Zampa's rise from rookie to ODI regular

It's been a rapid rise for the leg-spinner, who is now the leading ODI wicket taker in 2016

A quick flick through Adam Zampa’s bowling returns for 2016 in which he’s now the world’s leading wicket-taker in ODIs makes it easy to overlook the fact that he was not an international cricketer when the new year ticked over.

The 24-year-old finished last summer’s KFC Big Bash League as equal fourth-highest wicket-taker, a return that earned him his maiden overseas tour when chosen to be part of Australia’s ODI Chappell-Hadlee Trophy campaign in New Zealand.

Receiving his ODI cap from legendary former Australia skipper Allan Border prior to his debut against the Black Caps in the New Zealand capital, where his inaugural wicket was rival captain Kane Williamson, then the world’s fourth-ranked one-day batsman.

Two wickets on debut for Adam Zampa

It was while in Wellington that Zampa learned he had been purchased in the annual Indian Premier League auction by the Rising Pune Supergiants, a franchise led by India’s World Cup-winning skipper MS Dhoni and also featuring fellow Australians Steve Smith, Mitchell Marsh, George Bailey, Usman Khawaja, Scott Boland and Peter Handscomb.

A week later, he was named for the first time in Australia’s T20 squad for their week-long tour to South Africa and the subsequent ICC World T20 in India where he finished as his team’s equal second-highest wicket-taker in a failed campaign. 

Then, despite playing just five matches in his inaugural IPL season, Zampa collected the ninth-most wickets across all franchises headlined by the best individual bowling return (6-19) since the inaugural incarnation of the T20 extravaganza in 2008.

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And his 12 wickets at 9.58 against some of the world’s best batters on some of the game’s flattest pitches means he holds the leanest bowling average of anyone to have picked up the ball in the IPL (and taken five wickets or more) across its eight-year history.

From there the leg spinner headed to the Caribbean for the ODI tri-series also featuring the West Indies and South Africa where he was his team’s second-highest wicket taker (behind seamer Josh Hazlewood).

And where he remained at series end to play for the Guyana Amazon Warriors in the Caribbean Premier League T20 tournament, capturing 15 wickets at an average (18.47) slightly better than the event’s best bowler Dwayne Bravo (21 at 18.86).

The game-high 3-37 he captured in Tuesday’s one-off ODI against Ireland at Benoni means he now stands clear at the head of the list of the one-day game’s most potent bowlers thus far in 2016, with 25 wickets at 22 apiece from 13 matches.

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One more than his Australia teammate John Hastings, and four ahead of his fellow leg spinner Imran Tahir from South Africa.

Indeed, five of the top seven wicket takers in ODIs this year are Australians, although the other three – Mitchell Starc, Hazlewood and James Faulkner – are all absent from the current Qantas Tour of South Africa due to injury or workload management.

And it is the seamers who have so regularly made early inroads into the opposition batting before Zampa is thrown the ball - when the fielding restrictions that apply in the first 10 overs have been relaxed - that the young spinner credits with a significant portion of his ever-expanding success.

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“It obviously helps that guys are taking wickets,” Zampa said yesterday in Johannesburg where the Australians are preparing for their five-match ODI Series against South Africa that starts at Centurion on Friday.

“The good thing lately is we've had early wickets to play with all the time, that's made my role a lot easier as well.

“Hopefully that can continue. 

“It's going to be a lot harder without Starcy but we're backing in the guys like (new cap Daniel) Worrall to do that.”

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But there is more to Zampa’s extraordinary returns in formats of the game that were not so long ago viewed as unsuitable platforms in which to perform leg spin.

And he acknowledges that, while a confident character even in his ODI debut last February, the reassurance that has come with claiming the mantle of his nation’s premier spin bowler in white ball cricket is principal among the other reasons for his success.

“I'm a lot more confident to bowl my variations and I know my role a lot better now,” said Zampa a day after he claimed a couple of vital Irish wickets with his cleverly disguised wrong-un.

“Obviously I feel a little bit more secure in the team than what you do when you're playing in your first and second games. 

“And the variations are coming out nicely. 

“I think that's going to be important over here (in South Africa). 

“You might actually see some slower wickets than what we're used to over here as well, so I think I'm going to have to play a pretty important role.”

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That belief is based on the fact that South Africa – like Australia – is only just emerging from southern hemisphere winter and pitches are likely to be sluggish in waking from their hibernation having had little opportunity to bask and harden in the sunshine.

Which means that while both rival camps boast strong seam-bowling attacks, the series might be decided by the head-to-head battle between duelling leggies Zampa and Tahir.

"We're fairly similar bowlers I guess - attack the stumps, use the wrong-un a lot,” Zampa said of any comparison with the veteran South Africa spinner.

“So he's a guy that I like to watch, but I haven't had much to do with him."

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In the absence of Starc and Hazlewood, and against a Proteas’ top-order that includes established international hitters the likes of Hashim Amla, Quinton de Kock, Faf du Plessis and David Miller, Zampa expects to become the hunted in his first ODI campaign in Africa.

A challenge he claims he will enjoy, even in the knowledge that South African grounds at Centurion, Wanderers, Durban, Port Elizabeth and Cape Town host short boundaries and fiercely parochial crowds.

“I'm expecting them to come out pretty hard, especially with the atmosphere here and the small grounds,” he said.

“It's going to be a new challenge.

"But I don't really try to go out there and over attack, I just know my role really well and it's nice to have guys there that I've played a lot with since I was a young guy.

"I've been around the New South Wales squads with Smithy and (David) Warner, so it’s nice to have those guys that know my game pretty well.

"It makes it a lot easier for me.”


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