He had to wait for seven years to make his international debut, but when Junior Dala finally got a chance to play for South Africa, he immediately grabbed eyeballs. Against India in the T20I series in February earlier this year, Dala ended as joint-highest wicket-taker – seven wickets from three matches at an average of 15.71. The Titans fast bowler generated a lot of excitement with his pace as he consistently hit 140s and scalped the wickets of the likes of Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli. Dala has been a consistent performer in the domestic arena, especially in the limited-overs. He recently grabbed his first foreign T20 league contract when he was bought by Caribbean Premier League's Trinbago Knight Riders. Firstpost caught up with the South Africa pacer to discuss his debut series, bowling to AB de Villiers and the impact of Dale Steyn.
You had to wait seven long years to make your international debut. In your debut series (against India) you ended up as the joint-highest wicket-taker, tell us about the range of emotions you went through?
To be honest, for me personally, it was a sense of relief. It has always been a goal to play for South Africa and just getting the first one under the belt was a sense of relief and from there it was pretty much just about enjoying and my family was also there to watch me.
Tell us about your battle with Kohli, what was it like bowling to him. You also got him out with a ripper.....
The one thing I did say to myself was, 'when I bowl to Virat, just play the batsman and not the man - Virat'. Fortunately, I had a lot of practice bowling to AB de Villiers in our domestic T20 so I always figured that if I could bowl to AB, I could bowl to anyone in the world. I just tried to bowl my best delivery to Virat on the day.
How did you develop this liking to bowl fast? When did you first decided that you want to be a fast bowler?
South Africa have always had great fast bowlers - Alan Donald, Makhaya Ntini, Morne Morkel. Growing up, I enjoyed Morkel's bowling, he is one of my role models. And I always try to prove a point that I know I am quite short and all of that but I use that as a motivation to try and show the world that I can bowl quick despite being different, that was my motivation.
Do you depend just on raw pace or you have other deliveries in your armoury?
When I started playing first-class cricket, I just solely depended on bowling quick because I used to get away with it. But probably over the last two-three years, I started developing a lot of skills. If you look at the T20 series against India, in the first game I just tried to bowl quick but in the second and the third, I used a lot of variations, the back of the hand slower one, the off cutter and all of that.
Taking wickets is becoming increasingly important in T20 cricket. Do you still feel that raw pace is very important in T20 cricket?
Look, there is no substitute for pace, that's one thing. And it doesn't matter what format you play, if you bowl at 140 kmph, it will always put something at the back of the batter's mind. Yes, there is importance of pace because if you look around the world, medium pacers are sort of easily lined up. However, with bowling quick, you also need to bowl smart.
The numbers show that you have better stats in limited-overs in domestic arena. Are you working on improving in the longer format of the game? Or you want to be a limited-overs specialist?
If you had asked me this question last year, I would have definitely said that my T20 and 50-over cricket is something I enjoy and focus more on, but like I said earlier, when I started playing first-class cricket, I just tried to bowl quickly and thought that would be enough for me to get away with. Last year and probably a bit before that, I really started focusing on my first-class cricket. When I got selected for the South Africa A side to tour England and we played India A, I started developing my skills a little bit better and I think it's one of the formats that I think I am a bit better at the moment.
You have played with AB de Villiers at Titans, tell us something about AB that the world doesn't know?
First and foremost, I think he is the best in the world. When we keep playing the T20s, he is the first one to go to the nets and always the last one to leave. And he is so specific in the way he trains. For a senior player coming down to play for his domestic side, he puts in a lot of inputs and gives a lot back to the younger guys in the team. It's not a surprise that Lungi Ngidi is doing really well for the Proteas. It's just the little bit of advice that he gives us is really helpful.
What is it that you are learning from AB, what kind of advice is he giving you?
The one thing that as a bowler you never really think of is that we never really try to enter the batter's mind. So, during our whole Ram Slam campaign, that was something AB was trying to ingrain in both myself and Ngidi. He said every time before you deliver the ball, just think what the batsman is trying to think with a certain field so always go into the batter's mind before you make up your mind on what delivery to bowl. And that has worked. That's something I tried to use with the Proteas.
You played with Dale Steyn as well, your aggressive approach kind of reminds us of Steyn, is that something you have picked up from him?
I played my first game with Dale this season in the Ram Slam, obviously he's been around but in terms of playing, this is the first time and after the first two or three games, he sort of abused me and said I bowled quickly but I am little bit soft in terms of getting into the batter's face. 'Bowl a little bit aggressively and show that I am there to compete and not just there for them to smash me around the park.' So that aggressive nature I learnt from him. He is a very chilled guy off the field but when he has that ball in his hand, he tries to show the batters that he is there to compete and gives it his all. That's one thing I learnt from him.
Steyn was at the Glamorgan last year and the amount of time he spent with the academy bowlers was unreal, sitting and talking about wrist position and all that. He seems like one of those guys who is happy to always help?
I've had past Proteas players that played for Titans that I wouldn't say aren't helpful but sort of difficult for a younger guy to go to, someone who's that established. The nice thing about Dale is that he offers advice without you asking and he doesn't see us as competitors and is always trying to bring the best out of his teammates and even the younger guys. We sit at the dinner table, I could ask him one thing and the conversation will end up being a 2 or 3-hour conversation.
South Africa has always had a fiery pace bowling attack, and with the likes of Rabada, Ngidi doing well, does that put extra pressure on you or does it actually make it easier in terms of seeing guys that you have known break into the side and do well?
When they (likes of Rabada and Ngidi) played, I always thought international cricket was such a big step from domestic cricket. But they doing well has paved the way for younger and newer guys to have that confidence to show that it doesn't have to take you one or two series to sort of find your feet, you can make an immediate impact or take up that senior role which is something that Kagiso has done for the Proteas for the last two years. You can take that senior role from the go and don't have to live in anyone's shadows so that's the positive I take from them.
Who has had the biggest impact on your life and cricketing career so far?
First of all, myself. I have always tried to motivate myself because (when) you have failures, some people won't be around, so as long as I can have failures, I can still look at myself and be motivated. But someone like Morne Morkel, I met him for the first time when I got into the Titans and from there on he's been a big motivator for me. We have similarities in the way we bowl and we are same type of bowlers obviously he is much taller than I am but in the way we approach things we are the same so I have always tried to pick up from what he had done and how he had improved.
Caribbean Premier League will be your first foreign league experience, what are your goals going into the league?
Going to the Caribbean is something I am looking forward to. I am in the Trinidad side with some of the world's best like Brendon McCullum and Chris Lynn so I think it will be an invaluable experience bowling to those guys each and every day in the nets. It's a learning curve to see how the guys from New Zealand and Australia play their one-day cricket and most importantly my biggest goal is I want to be the best, up there in terms of the leading wicket-takers. I am not going there for experience, I am going there to show the world what I can do.