Pakistan v Australia T20 - Men's
Re-Zamped: Spinner's winter of change
Adam Zampa discusses his 'heated' phone call with Trevor Hohns, his off-season abroad and how he forced his way back into national colours
One of Australian cricket’s lingering misconceptions is that the national selection panel dispenses its autonomous wisdom from a position of lofty privilege, neither approachable nor accountable.
Furthermore, it’s believed that any player who dares challenge the panel’s all-seeing jurisdiction is immediately consigned to that ‘never again to be considered’ file that overflows with tales of hard luck and talent unrewarded.
It may therefore surprise many that when Adam Zampa was dumped from the men’s ODI and T20 squads last May despite being Australia’s most successful white-ball bowler over the two years prior, and then locked horns with selectors to try and glean why, his card was not indelibly marked.
To the contrary, fast-forward five months and the 26-year-old leg-spinner is back in national colours as part of Australia’s T20 squad due to contest the limited-overs portion of the Qantas Tour of the UAE this week.
What is less revelatory is Zampa’s role as a central figure in this episode, given the pride he takes in being a somewhat ‘different cat’ when it comes to off-field cricket philosophy.
And it was inherent in his nature that, upon feeling an injustice had been served, he should address it at its source.
When Zampa received a phone call from selection panel chair Trevor Hohns in early May, he braced himself for a measure of bad news.
Even though only strike bowlers Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood had taken more ODI wickets than the leggie over the preceding 24 months, Zampa knew his efforts in last summer’s 1-4 home series mauling by England – two wickets at 107.5 each - might cost him his 50-over berth.
But with a T20I record over that same period revealing a strike rate of a wicket every two overs, and economy of less than a run per ball across a dozen international matches, he believed his place for the 20-over tri-series tournament against Zimbabwe and Pakistan in Harare “was mine - sewn in".
To learn that he been excised from both forms of the game left Zampa initially stunned, until the combativeness he shows with ball in hand – as well as a feistiness endemic within his Maltese bloodlines – was roused, and he sought some clarity from the chief selector.
"I thought I deserved a bit of feedback, and he gave it to me after he said you're not playing the ODIs,” Zampa told cricket.com.au prior to his departure to the UAE with Australia’s T20 squad.
"Then he said you're also not in the T20 squad, and I was really shocked by that.
“So we had a long discussion - it probably went for about half an hour, to forty minutes - about just where I was at.
"It got quite heated at times, but I think Trevor probably respected that too and he was willing to listen to me talk.
"I was honest with him, and said I had the numbers on the board - I've got a strike rate of 12 (in T20 internationals) and I said all that to him during the phone call.
“But in the end, it didn't matter. All that mattered in his eyes was what I did next.”
What Zampa did next was to trust his instincts, as well as accept elements of Hohns’s critique that might have initially stung but, deep within, the spinner also knew were accurate.
When he revealed his intention to stick with his winter plan of playing T20 franchise competitions in the UK (for the Essex Eagles) and Caribbean (Jamaica Tallawahs), he was politely counselled that he might be better advised to remain in Australia to work on his fitness and shortcomings in his bowling.
Zampa, however, understands his game just as he knows keenly his own mind.
He cast back to 2016 when he felt he was bowling as well as at any stage of his six-year top-flight career, and recognised that form was found on the back of an ‘off-season’ spent playing in the Indian Premier League as well as the Caribbean competition.
Zampa found the regularity with which he was shunted in and out of starting Xis – whether with national limited-overs outfits or South Australia’s JLT Sheffield Shield line-up – robbed him of the match-play continuity so essential to consistent spin bowling.
He also appreciated there were elements in his technique that needed redressing, as ex-Test leg-spinner Hohns had pointed out, so rather like a lone tennis pro travelling the global circuit he set about changing his game.
“Feedback is always nice to get, but you know deep down what you really should be working on, and what you have to do,” Zampa said.
"I knew I had a lot to work on, to change my bowling action and try to improve on it, so it was a good opportunity to go away to Jamaica and Essex where I knew I would be playing every game.
"I always felt that on the size of the grounds, and the quality of players I was bowling to, I was always under pressure, so it was really good for my cricket.”
Certainly, it takes strength of character to tinker with the fundamentals of your game while you’re a marquee overseas signing expected to tame a bash brotherhood comprising Chris Gayle, Kieron Pollard, Steve Smith, Chris Lynn, David Warner, Brendon McCullum and Martin Guptill, among others playing in the CPL.
Before trialling alterations to his run-up and action during his Caribbean stint, Zampa went to Chelmsford where he was able to consult with his Melbourne Stars mentor and long-time coaching confidante Trent Woodhill, who helped to refine those changes and reaffirm the belief.
Britain’s T20 Blast competition, to which Zampa was a newcomer, brought with it a different form of sink-or-swim pressure to the all-star Caribbean League.
Bowling on bare pitches in the midst of a rare English heatwave, on small county grounds against batters emboldened by the manner in which their national limited-overs players have shed both convention and inhibition, Zampa sharpened the new iteration of himself.
Part of that remodelling was driven by Hohns who, during that occasionally prickly phone conversation, noted that Zampa lacked the potency of rival international leg-spinners Rashid Khan (Afghanistan), Imran Tahir (South Africa) and Adil Rashid (England) due to a lack of faith in his variations.
“I’ve had to consider ‘what are the things that other wrist spinners in the world are doing, what are their strengths, and how do they do what’s required in one-day cricket and T20 cricket?’,” Zampa said.
“I’m definitely backing my wrong-un a lot more, but that’s also taken a bit of technical work.
“With a bit of a quicker run-up and a faster arm speed now, I can probably bowl it a lot more accurately.
“It was something I was actually working on at the end of last season, I just felt that technically I wasn’t getting through the crease and I didn’t have the hip drive.
“Sometimes my wrong-un would float up and just be a step-hit (for opposition batters).
“Now I get through the crease a little bit better, but it also means my shoulder doesn’t have to do as much work to bowl at that pace.
“And it means that hopefully my wrong-un, when I do get it right, it’s disguised a little bit better.
“It felt uncomfortable for a little while, but now it feels a bit more natural than what it did four, five, six months ago.”
The change was obvious from the first delivery Zampa sent down for South Australia in last month’s JLT One-Day Cup - one that earned him a wicket and announced, to the selection panel and more widely, that he was back as a bowling force.
But it’s not only the technicalities that have benefited from his off-season, off-shore experiences.
The confidence he gained at Essex, where Eagles’ skipper and Dutch international Ryan ten Doeschate regularly threw Zampa the ball early in an innings with the clear instruction to dismiss the opposition’s best players, rekindled his self-belief, as well as his sense of enjoyment.
And should hold him in good stead when Hohns and his panel convene to consider their ODI squad for the ICC World Cup, to be played in those same British conditions next year.
"In the past, if it was against (New Zealand’s) Colin Munro or (South Africa’s) Rilee Rossouw - two world-class left-handers – captains would probably prefer me not to bowl me because, with the ball spinning into them, it's probably not the best option,” Zampa said.
"But Ryan ten Doeschate told me ‘you're the overseas player mate, go and get them out’.
"So I was bowling in the Power-Play to guys that play a 360-degree game all round the wicket, under real pressure and I dismissed them both.
"That was a turning point for me.
“I didn’t think the opportunity to play for Australia (again) would come around so quickly, but now that it has I’m just really excited and that’s mainly because of the way I feel I’m bowling at the moment.
“If I bowl the way I have been bowling in the last few months, then I’m excited about the results that might come from it.
“I just really want to get out there, get the ball in my hand and play.
“A couple of months ago I didn’t think I would be part of this series.
“Now I can’t wait for it to start.”
Qantas T20 Tour of the UAE
Australia squad: Aaron Finch (c), Mitch Marsh (vc), Alex Carey (vc), Ashton Agar, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Chris Lynn, Nathan Lyon, Glenn Maxwell, Ben McDermott, D’Arcy Short, Peter Siddle, Billy Stanlake, Mitch Starc, Andrew Tye, Adam Zampa.
Pakistan squad: Sarfraz Ahmed (c), Fakhar Zaman, Mohammad Hafeez, Sahibzada Farhan, Babar Azam, Shoaib Malik, Asif Ali, Hussain Talat, Shadab Khan, Shaheen Shah Afridi, Usman Khan Shinwari, Hassan Ali, Imad Wasim, Waqas Maqsood, Faheem Ashraf
Oct 22: T20 v UAE, Abu Dhabi
Oct 24: First T20, Abu Dhabi
Oct 26: Second T20, Dubai
Oct 28: Third T20, Dubai
*All matches against Pakistan start at 8pm local time, 3am the following day AEDT