The silver linings of Shreyas and Hetmyer
When you’re short of runs in cricket, you try and play out a few deliveries and get your eye in. West Indies’ batter Shimron Hetmyer, for one, doesn’t believe in that theory. The left-handed batter rather believes in taking a shortcut in order to find his batting rhythm as he invariably plays a big shot off the first two-three balls he ends up facing.
That is how it turned out to be on a raging turner in Chattogram in 2018. The southpaw had walked out to bat after the Lunch break in the second innings of the first Test between Bangladesh and the West Indies, with his side reeling at 11 for 4. Hetmyer’s response was to crack two boundaries and a six off the third, fourth and fifth ball he faced from the in-form Shakib Al Hasan.
So it wasn’t exactly a head-scratching moment when Hetmyer slog-swept the first two balls he faced in relatively easier conditions for batting in the Florida T20I, into the boundary hoardings. He had come into the game short of runs, having accumulated only 59 runs in the previous four matches. Moreover, he had returned to the West Indies side after finding himself in the wilderness on fitness grounds.
Hetmyer’s mission was clear: get back into his groove by playing a wide array of shots. He cleared his front leg to thump Hardik Pandya and Avesh Khan through the on-side a few times. When Kuldeep Yadav and Ravi Bishnoi were introduced into the attack, he based his method on using the depth of the crease to bring out the pull. Eventually, Hetmyer fell for a breezy 35-ball 56, but by then he seemed to have found his mojo back.
Incidentally, the fielder who grabbed the catch to send Hetmyer back to the pavilion, Shreyas Iyer, also needed some runs. After a string of low scores, Iyer wasn’t picked for the fourth T20I, and he returned back for the final game only because Rohit Sharma had decided to rest himself for the dead rubber. Shreyas grabbed the opportunity of batting at the top of the order and notched up a quickfire 40-ball 64.
Shreyas cracked as many as eight boundaries and two sixes in his innings. Just that whenever he takes his guard in the middle, the only shot that seems to be in focus is the one that he would bring out to counter the short ball. A simple Google search, with ‘Shreyas Iyer and short ball’ as the keywords, ends up showing a whopping 2 million results. It goes to show that the words, ‘Iyer doesn’t play the short ball well’ have spread like wildfire.
Interestingly, the weight distribution of his feet suggests Iyer is primarily a back foot player: he seems to have the majority of his weight on the left foot, allowing him to push his lighter foot onto the back foot. The crucial point to note here is Shreyas is a back foot player who looks to play the upper-cut/ramp rather than move back and across and pull the short ball.
He has employed the upper-cut with some success too, including in the final T20I where he smacked Odean Smith into the stands. There is still perhaps scope for improvement. Over many decades, some of the better players of the upper-cut – Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag or Mark Waugh (Jamaica Test, 1995) – tended to stay still at the crease and get into line before employing the stroke. On the other hand, Iyer backs away towards the leg-side before attempting the upper cut. When a batter backs away from the line, it perhaps encourages the pace bowler even more to bend his back and bang the ball hard into the pitch.
For the moment, all that the Indian management would perhaps care about is, that the player they backed over two tours of England and the West Indies, made a welcome return to form. Similarly, amidst the embarrassing 88-run loss, the silver lining for the West Indies camp was one of the mainstays of their batting engine, Hetmyer, made a substantial contribution.