This was the first time you played in English conditions. What did you learn?
The condition’s really good for bowling. I’ve heard that it is always like that in this time of summer. I noticed one thing there, when it’s cloudy the pitch plays one way, once the clouds clear it plays in a completely different way. After the clouds clear, there is nothing on offer for the bowlers.
You couldn’t play in last year’s Asia Cup due to an injury. Since then you have been playing regularly. For the first time in your international career you are completely free of injuries…
Injuries are something like driving a car. You never know when you will get in an accident. A car can just jam into you out of the blue. Even if there is nothing wrong with your car and you are a good driver, accidents can happen from nowhere and there’s nothing you can do about that. You’re bowling, you’re fit, everything’s going great, but suddenly you suffer an injury. There’s nothing you can do when something like that happens, it’s not in anyone’s control.
You hardly celebrate after taking a wicket. Why is that?
I’ve said this before, I feel that I’ve already got the batsman’s wicket, that’s the important thing. What’s the point in celebrating and making him feel even worse (smiles).
When did you start believing that you have the ability to do well on the big stage?
In the match against India (at the T20 World Cup). I got three wickets that day. That match in the World Cup was my first match against India. I was really nervous. There’s no way to figure out what their scoring shots are, how they bat without playing against them first. It doesn’t matter how many times you see it on TV, you won’t understand these things before they score runs against you. Only after playing against them you will understand how you can restrict them.
In that match, KL Rahul hit you for a six on a good length ball over cover point. It was an incredible shot.
Yes, if I had played against him before, maybe I would’ve known that he would try to hit me for a six over the covers if I bowl an out-swinger. Then I would’ve tried to bowl more on middle and leg stump. I would check if he is flicking the ball through the leg side or not. I can figure out things like this only after playing against them, not before that.
There are many pacers knocking at the door of the national team. Do you feel the pressure of competition?
I have a role in the team. If there someone else who can play that role, the management will have two choices. That’s how the competition is. At the end of the day, performance is the main factor. I’m focusing only on that.
You bowl in all three situations of the match, in the powerplay, middle-overs and at the death. What’s your main plan while bowling in these three situations?
If I talk about the recent Ireland series, the wicket in Chelmsford was really good. But due to the condition, there was also a decent amount of swing available. I can swing the ball both ways. That made my job easier. When I realised that I can swing the ball and also control it, it gave me a lot of confidence. The white ball swings only in the first three-four overs, I tried to make use of that. After that in the middle overs I just try to bowl according to the field. And in the slog overs, my only goal is to concede as little as possible. That’s how I bowled. I mixed up yorkers and slower deliveries or bowled wide yorkers and slowers. I tried to bowl to either concede a single or bowl a dot every ball.
How crucial is controlling the swing with the new ball?
If the ball swings too much, it won’t take the edge. I have to try to swing the ball just enough to get an edge. For example, if I notice that the ball is swinging too much after I pitch it in the off-stump line, I will try to swing the ball from the middle stump line. That usually covers the extra swing and maybe even creates some edges. Sometimes I even try to swing the ball from the leg stump line. And if the ball isn’t swinging too much, then I try to keep the ball outside of off-stump. I try to keep the ball in the fourth or fifth stump line.
You are talking about your out-swingers. But you use that too mainly set the batsman up for your in-swinger.
Yes, if I can get an edge from the out-swingers, that’s good. But I mainly try to bowl out or trap the batsman for LBW with my in-swinger.
With the new ball, your pattern is usually three out-swingers then one in-swinger, right?
Sometimes I bowl three out-swingers, sometimes I bowl five out-swingers before bowling the in-swinger. Sometimes I don’t bowl an in-swinger at all in the first over. But the batsmen always have it on their minds that I can bowl an in-swinger. So, they don’t completely commit on the front foot. I can bowl in-swingers from the first ball if I want to. But I don’t do it to sow doubt in the batsman’s mind.
In your action and your release, you don’t give away which way the ball is going to go.
I think the batsmen still haven’t figured it out because my wrist stays upright. When the ball is new, I can easily bowl out-swingers. When it’s old, the ball moves inwards after pitching.
I learnt that from Mustafiz bhai (Mustafizur Rahman). He bowls this delivery. He pitches the ball short, the ball bounces high but by the time it reaches the batter the ball dips. When the batters try to hit it, they can’t get the timing right. He bowls it like an off-cutter and I bowl it with a back of the hand deliveryHasan Mahmud
You also bowl with a wobbly seam sometimes…
Yes, with the old ball. When I feel that I need to move the ball away from the batter, I bowl with a wobbly seam. When I bowl the wobbly seam delivery, I hold the ball in the out-swing shape. But I use the angle. My seam position is towards first slip but because of the angle the ball comes inwards, almost like reverse swing. The batsmen see the seam position of an out-swinger, but the ball comes back in. There are also a few deliveries that come inwards even with an upright seam position.
Do you know that the upright seam ball would come back in, or does it just happen?
With the old ball, my target is to bring the ball into the batsman. On most occasions, I can do it.
You have cut back on your pace. Is that to get more swing?
Yes. I have to adjust to the condition. When I can swing the new ball, I don’t need to bowl at 140 km/h. It’s better to bowl at around 135 km/h. When the ball gets older, I bowl with more pace.
Your death over bowling is really simple. You just bowl yorkers and back of the hand slower deliveries, right?
I mix them up. Like in that day, (Third ODI against Ireland), I mixed the two deliveries in the last over. When Mark Adair was on strike, I bowled a slower delivery because he was hitting the block hole deliveries really well. I decided I won’t bowl in the block hole against him, he will hit me, the straight boundary is short. I decided I will vary my pace. Then I bowled him the back of the hand slower delivery.
But out of all the slower variations, the back of the hand slower is the toughest to bowl…
I practice this ball a lot. There is no secret behind it. The funny thing is, the more pressure I’m under, the better I bowl this particular delivery. I can control it even when I’m under pressure.
I’ve heard you can bowl two types of back of the hand slowers?
I bowl one of them with a conventional seam position. The other one is a crossed seam one. If the ball lands on the seam, it bounces up. If it bounces too much, there is a risk of getting hit. If I bowl it cross seam, there is a chance the ball will land on the side and not on the seam. When that happens, the ball keeps low. Then it’s difficult for the batsmen to hit. Then again, even when you bowl cross seam, the ball sometimes lands on the seam. Then the ball bounces up.
I’ve seen you bowl back of the hand bouncers as well. How is that possible?
I learnt that from Mustafiz bhai (Mustafizur Rahman). He bowls this delivery. He pitches the ball short, the ball bounces high but by the time it reaches the batter the ball dips. When the batters try to hit it, they can’t get the timing right. He bowls it like an off-cutter and I bowl it with a back of the hand delivery.
How important is it to have the clarity of mind?
It’s the most important thing. In the final over of that match (the third ODI against Ireland), I bowled slower deliveries whenever I wanted to. I had no confusion when I was at the bowling mark. Tamim bhai (captain Tamim Iqbal) gave me full freedom. He told me to do whatever I wanted to. I don’t know if you noticed or not, in the last over no one came up to talk to me. This helped me to think clearly.
I’ve heard you have some theories on yorkers…
For example, there are some batsmen like Andre Russell and Kieron Pollard, whose mishits can also end up being sixes. You can bowl yorkers to the other batters. Even if you miss the mark with yorkers, it’s difficult to hit a low full toss. This thought gives me confidence. Still, you can get hit in the death overs. Even good balls can go for fours and sixes. You have to accept it.
This is the year of the World Cup, naturally there are a lot of discussions around it. Do you see yourself in the World Cup team?
I don’t think so far ahead. I’m going day by day. We’ll see what happens when the World Cup comes.
*This interview appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for the English edition by Ashfaq-Ul-Alam Niloy