A back-of-the-hand slower ball and a stronger mentality are a couple of the upgrades fast bowler Junior Dala has added to his game as he looks to become a regular member of the Titans team in all three formats in the coming season.
Having spent the 2015 winter at the national academy, Dala showed those improvements in limited-overs cricket last season, especially in the Momentum One-Day Cup, where he played in all 10 matches and ended as the tournament’s third-highest wicket-taker with 16, while conceding barely more than a run-a-ball.
He was also a stalwart of the Titans team that won the RamSlam T20 Challenge, taking eight wickets at an average of 25.12 and conceding less than eight runs an over.
But he only played in four of the Sunfoil Series matches, taking just five wickets at an average of 57, so that is clearly where he wants to improve greatly.
“I had a lot more belief in myself and I learnt valuable lessons with the academy when we toured Sri Lanka and I did reasonably well against Test players. I had early success in the One-Day Cup, I was the leading wicket-taker at the halfway mark, and in the T20 I just went with that flow. I worked on extra skills and I learnt a lot as well from the Proteas bowlers in our squad.
“I felt I was playing for my place the season before that, but last season changed my whole outlook. Sometimes I have to taper down, it’s not just about outright pace, it depends on what’s required for the situation, like the back-of-the-hand slower ball for instance. I’ve grown mentally, I use my head more and I have extra confidence and belief,” Dala said.
“But I haven’t played enough of the long format, the more I play, the better I’ll be. I maybe let myself down a bit in the four-dayers last season, so it’s definitely a major goal to put that right. I’m working hard so hopefully I will play in all three formats next season, I just need to do what I need to do.”
Ironically, the most impressive performance of last season came in a long format game as he destroyed the England second innings with five for 34 in 12 overs for the SA Invitation XI in Potchefstroom, earning the respect of Jimmy Anderson, the leader of the touring attack.
“Taking five against England on a flat Potch pitch made me believe that I can compete at that level, I just need to be more consistent. I got Alex Hales a couple of times and Alastair Cook showed such super skills, but I thought I handled myself well and showed that I can do it. James Anderson came and congratulated me and told me I had big things ahead of me.
“But I never went to a big school and the first time I was ever coached was when I played for Gauteng. So I’m a work in progress and I’m still trying to figure out my action, there are still basics to get right and I need to understand it more,” the unorthodox 26-year-old said.
But the opinions of the great Anderson and coaches Shukri Conrad, the head of the academy, and Rob Walter of the Titans are surely right on the money when it comes to Dala.