James Faulkner has been a key contributor to Rajasthan Royals’ success in this season’s Pepsi Indian Premier League. Between sponsor commitments, a bat signing event, a pool session and an early dinner, the Australia pacer took time out to speak to Wisden India on the IPL’s significance in his career, his dreams of wearing the baggy green, and how he grew up, like most Australians, by playing backyard cricket. Excerpts:
You were part of Pune Warriors India (2011) and Kings XI Punjab (2012) earlier, and now you are Rajasthan Royals’ strike bowler. How has your IPL experience been so far?
To be honest, the last two years were difficult since I didn’t really get much game time (one game in 2011 and two in 2012). It is not something I could look back on and reflect. But now, I have been fortunate enough to get a great opportunity with the Royals. I am enjoying playing my cricket here. They have looked after me really well, explained how each wicket is going to be. They have taught me some of those key aspects and facts of Twenty20 cricket in India. The pitches are obviously a bit slower than back home, so I have been working on different variations. In T20 you look to bowl to each batsman aiming to make it the hardest for them to hit you out of the ground. That is one skill I have got.
I didn’t really know much about India in the last couple of years. It was just training in the nets but it is good to be in the middle right now. You certainly realise that you are at the centre of things when you are a cricketer in India. Obviously, for the crowd and people it is a religion. It has been a privilege to play the IPL.
Every time Rahul Dravid has needed a wicket, he has thrown the ball to you. Does he give you any particular instructions?
Rahul is very much about expressing ourselves as a team and backing our abilities. He has shown a lot of confidence and faith in myself. It is good to have that confidence from one of the greats of world cricket. Playing with him is obviously an honour and I am enjoying my time under him. Hopefully, we can finish off the campaign well. He has asked me to keep it pretty simple, straight down the line, be genuine, and do the best I can.
In Canberra earlier this year, in your third ODI, you gave a big send off to Chris Gayle. How do you plan to bowl to someone like him?
Chris Gayle is one of the best ODI and T20 batsman going around, so his is a key wicket and it ranks as my best scalp so far. I just try to keep it simple, bowl to my strength and to areas where he is going to find it hard to hit. He is a good player, so I am not going to give too much away with that sort of stuff of how to get him out and things like that (laughs).
As bowlers, we rely a lot on field placements. We see where the batters are trying to hit and try to block it up and make them get out of their comfort zone. We try to play against their strengths and get them out.
You are part of Australia’s Ashes squad. Have you started visualising how you would be bowling to the likes of Alastair Cook, Jonathan Trott, Ian Bell and Kevin Pietersen?
I haven’t yet thought about how to bowl to the English batsmen and I am sure there is still plenty of time to be thinking about that. At the moment I am concentrating solely on the IPL, and as soon as I arrive in the camp with the Australian team, I will start studying their batsmen. Obviously, it is going to be very hard and I am looking forward to it.
The Australian selectors have stressed on the need for player rotation. What is your view on it?
I enjoy all three formats. Being a batter and a bowler, I always have an opportunity to do something throughout the game. T20 is obviously a massive craze around the world, but my ultimate dream is to wear the baggy green. I would like to play as many games as I can for the country in all three forms but the way the scheduling is, it is impossible to play every game. That is the way cricket is going, and, once the fans start realising that the players cannot get through and perform to the best of their abilities always, then we will all move forward together.
How do you prepare for each of the three formats of the game?
You try to get as much information as you can out of the senior players. They are more experienced and the more information you can get and use, it makes you better. It helps your own career, the way you play cricket, and the way you carry yourself on and off the field.
Bowling in match situations is definitely good, but it is a lot about ticking your body over and working on different aspects that might not be going well at that particular point in time. It is also about continuously working on your strengths because your strengths keep you where you are. In one-day cricket you might practice death overs or bowling, and in four-day cricket, it is about hitting back-of-the-length and doing a little bit with the seam. It is about sticking to the basics and not overcomplicating things, because that is when you tend to fail.
As a cricketer from Tasmania, how big an influence has Ricky Ponting been?
I was born in Launceston – where Ponting was also born. I played for Launceston Cricket Club and one day turned on the television on the Boxing Day Test match and saw Ricky playing. From then to now, I ended up winning the Sheffield Shield with him this year, which was a great feeling. It was something he had never achieved and we all wanted to do it for him, so it was a big week in my life. Ricky is one of my good friends. We get along quite well. He is obviously a lot older than me, but he is a lovely bloke and has a fantastic cricket brain. I enjoy playing with him and rest of my teammates at Tasmania. It is a good group back home.
Before you were born, your father, Peter Faulkner, played for Tasmania. Did he give you any advice on how to go about your game while growing up?
My father has had a big influence on my cricket and my upbringing. I played tennis, golf and soccer as a junior. As a youngster I was never on the play station and playing computer games. I was always outside running around and was full of energy as a kid. Somehow it worked out that I would be a professional cricketer. He always wants the best for me and supports me 100 percent. To be honest, he just shares some advice whenever he thinks it is appropriate but he just lets me go about my business. I am grateful for the way he treats me when it comes to that.
You are in trouble if you don’t mention your mum’s name in the list of people who have contributed towards your growth! She has taught me about manners and how to put up my best. I try to do that most of the times. My nanny passed away a couple of years ago but she had a great influence on me in being a cricketer. My grandfather used to throw balls at me in the backyard for hours.
What memories you have of playing backyard cricket as a kid?
I have got some great stories of backyard cricket. Once on a Christmas Day, I had got a new bat and I was trying to whack one out of the house. The bat came out of my hand and went flying through the window into our lounge room where mum had set up the table for the Christmas Day lunch. The glass shattered all over the table and it was a mad rush 20 minutes before both sides of the family came over for the lunch. That was a very funny moment. When I was 10 or 12, dad bounced me with a taped up tennis ball one day and from then on it just got started.
Australian cricket is undergoing transition. Where do you see yourself in the big picture?
Australia has been a powerhouse in world cricket for a long time and anytime you get to play for Australia it is a big responsibility to perform. You just have to back yourself. If you are having a real go, then no one is going to put you down. But if you are a bit slack and lazy, then you need a kick on your backside to get back on the right path.
I have just to keep improving on what I have been doing, score more runs, take more wickets and, hopefully, play some international cricket. That is what I want to do and I guess that’s what every kid dreams of – to play international cricket. Hopefully, it is the start of my career.
You recently said that you aspire to be like Jacques Kallis. What are your career goals and how do you see yourself adapting to the pressure from here on?
I don’t want to set myself a goal of certain amount of runs and wickets, because when you do that you put a lot of pressure on yourself. I just want to perform as well as I can and back my preparation and ability to get the job done.
I have been batting up the order now and then in one-day and T20 cricket. I enjoy the challenge and opportunity. The main thing is to enjoy the game because if you are not doing so, then you are obviously not going to perform very well. If you are comfortable with the people you are around, then your performance is relatively good.
International cricket has a lot more viewers and lot more pressure, but so far I adapted to it reasonably well in the last series against West Indies. Obviously, the IPL is a big step up – to be playing here with the crowds and how crazy they are. In any sport there is going to be a lot of pressure and I suppose that is why we play the game – to enjoy the pressure and enjoy the challenge. At the moment everything seems to be going all right. But I am sure there will be moments with a lot of pressure, and you might crack every now and then. But that is all a part of the learning curve.