked again after a long time. Our best fast bowlers were injured. I had a decent Big Bash and I was bowling fast and they picked me.
But it doesn't matter how fast you are. Yeah, I am the fastest bowler in Australia, maybe, but I am not in the Australian team. But if I can continue to get picked in competitions like these [PSL] and continue playing in the Big Bash because of my pace, then that is good.
"I am a very simple person and a very simple cricket player. That's it. There is nothing else there. It is what it is. I run in and try and bowl fast"
What are the big differences in the way you operate, from the time you first played T20 and now?
It has been ten years. It is harder now. It used to be a lot easier for a fast bowler. The batsmen, they weren't really sure of what to do in T20 cricket - there used to be a bit of a laugh, bit of giggle. Now it has obviously become very, very serious. Batsmen have learned to develop their skills really well. Bowling at the death, for example, used to be quite easy: you ran in and bowled yorkers and hit the stumps. But now batsmen can hit yorkers, they can play sweep shots, can face bouncers as well. Most of the guys can pull. So it has definitely become more difficult over time.
How do you deal with the challenge? Earlier you probably used sheer pace. Is it the same even now?
That is the only way I have sort of known. To be honest, in PSL I slowed down a little bit and tried to get a bit more control. I was a bit wayward a couple of times in the Big Bash, and then the two games I played for Australia, again I was really wayward. I tried to bowl too fast.
Are you a conventional fast bowler even in T20, with a slip and so on?
People come to the game to watch entertainers. You need fast bowlers. You need guys who can bowl 150 because it is great for the crowd to watch as well. Sometimes it goes against me but it is still entertaining. (chuckles)
It is not very easy to come out and bowl in the late 140s, is it?
Yes, it is not easy. It hurts. It hurts the body. But I have found a way to do it for close to 14 years now. I am not playing Test cricket but it still hurts, even in T20 cricket, every time you bowl.
Shane Bond said the fast bowler has to walk this fine line, to balance between playing to your strengths and understanding the conditions. Do you agree?
That is true. Sometimes I lose sight of that. I just run in and try and bowl really fast and it doesn't work and I get hit for runs. Some bowlers are better and smarter at playing to the conditions. That is probably something I should have been better at in the past.
An interesting point Bond made was that the challenge for bowlers these days is understanding they have got to have the courage to either bowl length or short at the back end of the innings on some wickets, as opposed to the default mode, which for a long time has been just to bowl full. What do you think?
I am starting to agree with that more now. The last game I played [PSL], I bowled to Grant Elliott, and instead of trying to bowl every ball a yorker, I bowled length outside off stump to try and get him to nick, and it worked. I just backed myself to bowl hard, fast, on a length and it worked. Length is the most important thing in T20 cricket, no doubt. Yes, there are times when you have to bowl the yorker, there are times when you have to bowl the wide yorker and change the batsman's hands and the batsman's thinking. So I agree with what Bondy said.
Why did you not ever want to add variations to your repertoire?
I feel that if you can run in and bowl fast, you are different. And there are not many people in the world who can do that. If I start bowling 135 all the time or every second game, I am the same as everyone else. If a team has a want for a guy who can bowl 150 or 145, then that's me. And it is not always easy to develop all these different things. My slower ball has never been a strength of mine. I can bowl it every now and then.
When I was younger I used to train a lot, train quite hard, and did a lot of bowling. But as I have grown older, my body has taken a hit. So you can't train as often as you would have liked. It is only a certain number of deliveries a bowler has in their life, and mine is getting towards the end. So it is very tough to train every single day, play every other day.
"You lose respect if you carry on like a pork chop all the time. You have got to have some sort of humility and use your aggression the right way"
Your knees, they must take quite a pounding. You always wear an elbow brace. Your arms and shoulders must be sore. You once said that you have to perform with pain despite age. Does it become a habit?
Absolutely. Most fast bowlers will tell you the same thing. When younger fast bowlers ask, "How can I bowl faster?" the answer is, "You simply have to hurt your body, take your body to the limits." You have to play with pain. You have examples like Zaheer Khan, Shane Bond, Dale Steyn, Brett Lee - all these guys have played through a lot of pain.
Do you bowl to the batsman or the man?
I try and tend to bowl to the batsman. If I change what I do too much, it takes my mind away from what I should be doing and I end up messing it up.
There was this IPL match where Dinesh Karthik took you on and you were not impressed with the field, with the mid-off and mid-on inside the circle. Do you recollect that match?
That was in Delhi, in 2010. And I was told to bowl bouncers every ball, bowl short. I did not agree with that. I think I went for 54 off four overs. I tend to listen to the captain a lot, but I also set my own fields as well. Sometimes the captain has a gut feeling and he will want that field and that is it.
What happens when you have an attacking batsman in front of you?
Here he is [as Kevin Pietersen passes by]. Speak of the devil. Attacking batsmen are a bit different. Guys like Luke Wright are ones who come out and just flay away first ball. I actually enjoy bowling to those guys, because you always feel like you can get them out. Or a Brendon McCullum. You feel like you have a chance to get them out, but if you don't, you are in big trouble. If they get away with it, they could do a lot of damage.
Can you talk about a duel or two in T20 that tested your temperament and patience?
The two guys I found hard to bowl to in T20 cricket are Kevin Pietersen and [Virat] Kohli. Those two are the hardest guys to bowl to at the moment. I'll have to admit there's no real obvious way to get them out. I can't see through Virat Kohli's weakness. I don't know what it is. I think Kevin Pietersen's the same. Early on, if you bowl a good, full ball, lbw maybe. A good bouncer. I got him [Pietersen] out the other night, caught at long-on. I think Kohli also I had once caught at long-on as well. So not exactly blasting through them.
But my favourite duel was with Brendon McCullum. It was in a T20I in Christchurch and he was opening. He lap-swept me over his head for a six. He hit me for about three sixes and three fours. I was bowling mid-to-low 150s at that time. That is the best batting I have ever seen in T20 cricket. He won the duel.
We had a couple of good contests in that series. In the previous match, in Wellington, I bowled a good outswinger at 152-153 and he snicked it. I won that battle. We won the game. The next game [Christchurch], after I had bowled a ball and was walking back to my mark, he said to me: "We're not going to lay over today. We are up for this contest." I just laughed. The next ball, I bowled Peter Ingram. I turned around and gave Brendon a bit of cheek. "We are going to win this again," I told him. He just went ballistic. He got a hundred. They won the game. Those few games in New Zealand were my favourite period in T20 cricket.
When do you get angry while bowling?
It is probably just at myself now. Even if I take it out on the batsman, it is about myself - not bowling how I should be bowling. I am a bit better now at controlling my anger.
What is the most ridiculous shot a batsman has played against you?
That will have to be definitely Brendon in Christchurch. If you have the chance to look over YouTube, he actually did a sort of somersault - he went across the off stump and he hit it [scooped it] and did a somersault. It was a 155.2 delivery.
Do you fear for the fast bowler going forward?
You need them in the game. If you look at the really good fast bowlers, they have still got good T20 records. Dale Steyn is still getting picked in the IPL.
Steyn wants administrators and franchise owners to look at the fast bowler as a match-winner and pay him commensurately.
I have to agree with that. Or then all the youngsters will stop bowling fast. Look at the days gone by - Lillee, Thomson, Ambrose, Waqar, Wasim, Donald, Steyn, Brett Lee, Shoaib Akhtar. They are all entertainers and they are all big names in cricket because they bowl fast. No one talks about a medium-pacer that bowls 128kph often, do they? Because it is boring. So to keep cricket entertaining, it would be good to see some more fast bowlers coming through.
"If I start bowling 135 all the time or every second game, I am the same as everyone else. If a team has a want for a guy who can bowl 150 or 145, then that's me"
How difficult is it to coach Shaun Tait?
I am a very simple person and a very simple cricket player. That's it. There is nothing else there. It is what it is. I run in and try and bowl fast.
Sometimes it goes really badly, like I said, and sometimes it goes really well. As far as a coach goes, I am easy. I don't demand anything. I just run in and bowl.
What has been your best T20 performance to date?
Probably the 2010 World T20 in the Caribbean was the best I bowled over a period and the fastest. I was bowling consistently in the 150s and bowled economically. And I was succeeding. We made the final, where we lost to England.
What does a fast bowler need to succeed in T20 cricket?
You just have to keep believing in what you are doing and stick to it. A lot of guys over the years, they slow down their pace. Sometimes you are afraid of getting smacked.
There is always going to be a demand for a fast bowler somewhere. If it is not in the IPL then might be in the Big Bash, might be in PSL. There is always going to be a demand for a guy bowling 140, 145, 150.
Other than that, try to work out as fast as you can how your body works. You have got to know your own body, what your limits are, what makes you feel good before a game. It might be doing nothing, it might be going for a swim, it might be having a few beers the night before, it might be never touching a beer. Just find a way to get your body moving and the best way to perform.
Considering you don't play international cricket anymore, how difficult is to maintain those routines?
I could be a lot fitter. That is one thing I can do, and I am going to go home and get a lot fitter. Hopefully I can stretch it out a couple more years.
Is there anything you learned in the PSL, or from your Peshawar Zalmi bowling partner and Pakistan fast bowler Wahab Riaz?
Wahab is a genuine fast bowler. He is extremely confident in his own ability. He does not like to beaten. The one thing I can learn from him is getting up for the big occasion. Shane Watson walks out to bat, automatically Wahab Riaz bowls faster. The exchange he had with Ahmed Shehzad [against Quetta Gladiators], he changed the game for us. Not the actual incident, but he started bowling really fast and well after that. He gets in the zone. I used to be able to do that but now I have lost the ability to get in the zone a little bit. So I find it hard to kick into the next gear. Probably being out of international cricket is one reason. Probably a bit older…
What are your goals now?
I don't see myself playing for Australia ever again. I am not hurt [not being part of the World T20 squad]. The selectors wanted to see how I went in the T20I series against India. I knew exactly what it was: if I bowled well, I get picked, if I didn't, I wouldn't. In hindsight, I could have bowled a whole lot better. I would love to win a tournament, a Big Bash maybe.

Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo