The former Australia and IPL allrounder talks about how he turned himself into a top-tier T20 batter in his 30s
Who do you speak to if you're after a deep dive into the technical and mental challenges of batting in T20? It's simple. You speak to Shane Watson.
In a career that spanned most of the first two decades of the format, he batted in every position, while possessing the intimate knowledge of what went on in a bowler's head. He dominated big matches and major tournaments, at both franchise and international levels.
He knows what it takes to juggle three formats, as he did for the bulk of his career, and he also knows what it's like to specialise in T20, as he did in his late 30s. And he has witnessed the game's evolution from multiple perspectives: player, commentator, coach, and president of the Australian Cricketers' Association.
In this interview, which he found time for during a hectic period that also included commentary at the T20 World Cup and the launch of his book Winning the Inner Battle, Watson spoke about how he developed his power-hitting game, the method against spin that brought him consistent success at the IPL, and how he acquired the mental skills that allowed him to make the most of his cricketing gifts.
Let's talk about your innings in the 2018 IPL final. You're chasing not a massive target but a fairly hefty one, and you're on 0 off ten balls. You've faced a maiden from Bhuvneshwar Kumar, and he's beaten you a couple of times too. To go from there to scoring a century and winning the final for Chennai Super Kings - what did that take, mentally?
That innings in 2018 was a culmination of all the things I'd learned in the previous couple of years. I'd been specialising in T20 cricket from sort of early 2016, so from a technical point of view it was all under control in a way, but the mental-skills side of my game was an education that I got at the end of 2015.
That was a time in my career when things shifted significantly, from a fear of batting more than anything, with the tragic event that happened at the end of 2014 with Phillip Hughes. I was fortunate to get introduced to Dr Jacques Dallaire, a mental-skills guru from the US, who finally made me understand, in really simple terms, how my mind works, how you sort of get in your own way from a mindset point of view, and then how to get out of your own way, how to create the right mental environment. Once I'd understood that, I was working on not just my technical skills but my mental skills, every ball that I faced, and in the lead-up to every game.
And the caveat is, the 2016 IPL final that I played for Royal Challengers Bangalore was probably one of the worst games that I ever had, especially from a bowling point of view. I went for 61 off my four overs, and even though I was very well prepared, there were a couple of things that meant I just wasn't executing my skills, and I got exposed in a big way.
Watson places his bat and cap by the fence at Adelaide Oval in a tribute to Phil Hughes during the Test match against India in December 2014. Watson says Hughes' death changed his mental environment significantly and brought fear into his game front and centre
Ryan Pierse / © Cricket Australia/Getty Images
Watson places his bat and cap by the fence at Adelaide Oval in a tribute to Phil Hughes during the Test match against India in December 2014. Watson says Hughes' death changed his mental environment significantly and brought fear into his game front and centre Ryan Pierse / © Cricket Australia/Getty Images
So the underlying motivation leading into that 2018 final was around how disciplined I needed to be, around my technical but especially my mental perspective, and the things that I was thinking about and planning but also the things that I wasn't thinking about. It was a culmination over a couple of years of working through how I could pull myself into the right technical and mental state to be at my best, and that innings in 2018, every single ball, even in that first over that I was facing with Bhuvi, every single ball, I was working through my technical and mental checklist. Every single ball.
What did that involve?
The technical checklist that I was going through was just around my head position; my hands; making sure my pre-movement was going straight down the wicket and it was early, so I wasn't rushed; my head was dead-still as the ball came out, so I had a clearer sort of focus and picture from my eyes to the ball to pick it up.
And then, where was my mind as the ball came out? In between balls, was I tapping into my gut feel, trusting what I felt? In that first over, there were a couple of balls where my technique was a little bit off - I was a little bit rushed, a little bit to the off side of the ball - so I was working through that. Because the ball was swinging around as Bhuvi does do, there was one ball in particular where I was just a little bit hesitant. Maybe it was slightly in the back of my mind, where I was [telling myself], "Maybe just get through the over while the ball's still swinging", so I lost my intensity and intent for that one ball and I missed a cut shot. I sort of half-hit a cut shot to backward point, along the ground, and because I was a little bit defensive because the ball was moving around, I missed an opportunity to score.
And the first ten balls, I was just working through, every single ball, how was I, mentally and technically. And because I'd worked through that process over the previous couple of years, it wasn't me overthinking it, because I was very aware of my mental energy, but I was shifting through it very quickly to go, "Okay, I need to make that adjustment, technically, mentally."
So I was none off ten, and the [required] run rate was going up. Faf du Plessis got out to [Sandeep] Sharma, charging and probably playing a shot that he didn't necessarily have to play but he felt he did, because I was none off ten. The little bird on my shoulder was sort of chatting to me, going, "You caused that, what're you going to do, are you going to get on with it? You've caused Faf to get out, you've dug a hole here", and again it was me understanding that I'm in control of that little person on my shoulder, that I had to grab control and redirect it to, "No, this is what I need to focus on, every ball, and just do it over and over again."
And then it just got to a stage where a couple of match-ups came my way as well, after those first ten balls. Sandeep came on for his third over in the powerplay, and I knew the ball wasn't going to swing as much, that was my time where I could, from ball one, take that over down, and try and get on top of him. Siddarth Kaul, he bowled back-to-back overs as well, which meant again, his second over I could take on from ball one, because I'd really assessed what was going on with how he was bowling and how the ball was reacting off the wicket.
It was not premeditating anything. It was being very clear that I was ready to take him on, but I was trusting my instincts to react to where the ball was bowled. So every ball, I was pulling myself into the mindset that I knew I needed to be in, which was just a very aggressive mindset, and technically having that body position as well, and then reacting, and not getting in my way at all.
And again, things fell my way, a few mishits sort of lobbed in the gap, but it was just me continuing to navigate my way in between every ball, so I was pulling myself into that right sort of mental space that I got into and I just stayed there, and trusted what that mindset was.
Bat like a ball player: Watson worked with former baseball coach Mike Young on his power-hitting stance and on using the body to get power through the ball
Bat like a ball player: Watson worked with former baseball coach Mike Young on his power-hitting stance and on using the body to get power through the ball © PCB
In my mental-skills book, I go into detail, around how I was pulling myself into that zone, into that space, where it was the absolute best of me. Even with the situation, the pressure around me, it was about creating that cocoon around me to not let any of that white noise penetrate my bubble. And I was using all my mental skills that I'd been taught to keep pulling myself into that mindset - the right thought at the right time as the ball was coming out [of the bowler's hand].
And that, for me, was the first time that I consciously, purposely pulled myself into the right headspace, technically and mentally. So the satisfaction that came out of that innings - yes, the satisfaction of being able to play an innings like that, which every cricketer dreams of doing in a big game, but to be in control to the point of being able to pull myself into the best version of me, that was the most satisfying part.
You spoke about the voice on your shoulder and being able to control that. What are the kind of techniques that you used to do that?
Well, the very simple technique that I used was understanding the… there are two components of your brain, the conscious mind and unconscious mind, and one of the conscious-mind functions is, if you want to exercise the control you have, you can take control. But a lot of us - and I certainly did - I allowed my environment to be able to control how I thought. I didn't take control of what I could.
And that inner dialogue that's always going on, you are in control of it if you want to be. If you want to take control, you can redirect the script to the right thing at the right time. So by me understanding that, I knew that when that voice on my shoulder came in, and it was the wrong thing, I had the control to be able to grab it, and say no, and just redirect it to, "Okay, what do I need to focus on right now to be at my best?"
One technique was putting a song into my head to shut it out. Some people think about their breath or whatever different techniques they have, but for me it was a song. That sort of just put my mind in neutral. But then I was very direct with what I needed to think about as the bowler was running in and as the ball came out.
So they were my two techniques to be able to, more than anything, just get out of your own way to access all the skills that are so ingrained in you from all the hard work that you've put in.
As a cricketer at that level, you've always had those skills, but at an earlier point in your career, having got to a place like 0 off ten, would you have been able to come out of it the way you did?
Well, I might have been able to come out of it, and I had at certain times of my career before I really understood the mental-skills side, but it wouldn't have been by me being in control to direct myself there. It would have been because of the circumstances allowing me to fall into that sort of space, technically and mentally, to find my way through it somehow.
During the title-winning hundred in the 2018 IPL final: "Every ball, I was pulling myself into the mindset that I knew I needed to be in"
During the title-winning hundred in the 2018 IPL final: "Every ball, I was pulling myself into the mindset that I knew I needed to be in" © BCCI
Again, I wish I knew this information earlier. One, it would have meant less stress and anxiety in the lead-up to big games, or if I got myself into a situation like zero off ten balls in a big game, but I'm glad I got educated in the time I did, because I was able to put that powerful information in place to give myself a better chance to access the technical skills that I'd developed over such a long period of time.
You spoke about how Phillip Hughes' death affected you as a batter, mentally. What was the frame of mind you'd be in at the crease?
For me, the fear factor of cricket came into my game for the first time ever. I was always fearless. My strength was opening the batting, taking on the best fast bowlers in the world and feeling like, on my day, I could have a really good day out, against the best fast bowlers. I knew I could get hurt if I got unlucky and I got into a bad position, but I never thought that a situation could happen like the tragic event that happened to Phil Hughes.
So from then on, the fear of facing the short ball was front and centre in my mind, and that's where my mental environment changed significantly. For any batsman, as soon as you have that fear of the short ball and the premeditation of the short ball coming in every time you're facing someone who bowls a good speed, then you're out of position just about every ball, because you're premeditating every ball.
I know I wasn't the only person wrestling with those things. No one talked about it, but you could see with some other players that they were wrestling with the same things as well, because it's human nature, isn't it? You lose one of your great mates to something that you never thought could happen, your mindset certainly shifts.
How long did it take you to come out of it?
It was October 2015. As soon as I got educated - I went over to the US to meet Dr Dallaire, and he educated me on this really simple framework, simple information to understand. Straightaway I knew I could turn things around immediately. And I did. I knew how to redirect my mind, so even though I'd still get a bit anxious facing fast bowling, I knew how to override it so it wouldn't affect my performance. The two days that I worked with Dr Dallaire - after those two days I knew things had changed immediately.
Coming to batting in T20, how long did it take you to reach a place where you felt you had a method to score runs - I have my areas, I know which bowlers to take down, and so forth?
When I came into the Australian one-day team as a 20-year-old, my opportunities were primarily as a fast bowler bowling in the middle overs, and I was batting at seven or eight, because that was my opportunity in the Australian team. And at that time T20 cricket wasn't around. I knew I had to develop my power-hitting game, because that was the opportunity I was going to get, playing one-day cricket for Australia, and I certainly didn't have those skills. I was more of a technically correct batsman, more of a four-day batter who could bat well in one-day cricket and hit the ball hard, but I certainly couldn't come in and hit the ball into the stands nearly from ball one.
So I realised that that was not my strength at all, and I had to work on it. To start with, I mainly worked with Mike Young, our fielding coach, the baseball coach. I mainly worked with him on developing my power-hitting, more so through the lens of a baseball batter - the weight transfer, through using your body to be able to get power back through the ball. So that was 2002, and it was a long process. It really culminated in the 2007 World Cup, so that was five years of working on my power-hitting game. And I played some T20 cricket in 2004 for Hampshire, when I got exposed…
Watson is bowled in a English Twenty20 Cup game in 2004, a poor season by his own admission, when he was about halfway into his work on developing himself as a white-ball power-hitter
Adam Davy/ / © EMPICS/Getty Images
Watson is bowled in a English Twenty20 Cup game in 2004, a poor season by his own admission, when he was about halfway into his work on developing himself as a white-ball power-hitter Adam Davy/ / © EMPICS/Getty Images
You started with a couple of ducks, I think?
Two ducks, exactly. This is how naïve I was in T20 cricket - I was batting at, I think No. 3, and in my mind I thought, "Well, this is just going to be like batting in the last five overs of a one-day game", not taking into consideration that it's a brand-new ball and it's going to swing and it could seam. So it took me quite a while of playing T20 cricket, I started to find my groove with what shots, what bowlers I could really take down, and what my power-hitting technique was going to be.
My power-hitting technique was different to my normal batting technique. As soon as I felt, "Okay, this is a bowler that I can take down", then my technique changed. I'd change to, as the bowler was running in, into a baseball set-up - sort of go back in my crease, get my bat up higher. I would unweight my front leg, so as the ball came, I could power back through the ball. Again it took quite a while for me to work through [identifying] the right bowler that I could line up, the conditions and the dimensions of the ground, and as soon as that was the case, this was my power-batting swing.
And that allowed me, also, to not have to premeditate. I could just stand there, if I was getting into the right position, and I could react to the ball coming down. If they bowled it fuller and wider, I could hit it over cover or over backward point. If they bowled it short, instinctively I could hit it over the leg side. So I had to develop my power-hitting game to a point where I knew that I could stand still, and if the bowler made a mistake, under pressure, that I could clear the fence. That was like a five-year process to really have the confidence in my game, and then the 2007 World Cup, which led into the IPL in 2008.
Again, I was just very lucky that the circumstances and the situation came up early in my career that I had to develop a certain side of my game, and then T20 cricket exploded and the IPL came in, at a time where I had worked for a long period of time on that power-hitting aspect of my game. Whereas the younger generation coming through now, they play so much T20 cricket in their teens, and coming into their early 20s, so even if they're playing four-day cricket, they've had to develop those skills through their teens - what their scoring options are, whether they stand still, whether they premeditate more, whether they play the reverse sweep or the switch-hit, the youngsters coming through now are definitely more skill-equipped, so they have more of an understanding of what their scoring zones are.
You said that when you went into that power-hitting mode, your technique changed. Did you find that affecting your regular technique in any way?
It didn't in a way, because I was mainly just using my body as momentum back through the ball. It was still just about the same movement patterns, apart from obviously my pre-movement being slightly different, with me powering up my back leg to get momentum back through the ball.
But definitely changing between [formats], especially from Test matches down to T20s, that was where [I found it difficult], if I didn't have enough time in between, because I needed at least one or two training sessions to be able to just get back into that power-hitting movement pattern again. In a perfect world I had three days of preparation to be able to switch between the different formats.
For me it was easy to transfer to one-day cricket, because a lot of the time you're in that mindset, but T20 cricket to Test matches, and especially opening the batting as well in Test matches, that was where it was hard to not just be taking on the game, no matter what, even if the situation didn't necessarily dictate that that was the way to go. But in the end that was my way of being able to feel like I could play all three formats of my game and not have to really change a lot.
One of the things that made your T20 game what it was was your ability against spin, and in the middle overs. In the IPL, in the middle overs, among batters who have scored at least 500 runs in that phase, it's Virender Sehwag, Chris Gayle, Andre Russell and then you, in terms of middle-overs strike rate. You preferred opening, I think?
Yeah. I definitely preferred opening.
But was that something you built towards? "I get into the middle overs, I know what to do."
Yeah, absolutely. Again, that was just through practice and understanding where my scoring zones would be. I was never someone who'd use my feet, like charge [down the pitch], because for me to be able to do that, I felt I had to premeditate where the ball was going to be more than anything, so if I assessed the conditions and it wasn't really turning that much - turning conditions were definitely different and that was more challenging for me - but when the ball was only turning a bit, or not turning much at all, then that's where I knew I could put pressure on the bowlers. That they had to get their length right.
I had to work on being able to stand still, and if the bowler got a bit full, to be able to hit it dead straight, especially. I was mainly aiming dead straight because whether it was for six or along the ground, I always knew there's a big gap there if I got it past the bowler, if I hit it hard enough.
Another part was being able to get back deeper in the crease to be able to pull the ball. That put pressure on the bowler, and I had to work on getting into a powerful position to be able to get under the ball when it was a little bit short. And when I had those two shots, it meant the bowler had to get their length absolutely right, otherwise I knew I could score, and the fast outfields in India, the smaller grounds, meant that even if I didn't hit the ball in the air, if I got a good swing on it, I could hit the ball and find the boundary, knowing where the gaps were.
Watson worked on going back into his crease to get traction on his pull shot, including against spin. "Loading up my back leg meant that I had power underneath the ball to be able to power up, and not feel like my weight was sort of going back"
© Getty Images
Watson worked on going back into his crease to get traction on his pull shot, including against spin. "Loading up my back leg meant that I had power underneath the ball to be able to power up, and not feel like my weight was sort of going back" © Getty Images
So I had to work on a couple of shots in particular to know that I could put pressure on the bowler and then just react. It also helped that in my first IPL, I batted at four for Rajasthan Royals. We had Graeme Smith and Swapnil Asnodkar, so they were always the right options to open, and Shane Warne saw one of my strengths as being able to hit boundaries through the middle period and not get bogged down by spin. The wickets we played on, especially in Rajasthan, were beautiful wickets to bat on. The ball always came on nicely.
Because of the IPL, because of Warnie's belief in me, I got opportunities to be able to expose what my strengths were, whether that was with the ball, opening the bowling and bowling certain periods and bowling at the death, or being exposed to bat at No. 4, which was sink or swim: I was either going to be able to score runs quite quickly through the middle period against spin, or I was going to get bogged down and I'd be dropped.
Against spin sometimes, you'd play the pull and end up with your back knee on the ground. I guess this was because you were pulling lengths that were fuller than the traditional pulling length? Was that something you worked on, to be able to pull a wider range of lengths?
Yeah, absolutely. The pull shot to spinners, that was just an evolution with my power-hitting. Loading up my back leg meant that I had power underneath the ball to be able to power up through the ball, and not feel like my weight was sort of going back. That was just a by-product, in a way, of the power-hitting that I worked on off the quicks, and it just meant I was able to get into a low position.
I wasn't premeditating, looking for a short ball, but when I was in position early and I was watching the ball, even if it was a faster sort of arm ball or something like that, as soon as it was flat and shorter, because I was in that powerful position, I could move back quickly and stay under the ball. It meant that at times my back leg was on the ground, but I was in a powerful position and not with my weight totally going back either to the off side or to the keeper, which would have meant I was losing my power as I was trying to hit the ball.
Did that feed into how well you played Rashid Khan? You've never been out to him in 11 innings, and you scored 108 runs off 73 balls against him. What was he like to face?
It took me a little while to work out a game plan against Rashid, because every time I faced him, he would be ripping through everyone else around me. The first few times I was facing him and not getting out, I certainly couldn't score off him, because he was bowling fast through the air, and because his arm was fast, it was hard to pick up his variations as well, especially his wrong'un, which was his wicket-taking ball, but I just knew that I wasn't going to let him get into the game, so I was a bit more defensive.
But I found a game plan that would work, which for me was batting on off stump to him, and mainly setting up for the ball coming in. If he bowled a legspinner that turned past me, whether he had a slip or not, I was okay with the ball beating me on the outside. That was the first game plan I had, but the second one that I realised over time was, if Rashid Khan didn't get me out in those first three overs, his fourth over he'd normally go searching for wickets. Normally he'd start bowling fuller, so if I was in a powerful position, I'd be able to step-hit to be able to hit it dead-straight or step-hit to be able to slog-sweep. If you saw a lot of the times that I faced him, most of the runs that I scored off him were in the late parts of his third over or in his fourth over.
And just by playing him enough and seeing what he does - I got to know that he very rarely gets short, and if he does, it's very hard to get under, because he's quite fast and flat into the wicket, whereas if he gets a bit fuller, that's where I'm going to be able to line him up, and that's what I did a lot of the time.
This sort of ties in with what people often say, that you have more time in a T20 game than you think you do. Would you say that as well?
You do. You do for sure, but that's where you've got to assess. For me, even if it was the first over and I'd [only] faced a couple of balls, if I knew that this was a bowler I could line up, the ball's not swinging much today, it's coming on really nicely, I knew that I could try and capitalise on the bowler right then.
So, yes, you do have more time than you think, and it's amazing how if you build a partnership for a bit of time and get a bit of momentum, before you know it, you've scored so quickly without even trying, because the fielders are sort of sitting on the back foot a little bit, the bowlers start to get a bit frazzled as they're running in to bowl, so you get a few more scoring opportunities, but for me it's always been around, "Who's the bowler, is he a bowler I can take down?" Face one ball or two balls and realise, yup, against what he's bowling today, I can, so I've got to capitalise on that match-up.
If I've faced one or two balls of that bowler and go, "You know what, it's going to be high-risk, it's still moving around, or the ball's reacting differently off the wicket, I'm going to still have intent, but I'm not going to try and get in that power position and take him down." So for me it was always around what was in front of me, not so much how many [runs] we needed and all that sort of thing, because then you start looking too far ahead and end up taking more risks than you should at that time.
In the nets in 2004, during the first phase of his self-improvement project focusing on raising his white-ball game
Hamish Blair / © Getty Images
In the nets in 2004, during the first phase of his self-improvement project focusing on raising his white-ball game Hamish Blair / © Getty Images
You used the word "match-ups", but you're probably talking about something more instinctive feel rather than data. Or was it both?
No, it was instinctive. The data you can read, but it's your gut feel as a cricketer, and the intuition that you have, which is your unconscious mind processing information and coming out with an answer and you trusting that. Because that's every experience you've had in your life being processed in your mind, and then the answer comes up. You're not consciously trying to process it, it's just instinct and intuition.
For me it was about trusting that. It was all around gut feel, and when I was like, "Oh, this just doesn't feel right today, I'm just going to have to be a bit more careful against this guy", when I went against it, it never ended up well, because it was high-risk, it was higher risk than it needed to be.
You know when you've faced someone before and you know round about what they're going to do, you still have to [assess], for whatever reason, if it's slightly different that day, whether that person is bowling faster, slower, the ball's holding in the wicket more, whatever it is, then I had to trust that it was different and I had to change my game plan. But if it felt right within a ball - and it'd normally take one ball of facing a bowler - I'm like, okay, it's this, and now's the time to really make the most of this match-up, or it's time to just keep going through the game and wait for the moment where it does feel right.
The basic mathematics of T20 is that you have ten wickets to lose in 20 overs, which suggests you shouldn't put as much of a price on your wicket as you otherwise would, but how do you find a balance between that and also scoring runs, and not just mindlessly slogging?
It takes time just to work through, more than anything, what powerful positions you have to get into when it's the right time to be able to take the game on. But also, for the batters that are more innovative, in being able to premeditate a bit, whether it's a lap or a reverse lap or whatever it is, it's understanding what your scoring options are against certain types of bowlers and then just trusting that.
That is the ultimate challenge. You can only do that through experience, and normally through the experience of when it doesn't go well, when you take on the wrong balls, play the wrong sort of shot, or you're just swinging too hard because you need 12-15 runs an over, you're actually just overhitting the ball, and premeditating while hitting the ball, and losing your shape.
Again, that's just working through what your positions are, and being in control of what your mindset needs to be, [making sure] that your mind is not overspinning, that you're not trying to hit the ball too hard and being over-aggressive. It's understanding what is the right sort of intent you need in your own mind, and then technically what positions you need to get into as well, so you're not overhitting and losing your shape and missing out on getting the full face [of the bat] on a loose ball. And that just takes time to work through what your skill set is.
But the great thing about the young cricketers coming through now is, they're working it out earlier, because they're playing T20 cricket through their teens. In Australia, you start playing T20 cricket. Even six- and seven-year-olds. They're starting to work those skills out a little bit earlier, around what their scoring zones are.
"It was all around gut feel, and when I went against it, it never ended up well, because it was high-risk, it was higher risk than it needed to be"
Ryan Pierse / © Getty Images
"It was all around gut feel, and when I went against it, it never ended up well, because it was high-risk, it was higher risk than it needed to be" Ryan Pierse / © Getty Images
The flip side of that - you also mentioned that at certain moments, like when someone like Bhuvi is swinging the ball around, you're careful but not defensive. What's the balance there?
I certainly had my downtimes throughout my career, and that was normally when I was thinking about not getting out. So when I had that really defensive mindset of "Don't get out", I was not putting pressure on the bowler, I was allowing the bowler to bowl to me instead of the bowler feeling like if they bowled a loose ball I was going to be all over it, whether it was swinging or not. And that's where it's understanding that there is a difference, and it's an important difference, between the don't get out, just defend, and yes, I'm not going to be taking him down, but if he bowls me a half-volley or something like that, I'm going to be in position to be able to react and put it away.
Every batsman is always at their best when they've got a positive sort of intent to be able to put pressure on the bowler. Otherwise I know, as a bowler, when you know a batsman is just defending, you know you have more room for error, you know you don't have to bowl perfectly. There's not as much pressure to be perfect with your execution. It's understanding what that blend is, and exactly what it is for you, in those times when the ball is moving around, whether it's seaming, whether it's swinging a bit more, to be able to get through it, but still, if the bowler's off, you're able to put it away.
Until early 2016, you were an all-format player, and then you were just a T20 player. How did that change things - in terms of training, mindset, and just everything?
My T20 game improved. It improved because I was specialising in those specific T20 skills, and that's it. From a bowling perspective, while my body was able to handle it - which was really mainly for a year - I had, in 2016, the best year of bowling that I ever had in T20 cricket, just about, because I was specialising, I was only working on the specific balls, and that was it. I didn't have to focus on anything else. And also the right balls at the right time - I was only focused on that intuition of my game as well, instead of working through the other formats.
Then from a batting perspective, all I was doing was focusing on my power-hitting. Yes, making sure my defensive technique always had a solid foundation, but there's no doubt my hitting game definitely continued to get better, because I specialised.
I wouldn't have wanted it any other way, because I loved being able to work through the different skill sets, mentally and technically, around chopping and changing through the different formats, but once I specialised, I put all my energy into that, so it certainly helped my game.
On his one-time Royal Challengers Bangalore team-mate KL Rahul: "He's at his best when he's batting purely on instinct and putting a lot of pressure on the bowler, because he's just got every shot in the book"
On his one-time Royal Challengers Bangalore team-mate KL Rahul: "He's at his best when he's batting purely on instinct and putting a lot of pressure on the bowler, because he's just got every shot in the book" © BCCI
What's it like for a younger player? I'll take the example of KL Rahul. He had the best IPL of his year in 2018, but it was also the start of a really difficult time for him in Test cricket, when India were on tour a lot, mostly in swinging and seaming conditions, and he struggled. By the middle of 2019 he was dropped from the Test team. Since then he's come back to the Test team, but his T20 game has changed, and he starts much more conservatively. I don't know if there's a link between how you approach a T20 game and how you perform in other formats, but it must be difficult. This is a guy who's one day getting panned in the media for struggling in Test cricket, and once he cracks that, he's panned for starting slowly in T20 cricket. Is there a way to do both, and if there isn't, what would you say to a young player coming through - because your franchise wants you to be the best T20 player you can be, and your national team has its own expectations, and as an individual you have your own ambitions, and you want to do well in all formats. So what do you do?
It does take, one, conscious effort, but also time - in between series, and in between tournaments, to be able to work through, technically and then mentally, what are the changes they have to make. And the one thing with international cricketers, and KL Rahul for example, is, it's non-stop cricket. He'll go from the IPL, where he'll dominate, straight in [to international cricket] with no time, and probably one tour match to be able to find his groove, in different conditions, potentially with the ball swinging and seaming around, to be able to work out what your technique is going to be, and you're always evolving, especially when it's conditions away from home.
Even if you're only playing Test cricket, for example, and you have to go to different parts of the world, you have to make adjustments to your technique and work through a game plan of what's going to be successful. It's different to what you've grown up with. When you have to go to different countries as well, you'll have to work through a different game plan that's going to give you the best chance of being successful in different conditions.
So that alone is really challenging, but then tie that into playing all three formats, and having one tour match in different conditions to be able to make the adjustment to your game that you need to, to be as successful as you can, and it's a really big challenge, and there's not too many people who are able to do that really well, especially when you're travelling to different parts of the world.
That's where, I suppose, you also have to have a bit of luck on your side as well, around when you're going through that, that you're playing maybe a few more home series, so you've got more of a chance, because you know what the conditions are going to be.
But the thing I'd say, just specifically to KL Rahul - he's at his best when he's just taking the game on. Not trying to just rotate strike or being a bit more defensive. When he's batting purely on instinct and putting a lot of pressure on the bowler, because he's just got every shot in the book - wherever they bowl it, he can just hit that ball for a six or a boundary. When KL's a little bit more defensive in his mind, that's when, like all batters, you're a lot more susceptible to being exposed.
Karthik Krishnaswamy is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo
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