Adam Zampa, one of Australia’s finest ever white-ball spinners, speaks to Aadya Sharma in Dubai about shuttling through T20 leagues, his Test ambitions, and more.
Adam Zampa has had a manic last few months. Since August, he’s featured in a tour to India, home series against West Indies and England and a T20 World Cup for Australia, and, away from the national side, in The Hundred, the Sheffield Shield, the Big Bash League, and now the ILT20. He is aware that 2023 is going to be “pretty crazy”: between all the globe-trotting leading up to the ODI World Cup, Zampa is also hoping to squeeze in some time on his lawn mower in Byron Bay.
Say hello to Zampa, modern cricket’s self-evolving, world-circling, league-tasting artist. He loves his job – it’s forever at the forefront of his mind – he’s really good at it, but he is also cognizant of the challenges it throws up, juggling priorities to be with family and taking care of himself.
By now, Zampa’s status as a white-ball titan is secure. Australia’s leading wicket-taker in T20Is, he also has the most ODI wickets for them since his debut and is currently in the top 10 of the ICC’s bowling rankings for both limited-overs formats. Only Shane Warne and Brad Hogg have taken more wickets among Australian ODI spinners. Ask him what has made him one of the best in the world, and he cites his unending appetite to learn and grow.
“I’ve been through ups and downs like anyone does in their career,” Zampa tells Wisden.com in Dubai at the International League T20. “I think my ability to develop each year, whether it be working on something in my bowling action, whether it be taking my game to the next level in terms of preparation… just my ability to adapt, to evolve and always continue to try and improve and change myself, is what has kept me driven. I now feel like some guys are just happy with what they’re doing and they stay the same their whole career, and I don’t think I can do that.”
“I think, if I stay the same for a certain amount of time, the results will change.”
Adam Zampa has taken the most men’s T20I wickets for Australia
It’s been more than a decade since Zampa debuted for Sydney Thunder in BBL 2012/13, though the same cherubic face has stayed in place throughout. He had the same air of nonchalance, a monotonic modulation in his voice and a garnish of dry exclamations and cheeky smiles in his responses. “It’s the first time I was playing in front of a crowd,” the T20 debutant admitted back then. “I played in Manuka [in a 50-over game] a couple of weeks back, but no one came for it!” Zampa went at nine-and-half an over that night, but, at 20, he wasn’t the least bit worried about getting hit around, shrugging his shoulders and saying: “It’s just the way T20 is.”
Over the next decade, Zampa became an ace white-ball bowler. He now has the fourth-most wickets in BBL , in a total of 269 T20 wickets – no Australian spinner comes close. Few would recall though that before that BBL game in Sydney, and before the Ryobi Cup game in Manuka, Zampa actually debuted in first-class cricket, a couple of years after featuring in the U19 World Cup under Mitchell Marsh. He’s played 39 first-class games since but is yet to play Test cricket. And he is gutted about it.
“Yeah, I’d love to still play Test cricket if the opportunity was there,” says Zampa. “I’m very disappointed not to be on the current India tour. I would have loved to have been there. I probably won’t be like Nathan Lyon as an example of the kind of guy who plays every Test match, who will play in Australia, play wherever. I feel like if my opportunity does come, it’s probably going to be somewhere in Asia and on spinning wickets. Hence, that’s why I am disappointed I’m not going to be in India.”
Zampa has reason to be frustrated. He returned last December to the Sheffield Shield after a three-year hiatus from first-class cricket, with the selectors hinting that “he had a very good chance” of touring India. Eventually, he lost a spot to the spin troupe of Lyon, Ashton Agar, Todd Murphy and Mitchell Swepson.
Much like the 20-year-old in Manuka though, Zampa – in spite of feeling “flat” – has a knack for leaving any setbacks behind him and looking to the future instead.
“I mean, I’m only 30,” he points out – and despite his youthful exuberance, it can be easy to forget that he still has much more to come. “And, as I said, if I can keep evolving each year and keeping up with the game and you never know. I might get some opportunities in red-ball cricket and do really well. Yeah, I’d love to, I’d love to. If the opportunity is there one day, I’d love to.”
Zampa’s red-ball record is modest – an average just shy of 50, and he has played just once since 2019 – but you wonder whether his experience against India’s batting lynchpins could have proved telling. He’s dismissed Virat Kohli more than any other batter in ODIs , while also snaring Rohit Sharma four times. In T20Is, he has dismissed Kohli three times, and KL Rahul twice. That’s three of India’s expected top four for the tour.
Since the start of 2019, Adam Zampa has played just three first-class games
The Indian pitches were also his ally during the 2016 T20 World Cup, where he finished as Australia’s second-highest wicket-taker (it was just his second international trip). In 2021, an older and smarter Zampa went a few steps further in the UAE, ending with the second-highest wicket tally in the entire competition as Australia claimed the title.
He has now returned to the same country, linking up with the ILT20, one of two newly unveiled international leagues heavy on T20 star power. Zampa represents Dubai Capitals, an affiliate of the Delhi-based team in the IPL. Three days after leading the Stars in Melbourne, Zampa walked out in Dubai. Fans were amused by his choice of shirt number, 420 donned with a knowing wink. But his bowling was as serious as ever. Back went Colin Munro, Sam Billings and Wanindu Hasaranga to the dugout, and Zampa with a Player of the Match award. Next game, he bagged another three-for. “I try and just adapt to each wicket each day really,” he says. “These ones, if you win the toss and bowl first, they can be quite slow, low bounce.”
For someone who has played nearly every league from Australia to the Caribbean, Zampa finds enough merit in carving out a brand-new competition amid the explosion of T20 cricket. The IPL is still the greatest for him, but there’s still a lot on offer elsewhere.
“When you can get nine overseas players in each squad, it’s really strong [the tournament],” Zampa says. “So the standard potentially is…obviously IPL is peak for the T20 competitions. I’d say it is No.1 in the world, in my opinion, I’m sure, most people think the same thing. But yeah, this one, this one’s good, like nine overseas players in each team means that just the depth of each team is really good. So yeah, hard to compare to something like the IPL, but very strong.”
The biggest silverware this year, though, is the World Cup in India, and Zampa is gearing up for another hectic cluster of months leading up to it. Before he links up with Rajasthan Royals in the IPL, Zampa is hoping to enjoy some downtime with family. He and his wife Eugene had their first child last July; since then, he’s constantly been on the road.
“It’s a tough, tough balance,” he admits.
“I mean cricket, family, time away from the game, time to look after yourself physically, there are all the challenges in it, and you can’t keep putting all of them at the top of the list.
“You have to try and manage your way through. Obviously, cricket being a job, and also something that I love, is [at] the forefront of my mind. But then also, just getting a balance of time at home. I think you just have to pick and choose a little bit.”
Zampa has played only 4 out of 10 games but is already Dubai Capitals’ leading wicket-taker (9 wickets @ 8.44)
The ILT20 serves as a good practice ground for the IPL, which, in turn, could be a crucial three-month window in his preparation for the 50-over World Cup later in the year. He had a quiet campaign in 2019, picking up five wickets at 47 in the UK. But a hungrier, sharper Zampa will be itching to bowl on Indian surfaces. For him, the cycle of evolution will continue – of learning, growing, and becoming better each season.
“I’ve always just tried to adapt each year, change something if I feel like it needs to,” he says. “I’m trying to keep up with a game that’s changing every year as well. So, for me, it’s just keeping up with it.”
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