Avesh Khan was the most expensive Delhi Capitals bowler in their qualifier against Chennai Super Kings on Sunday, taking one wicket for 47 runs. Though he still is the second highest wicket-taker this season, that innings pushed his season economy rate to 7.50. Before the game he was the only bowler among the top five wicket-takers this season under 7 on ER, and he has been key in Capitals making the playoffs and finishing on top of the points table at the end of the league phase. In this conversation, which took place on October 7, Avesh opens up about his bowling mind.
You have been with Delhi Capitals since 2017, but this is the first season where you have played every match. That confidence of playing every game is big, isn't it?
Yes. The budding players who want to play for India look at the IPL as a doorway. So this year, having got the opportunity in every game has given me added confidence. Every year I would prepare with the mindset that I would play from the first match, but unfortunately I did not get chances. Last two years I got one match each. This season [Kagiso] Rabada and [Anrich] Nortje were not available for the first two matches and Ishant [Sharma] bhai was injured. Then Rishabh [Pant] trusted me, so my aim was, if I am getting a chance from the first match, I should grab it wholeheartedly, and bring out a performance which will help the team win.
We have lost only three matches out of 13 [at the time of the interview] and those too have been close defeats. None of those was one-sided.
For a budding player, if you are getting to play from the first match, the confidence is different because you are one of the main players in the team. You are then not playing to make a spot for yourself but to make the team win. You are playing to perform because if you perform and the team wins then personally it is good for you for future matches.
In our first match, against Chennai, I did well and then my rhythm was good and I continued. I did not overthink. Mentally I was stable and focused on going match by match, along with the bowling plans for the opposition batsmen. Slowly I have now started bowling in the slog [overs], and also in the powerplay.
Let's talk about that first match against Chennai and the wicket of MS Dhoni, which you took with the second ball you bowled to him. It was on a hard length outside off, and he ended up pulling it on to his stumps.
When Mahi bhai walked in, Rishabh told me to bring in the mid-on and mid-off. He said if he [Dhoni] hits you over them, that is fine, but don't pitch fuller, bowl your length. At first I disagreed with him and asked him not to bring in five fielders and leave only four inside [the 30-yard circle], but he insisted. So I did that and the second ball, he [Dhoni] attempted to hit over when he saw both fielders [mid-on and mid-off] inside the circle. He had not played for a while, and Rishabh took advantage of that and we got the wicket.
You got Dhoni once again in the repeat match in Dubai recently with a similar ball.
Once again I had a chat with Rishabh. Basically he said to pitch a hard length and let him [Dhoni] hit from there because it is tough to do that. And that is what I did and he edged.
Three of the balls you bowled to Ambati Rayudu in the rest of that over were fast and full outside off stump. Tell us a bit about the plan there.
I had already had a chat before the over with Rishabh about bowling wide yorkers. For Mahi bhai the plan was different. For Rayudu bhai, he told me he would set the field and then point out what delivery to bowl. Against Jaddu bhai [Ravindra Jadeja], I wanted to use the long boundary on the on side. I told Rishabh that since Jaddu bhai was in good touch, he could make use of pace, so I would go for the slower delivery. He took a single. Then Rishabh told me that Rayudu bhai will try to hit you on the leg stump, using the pace, so he said to set the field for the wide yorker and bowl that.
Now when I am at the top of my bowling mark, I only think of executing the ball I have in mind. I do not think about what shot the batsman will play, whether he will sweep or play the lap shot. I don't have any apprehensions. I back my instincts and focus always on the ball I want to bowl.
Can you talk about the Hardik Pandya wicket in the game before the CSK one? The field was set for the wide yorker but you surprised him with a 143kph straight yorker and got him bowled.
In that match the ball was reversing a bit and I took advantage. If you see it again, you will see the ball starts from the fourth stump as it leaves my hand and then swings into his legs before tailing into his leg stump.
In my third over [16th of the innings] I had noticed that the ball was swinging late, and I beat Krunal [Pandya] on two deliveries. We can't apply saliva, but I used sweat to make it swing. In the death overs if the ball swings even a bit, it affects the batsman's timing. And I know that I can take advantage with my ability to get reverse swing. That was my intention.
In the team meeting Ponting asked Rabada, Nortje and me what was our plan for Hardik. I said, if I bowl against Hardik bhai, I will bowl to take his wicket. In such a situation to be defensive is difficult because he is such a good hitter and if I miss the length, he can hit me for six or four. We needed to go for the wicket because the next over [20th] Ashwin bhai was going to bowl.
Would you say that Hardik Pandya wicket was your most enjoyable one this IPL?
Yes, I enjoyed that wicket a lot. When I watch the video, I get a very good feeling - I have bowled a good ball, a yorker. In the first half of this IPL, I was bowling yorkers and giving four-six runs an over, but I was not getting wickets. So when I see a ball that makes an impact - you bowl a yorker and the batsman is bowled - that feel was different.
Harshal Patel and you are the leading wicket-takers so far this IPL. Both of you bowl at the death and bowl a large number of yorkers in this phase. Clearly you have worked on how to bowl the yorker, especially at death.
It depends on what the match situation demands. For example, in my third over [against Mumbai] I did not bowl so many yorkers but in the last over I bowled four [including the Hardik Pandya wicket ball]. Also, it was Sharjah, where the wicket is slow, so you can mix slower balls with yorkers and slow bouncers. But on flat wickets, yorkers are very necessary - like in Mumbai and Ahmedabad, where it is pretty flat. If you bowl slower and it does not grip the surface on those wickets, the batsman has time to hit the ball.
You have bowled the 20th over six times [and once more since the interview], the most for your team this year. You must feel proud that the team trusts you to bowl at the death?
It is good for me that the team management, especially Rishabh, has belief in me. I give full credit to him.
Our plans are very clear. For example, if I want to bowl a stump yorker at Rayudu bhai, he might refuse and say, "Bowl wide yorkers." I don't argue with him. I want to become a flexible bowler who can talk with the captain and listen to him. We have played together since our Under-19 days. We sit together - Rishabh, Axar [Patel] and me - and discuss matches late into the night. From behind the wicket he makes a signal and I understand what he wants and then I focus on executing the ball. Our conversations are very clear. All this is not visible on TV. When I stand at the top of my run-up I look at him, not the batsman. What he [Pant] is thinking, what ball he wants me to deliver. If he says nothing, I go with the ball I want.
Amay Khurasiya, your mentor, told one of my colleagues in an interview: "When you come back consistently after getting hit, you start becoming a good bowler." Do you agree?
The last match [vs Super Kings in the league stage] is a good example. I did not feel like I bowled as well as I usually do. There was room for improvement. Amay sir is right. If you look at the match, I had gone for 32 runs in my first three overs. I did not think about myself at that point when I went for the final over. I wanted to ensure the opposition should not score more than 140 runs. They were about 132 after 19 overs. James Hopes [Capitals bowling coach] has repeatedly said that you might go for no runs in three overs, but you still need to focus on bowling that one last crucial over. And I was bowling that crucial over, the last over. We won that match in the last over. If I had given 10-15 extra runs, they could have made 145-150 and the result could have been different.
I had removed from my mind that I had gone for 32 runs in three overs. If I thought, "Today is not my day, I am being hit for runs, I am not bowling well", then that would have been wrong. I would have been in a negative mindset. But I only told myself, I have just this one over left and the fewer runs I give, it will restrict our target and benefit my team. I gave only four runs. I felt pretty good.
In the past I would have been thinking about the early overs of the spell, where I might have gone for runs, and that would have had an effect on the later overs. So that over against Chennai, where I managed to restrict them, has helped with my mental confidence. I learned a lot from that experience - if I get hit in my first two overs, I can come back, I can get wickets and bring the team back, because in IPL the game changes every over.
Against Sunrisers Hyderabad earlier in the season, the game ended in a Super Over. You were hit for a four and six at the start of the sixth over, but you responded well.
It was a low-scoring game. Jonny Bairstow is someone who wants to make full use of the powerplay and attacks straightaway. That six was pretty good. The sound that came off his bat - as a bowler you are a bit stunned. Still, my aim was to get his wicket somehow. The pitch was on the slower side, so I bowled a slower delivery and he missed his timing and was out [caught at mid-on]. I knew that the more pace I gave him, the quicker he would hit. So I cut down on pace and got his wicket.
In the past Rabada had delivered the Super Over for Capitals. Now Pant and Ponting have confidence in you too.
The backing of the team, especially the coach and captain, is important. But I also want to say this: you can't judge a player in one or two matches. You have to give a player a minimum of four-five matches to judge whether he has the capacity to perform. Earlier in the season Rishabh told me he would give me two-three matches and it would be upon me to grab the opportunity.
After the match against Kolkata Knight Riders where you took 3 for 13, Ponting in the post-match dressing-room briefing said you are no more an "unsung hero" but are rather a "sung" hero. Did that make you feel proud?
He knows me for four years now. After the third match this season, he said: "You are the unsung hero." In the KKR match I got a wicket in my first over, and then I got Dinesh Karthik's wicket in the next over. I felt good listening to him compliment me in front of everyone.
You get goosebumps listening to him. He talks about what you are playing for: for pride, to win, for yourself, for your team members. On match day he puts his hands on both my shoulders and says: "Keep it simple. Do your thing."
Ponting hands out badges in the dressing room to reward players for their efforts on the field, regardless of the result. How many have you got so far?
In five matches in the second half so far this IPL, three badges, and in the first half, in the eight matches I got five badges.