"I've always been underestimated."
Picture a situation like this. You are skilled at your art, you toil away unassumingly and put in all the hard yards. You are on a quest for improvement and the zest to keep pushing doesn't stop. When you look back over a period of time, the marked improvement is visible and your efforts yield fruitful rewards.
Yet you continue to be written off without being placed in the top drawer. You do not get the recognition you deserve, even though you continue to remain a seamless, unassuming task performer. You chip away patiently and you work in the hope that your efforts receive due recognition.
Let's replace the 'you' with Adam Zampa and the art with spin bowling. The above narrative largely holds true in this case. After all, Zampa has seen his fair share of highs and lows across an international career spanning a good part of six years now.
"I've always been underestimated."
These are words uttered by the man himself. And he isn't totally wrong, for sadly, conjecture hasn't really put Adam Zampa in the league of first-tier T20 bowlers in today's era. This despite 64 wickets in T20 internationals at a sub-7 economy rate. This despite his ever-improving numbers over the years, that has seen Zampa become a wicket-taking force through the middle-overs.
And yes, this despite Adam Zampa being one of only three men to boast of a six-wicket haul in the IPL, arguably the most lucrative T20 competition across the globe. Perhaps it augurs well to go back to that period of time, where it all started at the big stage for Zampa.
Adam Zampa and the crossroads of 2016
2016 saw Adam Zampa experience the valleys and peaks of the sport like none other. Having started the year with a successful campaign for the Melbourne Stars in the Big Bash League, Zampa was in for a scarcely believable surprise.
Without a single international cap to his name, he was named in the ICC World T20 (as it was called back then) squad to lead Australia's spin attack. The fact that fellow leggie Cameron Boyce played the preceding home series against India with reasonable success made the call-up all the more intriguing.
Despite that, an impressive showing in the tournament by Zampa vindicated his presence in the side. Not surprising, then, that he went on to make his ODI debut and tasted success straightaway, leading the charts for the calendar year. And it was in between these events that Zampa turned in mind-boggling returns of 6/19 for Rising Pune Supergiants (RPS) in the IPL, against eventual champions Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH).
However, the peaks were also interspersed with its own troughs, with Adam Zampa not consistently making the playing XI for the home summer towards the end of the year. This sparked a run where Zampa blew hot and cold in the 50-over format and he struggled to stamp his authority as a white-ball force - simply because his appearances were on and off. That he wasn't able to come up with inspiring returns when he did play certainly did no good to his cause.
Adam Zampa - a consistent force in T20s
Having said that, Adam Zampa continued to remain Australia's first-choice spinner in the T20 format. While it is often believed that ODIs are an extension of the T20 format, this was an anomaly in many ways as far as Zampa was concerned. A four-over spell brought out the sheer mastery, guile and control that he had somehow failed to replicate when it demanded 10 overs out of him.
But the hard yards were being put behind the scenes. Zampa wasn't just going to settle for comparisons with Shane Warne in terms of his bowling action. The rise of Mitchell Swepson and cult hero Lloyd Pope was not going to come in the way of the leggie who chalked out his own path.
A second coming saw Adam Zampa turn from Australia's sundry spin option in ODIs to their most lethal wicket-taking commodity through the middle overs. So much so that he was thrown into clutch situations by skipper Aaron Finch to deliver a breakthrough or two.
The economy rate didn't matter anymore. He was now being used for the underlined word in the job description of bowlers of his ilk - wickets. A wrist-spinner's stocks in the modern limited-overs era have risen owing to the canny variations and ability to prize out the big fish. And with newer variations up his sleeve, enter Adam Zampa 2.0!
Deliver the wicket of the opposition's best batter in a contest and you have done at least half your job. Do it day in and day out among a cluster of wickets in an inspired spell and you become the side's X-factor. When Adam Zampa prized out Indian superstar Virat Kohli for fun during Australia's 2019 tour of India, he had graduated into the status of Australia's X-factor.
Fast-forward to November 2021 and that status has not changed for Adam Zampa. A mediocre 50-over World Cup on the placid English tracks did not stall his progress - he returned to the same shores the following year and found himself delivering wickets at crunch moments. The matured rise from a rookie leg-spinner to Australia's best white-ball spinner post Brad Hogg and Shane Warne was complete...
..."I've always been underestimated."
Oh but wait - these words still continue to hold value. And that is not because Adam Zampa hasn't delivered with the ball in recent times, but simply because these perceptions continue to linger in the minds of many for some reason.
That being said, his returns in the ICC Men's T20 World Cup 2021 could end up as Adam Zampa's moment of reckoning. Again, not in terms of his performances but because those perceptions might have finally been laid to rest. A bowler with a strike-rate of 11.5 and an economy rate under 6 per over falls in the elite category. Need we say that he has enjoyed a truly elite campaign by any standards set for the format?
And it's not just variations and going through the motions on a loop. A format as volatile as T20s calls for sharp use of intellect and Adam Zampa couldn't have given a better account of the same than he did during the first semi-final against Pakistan.
A barrage of rapid yorkers to stifle the well-set Babar Azam sparked off a phase of frustration for the Pakistan skipper. And when the frustration had reached its fracture point Zampa sensed his moment - a flighted delivery into the arc of the prolific batter and he had him slog one straight down the throat of David Warner at long on.
Quite an unassuming spell again where he looked head and shoulders above his colleagues, but which slipped under the radar owing to the pyrotechnics of Messrs Stoinis and Wade.
No more underestimation then, eh? Of course, if you were Kane Williamson, you wouldn't be the kind to write off any opponent. The New Zealand captain's latest moment of reckoning as captain comes hours from now in the final of the T20 World Cup in Dubai.
If Williamson is to write a fairytale script this time around, he could well hold the aces with the bat in terms of how he negotiates the wicket-taking menace that is Adam Zampa.
Which is why then, apart from the man's sheer weight of numbers, that Adam Zampa enters the summit clash as the potential game-changer. He could very well make or break this contest through the course of his four overs. Irrespective of how things pan out, though, that he has been one of the standout performers in the competition needs no restating.
"I've always been underestimated."
You sure about it now, Adam? This might just age well, you know?