Sohail Tanvir © Getty Images
Sohail Tanvir might have been a left-arm spinner had it not been for what happened one day in 2003 © Getty Images

Sohail Tanvir is one of the leading players in T20 cricket around the globe. Since making his international debut in 2007, Tanvir has gradually become a big name in T20 cricket starting from Indian Premier League (IPL) 2008. He is now getting ready to play for the St Kitts and Nevis Patriots in the Caribbean Premier League (CPL) 2015. Nishad Pai Vaidya caught up with Tanvir, and spoke to him about his bowling action, travelling around the globe, left-arm spin, and more.

In life, your biggest breakthroughs may come about in an unknown form. Ask Sohail Tanvir, the Pakistan left-arm pacer, who had made his name around the globe as one of the best players in T20 cricket. Young Tanvir played a lot of tennis ball cricket and fashioned that wrong-footed action in those games. However, with the leather-ball in hand, he was a left-arm spinner and made strides in age group cricket.

His life changed one day in 2003, and he hasn’t looked back since!

“You know that there is a lot of tennis ball cricket in Pakistan. In childhood, whenever I used to play club cricket, I bowled slow left-arm. But when I used to play tennis ball cricket, there wasn’t much of spin and I used to bowl fast with this (wrong-footed) action,” Tanvir says.

Then in 2003, South Africa toured Pakistan for a full series, and Tanvir was one of the net bowlers in a practice session. His friend took him to the nets on one condition — that he would bowl fast with the leather ball, and not his accustomed left-arm spin.

Looking back at that day, Tanvir says, “That was the day I converted myself to a fast bowler. In the nets, I bowled to Jacques Kallis, Herschelle Gibbs, and Graeme Smith — they had no idea as to what was happening. Even I had no idea as I kept bowling. Then, someone who was with me said, ‘You are bowling to international players and troubling them. Why don’t you take it seriously?’ That is when I became a left-arm fast bowler.” About four years later, Tanvir made it into the Pakistan team for the ICC World T20 2007 in South Africa, playing an important role in their path to the final. The wrong-footed action, with those fast deliveries angling away from the right-hander caused many batsmen problems.

So, does the wrong-footed action make that away-going delivery a natural? “Yes. Because of this action, my wrist angles towards first slip if I bowl to a right hander. So, with the wrists coming at that angle, I get good swing,” Tanvir says explaining his strategy. Immediately after his limited-overs debuts, he managed to play two Tests in India, which remain his only outings in the white flannels. Though he was not an overwhelming success, he did try his hand at left-arm spin in the second Test at Kolkata. “On the Kolkata surface, there wasn’t much purchase and it was flat. It so happened that two of our fast bowlers got injured. Only Danish Kaneria and I had to bowl. I still remember bowling 38-39 overs in one innings. Misbah (ul-Haq) bhai told me that since nothing is happening, let us try something different,” Tanvir says.

Sohail Tanvir is a useful batsman coming in down the order © Getty Images
Sohail Tanvir is a useful batsman coming in down the order © Getty Images

Though a Test career did not grow, he went on to become a strong limited-overs player. During the Indian Premier League (IPL) 2008 in particular, it was that movement and pace that helped Rajasthan Royals big time. In his only IPL appearance, Tanvir won the Purple Cap and the then 23-year-old made a name for himself as a dangerous bowler and a useful batsman. “I will give credit to the IPL through which my performances gave me worldwide recognition. It also helped me grow and develop as a player. I got a lot of confidence from that experience as it came at the beginning of my career. There were such greats playing in the tournament and I had got the Purple Cap. I got the confidence that I had the ability. It also gave me the exposure, with my name being recognised. I say that I got a lot from the IPL,” he says.

Tanvir has now played T20 cricket in India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, England, West Indies, South Africa, and Australia. He now prepares for the Caribbean Premier League (CPL) 2015, where he will represent the St Kitts and Nevis Patriots. Playing in the Caribbean has been a different experience for him. “It was great fun. I would say it is different from the crowds’ perspective. Apart from the CPL, I haven’t seen any other place or tournament, where they party immediately after the game at the ground itself,” Tanvir says. “We had a few games at our home ground last season and we had a victory. After the game, Darren Sammy and the other local players joined the crowd. It was lovely to watch. You won’t see this anywhere else in the world where players join the crowd. It was good, a different experience to play in the CPL. The Islands are beautiful and the cricket is very competitive. This year, it could be even more competitive. And you know how the West Indians play! They are strong and hard-hitters of the ball. Even when you had a No. 11 batting in the nets, he would start off with a six. For him, a single may not be easy, but hitting a six is,” Tanvir says.

Having played cricket all over the globe, Tanvir is now accustomed to travelling. “What is meant by the word professional? It means that you have to deliver in any situation. You have to find a way to deliver. When you play in different places, you gradually learn. Sometimes when you get suitable conditions, you do well. Most of the times, if I have to speak as a bowler, you play in conditions where you may not get support. By playing, you learn how to assess the conditions and the players. I think the main thing is to be proactive. The quicker you assess the pitch, the batsmen, the quicker you mature. You find a way to perform in different conditions,” he says as he gets ready for another season in the Caribbean.

Sohail Tanvir will play for St Kitts & Nevis Patriots in the Limacol Caribbean Premier League. The Biggest Party in Sport runs from 20th June to 26th July.

(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a Correspondent with CricketCountry and anchor for the site’s YouTube Channel. His Twitter handle is @nishad_45)