New Zealand legspinner Ish Sodhi has said that learning to expect less from himself helped him forge a successful comeback to the Test team. Sodhi had spent nearly two years out of the Test side, before earning a recall for New Zealand's two-Test series against Zimbabwe on the back of impressive performances in limited-overs cricket, most notably in the World T20 in India earlier in the year.
Sodhi played an important role in New Zealand's 2-0 sweep over the hosts, picking up eight wickets in the two Tests at 24.87. With New Zealand now gearing up for the next leg of their African sojourn - a two-Test series against South Africa - Sodhi reflected on his successful comeback while addressing the media in Durban, where the first Test begins on Friday.
"It was obviously very nice to win two Tests away from home, in pretty flat conditions. To take 20 wickets on those surfaces is obviously a very good effort for us, and, personally, I'm pretty happy with the way the ball came out, mainly in the second Test," he said. "I think I tried to lose a bit of the expectations I had on myself being away from the Test side for a couple of years. To be able to do that was pretty pleasing."
Sodhi further felt improving his fitness was an important step, and along with a change in approach, helped him hit the right areas more consistently. "I think I'm trying to keep it a lot simpler. I guess that's probably why I played a little bit more white-ball cricket for New Zealand , because I was able to be a lot more consistent with my lines and lengths. But also, I think it's something to keep reinforcing, because in the first Test match, I was a little bit nervous and I didn't stick to those processes as well as I could," he said. "But, grateful that I got another opportunity and I was able to do that, so just a good reinforcer to keep things simple and put the ball in decent areas for long periods of time.
"And I got a lot fitter. I don't think I was fit enough to be able to bowl in the second innings when I first started playing cricket. I feel like now - still got a way to go - but definitely getting a bit closer to that now."
In the last few months, Sodhi, along with left-arm spinner Mitchell Santner, has established himself as a vital cog in New Zealand's bowling unit. The two were among the driving forces behind New Zealand's march to the World T20 semifinal, exploiting the conditions to good effect. "We've played a lot of cricket together. If you look back at domestic cricket, we played a lot of T20 tournaments and one-day tournaments. Haven't played a lot of four-day cricket together, so it's quite nice having him at the other end here as well," he said.
"But, yeah, I really enjoy working with Mitchy, on and off the park. He's a good friend of mine as well, so look forward to continuing that partnership. Again, it's about keeping it simple as much as we can and he helps me with that with his bowling as well.
"We've got myself and Mitchy at 23 and 24, and Pidgy (Mark Craig) is 29 or 30 years old now, so he's got a pretty wise head on his shoulders. Even while he wasn't playing the last game, he was always giving me some advice if he felt it was needed. Mitchy is a simple bowler, so I take both of those things and put them into my work and it's pretty nice to have those ideas to bounce off."
New Zealand had a couple of days off upon arriving in Durban, with some of their members enjoying a stint at the golf course, while others headed off for some shark-cage diving, but Sodhi said they're ready to get back to training. "Totally different challenge, something that we're really looking forward to," he said of the conditions in South Africa. "Being able to adapt to different conditions has been a strength for us for the last few years, and we'll look to do the same. When we see the wicket tomorrow, it could be low and slow, it could be a little bit zippy for the pace bowlers, but we've definitely got all the players to take those conditions on."
New Zealand will take on a slightly weakened South African side that will be without AB de Villiers, who is out with an elbow injury, and Morne Morkel, who has been sidelined for four to six weeks due to a bulging disk in his back. "He (de Villiers) is an amazing player, one of the best, if not the best, in the world in all formats. But you can never take a team like South Africa lightly," Sodhi said. "They've got runs from the top order, to even the lower order and they've got the bowlers that can back them up in any conditions, so it's just about how much we prepare over these next three days of training, and if we put in the work, hopefully we can put up a good performance."
Sodhi said that while he's still learning what it takes to succeed in each of the three formats, he's enjoying his time playing all of them. "Yeah, loving it, it's definitely something that I always wanted to do, which is play all three formats for New Zealand, and it's just interesting finding out the dynamics. Still figuring out my game in all formats as well, what's successful in which format, but it just comes down to how simple I can keep it for as long as I can. It's definitely something I want to get better at, and if I can do that while I'm here, if I play or if I don't, I think I'll have a successful tour."