Scott Styris is among the few who can talk about the Sankar Cement Tamil Nadu Premier League more than anybody else. The former New Zealand all-rounder has been a regular at the Twenty20 event every year since it began in 2016. The 44-year-old loves to commentate at the tournament because “it’s a world-class event” and also “it’s nice to see youngsters progress through the years”. The top-order batsman and medium-pacer who turned out in 29 Tests and 188 One-Day Internationals for the Black Caps believes genuine all-rounders are a rare breed. Excerpts from an interview:
In four years, how do you think the TNPL has progressed?
In the first year, there were players that I certainly did not know outside of the big-name Indian internationals. The skill level that all the players showed in the first year has been enhanced year after year. We are starting to see players break into the IPL as well. We have seen Washington Sundar from the TNPL go on and play for India. We have seen Natarajan play for a couple of different IPL teams and Jagadeesan making it to CSK for the last couple of years, he has already scored a 100 in TNPL this year. I think what you are seeing is the next wave of players coming through and trying out to make their mark at the higher levels. It’s nice to see the youngsters progressing through the years.
What do you have to say about the organisation and the conduct of this Twenty20 league?
Right from year one, the organisation and the way that the tournament was put together and then the way it runs, is like any other first-class T20 tournament around the world. I think it’s a world-class tournament. It’s probably the best, most organised and well run T20 league state-wise in India, having had a very small taste of the Karnataka Premier League as well. We are also starting to see the media, social media side of things starting to come into play with the TNPL. It’s a tournament that I certainly enjoy coming back to, simply because you know that everything is going to run well.
Twenty20 cricket has put a lot of emphasis on all-rounders. What’s your take on it?
Maybe there’s a little misconception about who is an all-rounder. There are very few players who can command a spot in the team with both bat and ball. By that I mean, if your batting wasn’t any good you will still be in the team for your bowling and if your bowling wasn’t any good you will still be in the team for your batting. Over the years, worldwide there have been very few players like that. So an all-rounder isn’t someone who simply just bats and bowls, he must command a spot with one discipline. And that’s usually being in the top four or five with the bat or as a frontline bowler where no matter what, he will get three or four overs in a T20 or 10 overs in a one-dayer. India, I think over the years have really had two and that’s Kapil Dev and Hardik Pandya. It’s not an insult to say that there aren’t any players who are genuine all-rounders. I would say there’s a lot of potential to be enhanced.
Is it also because it is a difficult task since you are expected to do two things?
Not necessarily. I think what you find with all-rounders is a mentality and a mindset that they have over other players, they always want to be in the game. They are not happy just grazing in the outfield, standing out there and not doing anything for the full 20 overs, or full 50 overs or a Test match. They want to be constantly involved. We had a great one, Chris Cairns. And Chris Cairns always talked about if he’s injured and couldn’t bowl, he didn’t feel like he was the same player, even though he would still be able to bat because he was very, very good. He needed both disciplines to feel like he was a full cricketer.
How did it work for you?
I was similar with that mindset. I was like most New Zealand kids, who play a lot of sports. So you’re always involved, always active. Obviously, I wasn’t happy just standing in the field and not getting to bowl. I grew up as a batsman but it flipped over later on my First Class opportunity where I was a bowler first and batted down the order. And then I flipped back to what it always was. So you know, that’s the other thing with all-rounders, it doesn’t always develop in the same way. We’ve seen it in Hardik Pandya, where his batting has come on one year and the next year, the bowling is quite sharp and the next year it goes further on. You don’t improve (with bat and ball) at the same level. And so it was with myself, where it just kept flip-flopping before I got to that position where I was batting at number four for New Zealand and was a bowler too. That’s the way it was, with a mentality to be always in the game.
What is it with New Zealand that you keep producing these fine all-rounders? Before you, there was Chris Cairns, Chris Harris and now Jimmy Neesham.
I think it’s the beauty of having a small population, we only have four and a half million people in New Zealand, which is less than half of what Chennai has in the city. So when you have so few people if there are players with any talent in their team to stand out, and because they stand out, they are always batting and bowling. Someone like Jacob Oram, for example, he didn’t start bowling at all until he was about 19 years of age. So it just shows that when you have some abilities, then you tend to get more opportunities when the population is less. In some ways, the population being small can hem you because you don’t get the volume and the depth and you rely on a few players. It can also provide more opportunities in terms of staying in the team and getting picked in the team. With a lot of players, they get a long leash before they get dropped because you aren’t having the same quality behind. Whereas in India there’s so much depth that if you’re not playing well in a series, you could be dropped for somebody else.
Any players in this TNPL season, you think can make it to the next level?
I think the major names are still the major names at the moment. But there are a couple of players who I think have futures but they need a lot more development. One of those that I talked about last year, was Trilok Nag (Dindigul Dragons’ fast bowler). I like him because of the natural attributes, he is the quickest bowler in this tournament, he’s a 6 foot 4” and there’s no substitute for height. I would actually love to see an IPL team pick him up and say, ‘right, he is not going to play in year one, he’s not ready yet. He’s not probably playing in year two either’. But from year three onwards, once he gets two months, each year, work with him and then when he comes to Tamil Nadu, he works with the squad as well. He’s down with the needs all the time because you can’t buy six foot four and 140 km/hr bowlers when everything goes right. We’ve seen it the TNPL, he has that ability. So there are a lot of very good players but you’re looking for an X-factor. I’m looking for those players who maybe can translate that when they go up a little.