I would not count Zaheer Khan out yet: Dirk Nannes

Dirk Nannes, who plays for Chennai Super Kings, has taken 28 wickets in 17 T20 Internationals for Australia © Getty Images

By Saj Sadiq

Dirk Nannes made his debut for Australia in 2009 at the age of 33, just three years after making his first appearance in First-Class cricket. A left-arm seam bowler capable of generating genuine pace, Nannes didn’t appear to be destined to play cricket after he devoted a significant amount of time to skiing, going on to compete at World Cup events in the sport.

Nannes retired from First-Class cricket in 2010 after injuries prevented him from participating in the longer format of the game, choosing to concentrate on limited overs cricket. He has experienced success in T20Is, playing 17 matches and taking 28 wickets at 16.39. Nannes was the top wicket-taker in the 2010 World T20, claiming 14 wickets as he helped Australia reach the final of that tournament.

A familiar voice and face in media circles, Nannes regularly plies his trade in Twenty tournaments around the world, representing Chennai Super Kings, Delhi Daredevils, Melbourne Renegades amongst others.

In an exclusive interview with PakPassion.net, Nannes spoke on a number of topics including the standard of fast bowlers in the ICC Champions Trophy 2013, Australia’s performance at the tournament, the two new-ball rule and the contentious topic of ball tampering.

Excerpts from an interview:

PakPassion.net (PP): Your thoughts on the Pakistani fast-bowling giant Mohammad Irfan?

Dirk Nannes (DN): I like him. I am surprised it’s taken this long for him to show up in international cricket and why he hasn’t been around a bit more. He delivers an awkward bounce and he’s generally pretty accurate. He bowls good yorkers, which is surprising because I thought it would have been quite hard to do for him. He’s a bit slow around the field, but you’re going to get that when you’re over seven foot. I like him because he hits the wicket pretty hard. He doesn’t give the batsman too much width to play with. I think all the Pakistan bowlers, particularly the left-handers are all very similar in the way they go about their business. They hit a ‘first-class’ length pretty hard and don’t try and float the ball too much to get a lot of swing. They don’t try and do too much with it, which a lot of the time can be pretty successful. I think that’s the right way to go about it. The little I have seen, I’ve been impressed with.

PP: Wahab Riaz came into this tournament on the fringes of the starting line-up. However he’s impressed and bowled with good pace throughout the tournament. Your thoughts on Wahab and any areas he could develop?

DN: I saw him in the game against South Africa and he bowled pretty well. He bowled fast and accurate. In the past he’s been guilty of being a bit inconsistent where he would bowl an absolute genius spell and the next spell he would get belted everywhere. As a fast bowler, sometimes you have a good day and a bad day, but his good and bad days were wildly different; there were probably issues of consistency with him. However, like I said before for Irfan, he has a good intent in terms of hitting the wicket hard. Any bowler that does that is pretty good in my book.

PP: India haven’t been blessed with too many fast bowlers in the past. They now have Umesh Yadav, who is capable of cranking it up to 140-145kph. He looks like a pretty good prospect?

DN: If he can stay on the park, for sure! His trouble historically has been is that he gets injured all the time. But he’s fast, he’s learned to move the ball and he’s got a slower ball now. He can also move the ball both ways. He is also strongly built and athletic. He’s one of the few shining lights in the fast bowling department for India and there’s not that many around to speak of. At the moment they’re going fine because they have their full pace barrage up and running. Probably the only exception to that is Zaheer Khan who, when they picked the final squad, wouldn’t have been fit and they would have questioned whether he would be fit enough for this tournament. The last couple of games he played in the IPL [Indian Premier League] he bowled exceptionally well, so I wouldn’t count him out in future. But for the time being they [Indians] are going well. They’ve got a couple of good young kids — although, they haven’t got an out-and-out paceman, but the youngsters that are coming through. Hopefully, they can keep them in the park, and I’m sure that’s what they’re aiming to do.

PP: Many observers around the world thought the two white-ball rule was something that would help new-ball bowlers, but it hasn’t worked that way in the ICC Champions Trophy.

DN: It might help if the ball was swinging! When it’s not swinging the two new balls go the distance — they’re good hard balls! Sometimes the advantage for a fast bowler is having a ball 35-50 overs old and it just gets soft and hard to hit. For example, you set a straight field to try and bowl full to get people to hit down the ground to mid-on or mid-off.  When the ball is hard, it’s very difficult to get a batsman to do that because they can hit the ball 360 degrees around the ground. The two new balls can also make it difficult for the spinners too because it’s a newer ball and you can just get whacked everywhere. They thought they’d bring it in to help the bowlers, but don’t believe everything you hear! It’s a batsman’s game after all.

PP: Why hasn’t the ball swung at all in the Champions Trophy, barring one or two matches?

DN: I have no idea! Normally, here in England, it swings around corners, or at least in the first few overs. But, the wickets have been very dry. I really have no idea why it hasn’t swung but these are unusual conditions for England.

PP: Would you agree that there has been very little seam movement too?

DN: The wickets are too dry — unusually dry and dusty. You don’t often see one-day tracks that are so dusty in England. You see that whenever that hovercraft rain cover comes over the wicket and the dust goes everywhere. That’s why you’re not seeing any seam movement — the wickets are so old and flat. This should not have too much impact on the swing, apart from scuffing the ball up. The first ball of the game you normally get the white ball to ‘hoop’, but at the moment you’re not really seeing that.

PP: We’re seeing fielding teams throwing the ball in on the bounce, sometimes two bounces, to try and gain an advantage. Your thoughts on the ruling where the fielding team is being warned by umpires for throwing the ball in on the bounce?

DN: It’s a tricky one. As a bowler you are trying to do everything humanly possible to swing the game to your advantage. Throwing the ball into the crease and getting the ball to reverse swing can save your team 50, 60, 70 runs if you can get it done early enough and get the ball hooping for a long period of time. Everyone wants to do it and throwing the ball into the wicket is one way of doing it whilst holding the ball cross-seam is another method. Any way you can rough the ball up is a good thing. Now the umpires over the last three to four years are increasingly cracking down, to the point that one throw and they are on to you. As soon as you throw once [like that], you get a warning for it. It gets frustrating from a bowler’s point of view because you can’t scuff the ball up. I don’t think that this is necessarily the right way to police it, especially with two new balls. You know, there’s all that controversy at the moment about whether England are scratching the ball or not or tampering with the ball. The easy way to fix it would be to let the umpires to decide at the end of an over; “Well I’ve had the ball in my hand six balls ago, now I’ve got the ball in my hand again and it looks completely different to the ball I had an over ago. Let’s not penalise you, but just change the ball.”

PP: As they did the other night when England were bowling?

DN: Yes, just change the ball, you don’t have to accuse anyone of anything just change the ball and move on, you know, you’re not trying to tell anyone they are guilty of doing something, you’re just changing the ball and no one should argue with that.

PP: Ball tampering has been a controversial subject over the years and it’s reared its ugly head in the Champions Trophy. Have you seen any evidence of any ball tampering during the tournament?

DN: I haven’t seen any evidence in this tournament, but seeing someone swing the ball in the eight over, my word! I’ve never seen that done before. Yes I don’t understand how people could do that as was the case in the recent England Australia game. Who knows how they got it to happen, but anyways! The trouble that England have at the moment is that they are the best in the world at reverse swing. Everyone is trying to do it; it’s just that they’re getting a lot of flak because they are so successful at getting the ball to reverse swing.

PP: Teams like Pakistan, who’ve been able to do it at will over the years, are struggling with that. Now there are a few raised eyebrows how England can do it so quickly?

DN: I think that’s happened with Pakistan because there is more scrutiny on Pakistan, everyone is watching them. That’s just what happens and sometimes you just need a good proponent of it at mid-on or mid-off or somewhere in the field that can assist in getting the ball to reverse swing — whether that’s through lollies on one side or scratches on the other or whatever else they are doing. You just need someone to look after the ball properly and England are doing that the best at the moment.

PP: What did you make of the recent David Warner and Joe Root incident? Have you ever been tempted to clock someone on the chin?

DN: No, I’ve never been in a fight in my life. I don’t know where the truth lies with that whole thing, so it’s difficult to comment. At the end of the day no matter what has happened, clocking somebody in the bar is never the right decision to make, so clearly Warner is in the wrong. It’s not good for Warner, especially when you know he’s already in the spotlight. Everyone is looking for him to do something wrong. If it was a Phil Hughes or Xavier Doherty you probably wouldn’t even hear about it.

I would not count Zaheer Khan out yet: Dirk Nannes

David Warner (right) and Australia captain Michael Clarke talk to the press at Royal Garden Hotel on June 13, 2013 in London, England after the former was suspended for an alleged attack on England’s Joe Root © Getty Images

PP: Your thoughts on the Australian bowlers and how they’ve gone about their business in this tournament?

DN: The bowling has been good, I think Clint McKay and James Faulkner have both been good, Mitchell Johnson looks excellent again, Shane Watson’s been good with his subtle variation, he bowls straight and doesn’t give any width. Australia’s problem is just their batting, pure and simple, not much else to it. I think the bowling attack is well suited to the conditions we’ve got at the moment — but it would have been nice to have another quality spinner.

PP: Take Michael Clarke out of the batting lineup and it’s a fair chunk of the experience, the expertise, especially on these kind of wickets. What is Australia’s problem at the moment: good batsmen not coming through or is it just that the wrong ones were selected for the Champions Trophy?

DN: It’s not that the wrong ones that have been selected, you can’t be the best team in the world forever; form comes and goes. You can’t replace all those players. So, at the moment, this is the best Australia have got; it’s not that they are picking the wrong people. Maybe a couple, you could probably put a Dave Hussey or Aaron Finch or a few of those sorts of guys in this team, but by and large there’s nobody who’s knocking or banging the door down, maybe with the exception of Aaron Finch. His form probably demanded that he gets picked but there’s not much else you can do unless someone is scoring thousands of runs at home.

PP: Mike Hussey and Ricky Ponting’s retirements so close together seemed to have hurt the team as well?

DN: Yes, it’s difficult to replace those guys, but life goes on. Both men were on the threshold of retirement for a long time, so Australia should have planned to fill the huge holes that were inevitable by their [Ponting and Hussey] exits. Probably the big thing Australia miss now is someone like a Mike Hussey who debuted age 30 for Australia or older. At the moment there’s no one thirty years old demanding selection or having had thousand run seasons for the last three to four like Mike Hussey would’ve done. There’s just no one of that quality so what do you do.

PP: What are Australia’s chances in the Ashes? Some of the English press and fans seem to think it’s a foregone conclusion; do you think Australia could spring a surprise?

DN: Look, Australia will do well if they can sort out their batting and if Michael Clarke can play. That, of course, is a big deal. And if Watson can make some runs. I also think Chris Rogers in there is a good addition, I think our bowling is going to be alright, and if our top and middle-order can stand up then we will certainly be very competitive. Hopefully, it just turns out to be a great Ashes summer. All you can hope for really is close Test matches. Who knows if Australia are good enough to win or not. I don’t know, but it’s probably too early to tell, but there’s certainly a lot of pressure on England — that’s for sure.

(Saj Sadiq is Senior Editor at PakPassion.net, from where the above article has been reproduced. He can be followed on Twitter at @Saj_PakPassion)