Interview: Maverick with the bat, 'Destroyer' Mohammad Taha aspires for IPL glory
“Destroyer Taha in the house!”, screams the public announcer inside the grounds, as a lanky figure, unmindful of the surrounding din, trudges into the park with a now stocky Bharat Chipli.
He stands totally upright while batting, bat high in the air, completely vertical. At first sight, it doesn’t even look like he is ready for the delivery. Suddenly, without warning, the white ball experiences all sorts of projectiles, and the crowd goes berserk.
He’s Mohammad ‘six-hitter’ Taha, a crowd favourite, a chapter yanked out of pinch-hitting almanacs from the past. There is a wild swoosh of the bat and the ball sails away. The Hubli Tigers were at the receiving end of one such onslaught, the bowling slashed open by Taha’s 45-ball 83. He hit as many as nine sixes.
In an exclusive chat with Sportskeeda, Taha, who has already represented Karnataka and is now with the Bijapur Bulls in KPL 2017, spoke about the ups and downs in his short but fiery career.
Unconventional yet highly effective, Taha bluntly downplays the role of technique in modern cricket, insisting that the hullabaloo around having a textbook style isn’t exactly justified.
“I don’t think technique matters a lot: as long as you are confident about yourself, you know your strengths and weaknesses, then you can play along with it. There are a lot of current cricketers like Steve Smith and also Virender Sehwag who has done it in the past. Technique helps, but you have to be mentally strong and take those challenges”.
When one observes him batting in the nets, a small trigger movement can be seen just before he sends the bat speeding down from up high. A sideways look from outside the netted area shows something discernible: he goes back one step when the ball is being bowled, stands deep in the crease as it approaches him and then makes contact.
“I feel really comfortable doing that. It gives me an extra second to figure out the line and length of the ball, and makes me ready to hit it. It helps me a lot”.
Against spinners, he is a compulsive sweeper, getting down on one knee and whacking the ball away in his own inimitable style, comfortably over mid-wicket and cow-corner.
Much unlike his batting, he waits and talks, slowly but patiently. His eyes glisten when he listens, but there is an obvious hint of sadness when he speaks. The ordeal Taha has gone through can rattle even the best.
His father passed away a couple of years ago, and T has been living a life strained with financial difficulties. It was his father who had introduced him to the game, and with him, his focal means of inspiration and monetary help faded away. The road has been harsh, but Taha has not forgotten the aid that he received from those closest to him.
“It has been a long journey. A lot of people have helped me on the way. It started when my father took me to the KIOC camp, where Irfan Sait helped me get opportunities. The state coaches have also been really encouraging”.
The past has been rough, but he dreams of a bright future, and is in no mood to let go of what he has. It can be seen in the way he approaches the game: even in the nets and pre-game sessions, he can be seen leaping around during catching practice, and is distinctly quick when picking up the ball and getting into throwing position.
“You have to practice a lot, but more than that, you need to soak in the pressure and remain calm. You might have an off-day, but the practice should always be there”.
Before he was tearing bowling line-ups apart, Taha, in the nascent stages of his career, was an off-spinner. His abilities with the ball even took him to the Royal Challengers Bangalore camp, where he got to bowl to Virat Kohli & co. However, life beyond that took a turn for the worse, and Taha, self-admittedly, “did nothing for two years.”
An injection to his flailing career came when the Karnataka Premier League, like it has for so many other players, gave him a chance to make his presence felt. A resourceful middle-order batsman till then, he got a chance to open the innings under CM Gautam, who was mentoring the Hubli Tigers.
For the Bulls, Taha’s role is clear.
“I look to utilise the power play and then just carry the innings from there. That is my aim. The pitch might not be helpful, you might have an off day and the ball might swing and not come on to the bat as easily, but you have to make use of those first six overs”.
Tailor-made for the T20 format, if Taha does catch the eye of the scouts in Mysuru and Hubli, he might be on his way to another IPL camp. “I have been in the auctions for the past two years, but, unfortunately, haven’t got a chance. I am working really hard and not thinking about it, but yes, I have this desire inside me to make it big and go on and play for India. I am looking forward to eventually playing in the IPL, that’s my aim right now”.
His batting technique may be found wanting when thrown against swinging deliveries on lively pitches, but Taha’s hand-eye coordination is tremendous. He aims to play against Mohammad Amir one day. “He is at his peak right now, and facing him will be a challenge.”
Kevin Pietersen, Ricky Ponting and AB de Villiers are some of the players he idolises.
No wonder his style of play is all-out aggressive. Yet, he believes that his style is unique, not based on anyone. “My batting is totally different. I don’t find anyone similar to me.”
Quietly confined but quite confident, Taha is earnestly working within himself to become a better version of his current self. The route until now has hardly been a bed of roses, but the tattered hands, having already endured pain, are hardened enough to face future tests.
“Taha” in Urdu, is the name of a secret held by god. No one knows the true meaning of it. For the cricketing world, Taha is still an unknown identity, one which, in the future, could unravel to become something greater.