IPL 2017: SRH's Ben Laughlin on freelance cricket, death bowling and wishing he 'got more coverage'
Firstpost caught up with the SRH pacer Ben Laughlin to understand the difficulties of a T20 specialist, the insecurities of the job and role of T20s in providing lifeline to outcast cricketers.
In a world where cricketers have started going the freelance way, Ben Laughlin is another name who has converted into a T20 specialist. The tall lanky pacer made his debut for Australia in 2009 and following a bumpy international ride, ended up playing just five ODIs and three T20Is. He played only seven first-class matches. However, his consistent domestic limited-overs performances, especially in T20s, have held him in good stead throughout his career. He is the highest wicket taker in history of the BBL and is known for his wily death bowling. The Tasmanian pacer was bought by Chennai Super Kings in 2013 but got very little playing time, just two matches. The 34-year-old has had the experience of playing around the world. He's played for Antigua Hawksbills, Cantebury, Northern Districts, Chennai Super Kings. He even played Capricorn Commanders in the Masters Champions League. And following another impressive season for the Adelaide Strikers in the BBL, where he ended as their joint-highest wicket taker, Sunrisers Hyderabad bought him at the 2017 auctions for a base price of 30 lakhs. Firstpost caught up with the SRH pacer to understand the difficulties of a T20 specialist, the insecurities of the job and role of T20s in providing lifeline to outcast cricketers.
How did you find out about SRH buying you in the auction?
I was on Twitter while having dinner. There were not too many live streams for the auctions so I kept refreshing and it popped up there, I started getting some messages. My wife was upstairs and I let out a loud scream and she came running down and yelled at me for waking up our son. Then she was alright after that (smiles). It was good fun. I was quite disappointed after not being picked up in the first round and was a bit down and out, but after being picked up in the second which was quite awesome. It was quite good. Pretty happy times.
You last played a List A match in 2013 and First class game in 2012. How did you turn into just being a short form specialist?
Yeah, it wasn't by design, I wasn't really good at first-class cricket (smiles), my skills weren't suited to those sorts of games. I wasn't picked in many teams so didn't really get the opportunity to play too many first class games. I really enjoy playing List A cricket, I like one-day cricket but the way our contract system works in Australia, if you don't really play first-class cricket, it's hard just to play one-day cricket. That left just T20 cricket. Yeah, so that's where I ended up. Probably as I get older, it's beneficial not to be playing so much cricket and just focusing on the T20 and get the body through games a bit easier.
Not just you but a lot of other cricketers have turned freelancers, do you think it's provided a lifeline for them not just to play cricket but earn a living out of it?
Oh Definitely! I think the money comes and that's enjoyable but just having the chance to keep playing games at a high level amidst big crowds and getting that buzz is amazing. You can't miss that. It's really enjoyable coming over and playing in the IPL and meeting guys like David Warner and Kane Williamson, it's just amazing and then meeting the local boys - Yuvraj, Shikhar Dhawan and Bhuvneshwar. These guys are just amazing, so it opens up those avenues to form new friendships and move around the world and meet these guys, it's just an amazing experience.
How difficult is it to attract interests from franchises when you are not playing for national teams?
Yeah, probably my hardest thing is to get noticed. I performed quite well in Big Bash but it doesn't really seem to get massive airtime internationally. In other way, I am quite fortunate being an Australian we seem to have a fair few Australians coaching these teams around the world so they obviously see what I do back home a fair bit. But yeah, that's a little bit of a tricky situation. Sometimes I wish, I got a bit more coverage and sold myself to these franchises a bit more.
You play with so many different teams, with different culture and demands, how do you adapt and adjust to the demands in such a short time?
The first couple of times were a bit challenging, figuring out how to play in the new conditions and get up the speed. Now I've done it for few years and understand what I need to get right for the games. It's a bit easier. It's always hard coming into a new team and meeting them. Like its 20 new boys I had to meet here, takes you few days to learn everyone's name and understand what everyone does and where you're going to fit in. It's been a good couple of weeks getting to know the guys here at the Sunrisers but they've been amazing.
Being a freelancer, you are all on your own, how hard is it to look after the fitness and other stuff?
I've got a fitness trainer back home whom I train with. Around two or three sessions a week. Fortunately I live in Brisbane which is where Centre of Excellence is, so there is lots of amazing facilities at Allan Border Field that I can go on and train with. I do a bit of training with Queensland state team when I am in town. But it's a lot up to your self so it's a bit of a mental challenge sometimes to get up and do all the training by yourself. But I always find it quite rewarding when you do it by yourself, it's more of a pat on the back.
How much of insecurity comes with freelancing?
You don't really know what's going on in your life too much, which my wife doesn't love. But you can't plan too far ahead. With all the auctions and drafts these days, you just put in your name and see if something pops up. Last winter I didn't have too much but this winter I've got IPL and then the BBL later on in the year. And something might pop up in the Caribbean. So yeah, you can be quite busy or sometimes quite slow at home.
How do you deal with these insecurities?
It's hard if you've nothing coming up and training wise you are not sure how hard we need to be with it which keeps things a bit tough. And going through the injuries in bits and pieces (is tough too). And I've recently become a father 10 months ago so this is my first long stint away from the family which makes things a little bit harder. Yes, it used to be a lot easier when you are just with your wife and you can disappear or take them with you but with little family it's a bit more challenging now and it sort of hurts the personal strings a bit.
As of now, I am still contracted to Adelaide Strikers in the Big Bash League so you've always got that to look forward to for the next couple of years, which is really good. I've got a career outside of cricket, I am a builder back in Australia so always got plenty of building work going on to keep me busy when cricket's not happening.
With your Adelaide Strikers contract ending in two years, do you plan well in advance what would you do after that?
Yeah, yeah. if my body stays together then personally I reckon I can play for another three or four years. But if the Adelaide Strikers is the end of my time then I have to join the real world. I was fortunate not to be very good at cricket when I was younger so I didn't start playing professionally till I was 25-26. I've had a carpentry building background before then. And I'll slot back into that once cricket's done which is quite enjoyable.
We often hear a T20 changing room is a great place to pick up trade secrets from around the world. What's the best tip you've been given about bowling in India?
India....Ah...Your grounds are quite small here, a lot of them, so not get dented in the pride too much when you do get hit into the top tier or onto the roof in India. Just keep coming back and try harder. Don't get down too much...yeah. Ricky Ponting gave me the the tip that you've got to move on quickly from bad things when I first played for Australia so that stuck with me for a long time. I had a really good chat with Bhuvi (Bhuvneshwar Kumar) in the last training session which was great. I've been a huge fan of him for a while. I think he has beautiful skills. Had a nice 20 minute chat when we were having a bowl. That was really good just to see how he goes about things with his skills.
It's also amazing to have VVS and Moody over here. Great people to have around. I actualy didn't think they would be so highly involved in training and they are really good with their wealth of knowledge.
Do you prick brains of world class players like Kane Williamson?
Yeah, a little bit. I fine tune. I sit next to Kane a fair bit, So I ask him about his captaincy and decisions that he would take or what Davey (Warner) would take next. That's really interesting. When you talk to Kane Williamson, you feel like he is 35 and played 300 Test matches but he is only 26 and still quite young. It's amazing for such a young guy to have such amazing knowledge. He is very good to talk to.
How do you rate David Warner's captaincy?
Davey is great. That's was one of the things I was looking forward to to seeing how Davey would captain a side, when we came over. Captains that I like put all the trust in the bowler and let him design his own fields. And that's exactly what Davey does. A little bit of interaction here and there but he backs the bowler to get the job done. So he's been great. If you noticed during the games, Davey is always down at long off and getting some information from Kane and Tom (Moody) and feeding it through. So it's a really good mix.
How do you find Yuvraj's batting flow right now?
I had a good go at Yuvi which was good. Yuvraj is in pretty good form at the moment. That was a real good challenge, just a great experience. And even chatting to him afterwards about a few game plans and things like that which brought out so much knowledge, it's just great.
There are times when you don't get a single game throughout a tournament, how do you keep yourself motivated?
Yeah, it can be challenging. When I was with CSK, I probably switched off a bit and I was disappointed with myself. I actually did eventually get a game but I wasn't sharp as I thought I should be. So that's going to be challenge this time, to stay really motivated throughout the whole tournament. It's good having the other guys on the bench and we can sort of challenge each other. It's nice to have Kane (Williamson) and (Chris) Jordan bounce things off each other and keep driving each other with our training which is really good.
How do you fancy your chances of making it to the starting XI in the tournament in the coming days?
We've had a comparatively slow first week but there are a lot of games in the next couple of weeks. It's like you are only one injury away sort of a thing. But having said that, our bowling attack is amazing. Hopefully we keep winning. And if I do get I chance, I would love to get out there. But with Fizz (Mustafizur Rahman) coming in, it's going to be awesome to see him bowling with Rashid. So it's a pretty good squad.
You've been termed as death bowling specialist, was it a concious decision to specialise in one area ?
A little bit. I probably sort of directed that way with just the way I bowl. My first couple of years in Big Bash, I was in Hobart and Rana Naveed was our overseas player who was an exceptional death bowler so I got to watch how he went about things and learn some stuff from him. And then when he moved on I took that role over. so it's a niche that I have carved out for myself which is unpleasant sometimes but lot of fun some other times.
You as a death bowler, how would you bowl to someone....
Don't say AB....don't lean on to that (laughs). It's funny when you watch AB bat," you sort of go...Ah! I might do this and then you do that and he hits it for six and you go Uh! Okay, I might start again and try something else. He is just phenomenal. But AB was my first wicket, he just hit one to cover. It was a bad shot. It wasn't great bowling (laughs)
I was going to ask, someone like MS Dhoni?
Okay, I have spent a bit of time with Dhoni at CSK and had a lot of net bowling at him. It went okay in some net session. But other times he hit me into the stands. So little bit of learning there. I won't give away too many secrets in case we have to bowl against him in Pune (Laughs). I am alright, I don't mind myself against Dhoni. I reckon I have not got him sorted out but I am comfortable with what I am going to do there.
How different is it playing in IPL compared to BBL?
Probably the wickets are the big difference. In Australia you get pace and bounce, here it is slower and the bounce isn't quite as effective especially towards the fag end of the games. So you sort of get a little bit more predictable with your lengths. And the other thing I found out challenging is that IPL is not televised massively back in Australia, so they don't get to see the local Indian boys play and hence struggle with gameplan against them with very little footage. Whereas in BBL I know the guys so well and when you see them play so often you sort of get a really good read on what they are going to do. So that's a little bit of challenge over here.
What next for Ben Laughlin now?
A couple of more years at Adelaide (Strikers). And this year probably head home and spend some time with family, going over to New York for a couple of weeks. It should be nice and then get ready for few competitions towards the back end. Yeah, just keep training and sometimes offers pop up so got to be ready if they do.
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