“Hetmyer has too often been guilty of not batting according to the requirements of his team. Too often he’d be batting in some ease before gifting his wicket. Too often he’d try to delve into his sizable bag of outrageous strokes from his very first minute at the crease”
Though the West Indies easily won the final ODI of the series in Grenada – by five wickets with 64 deliveries to spare – they had to do it without the services of Shimron Hetmyer, one of the most talented young players in the game. Why? The Guyanese lefthander was dropped after what the authorities seemed to have had enough of his less than responsible batting.
A number of Caribbean cricket fans have had enough too and had been wondering, for some time, how long he’d be allowed to skate by. There were some calls for his head after a far from convincing showing during last year’s World Cup.
Hetmyer needs to resist squandering his considerable gifts. A man of his capabilities has no business losing his place in the West Indies side -one struggling to regain its reputation and standing in World cricket. He is too good a player not to command a permanent place. His future is in his hands.
Should he need some guidance as to how to proceed then he should look no further than to another young player, one who resembles him closely in terms of ability and outlook.
The first ODI of the 2019/20 West Indies tour of India in Chennai was just over 18 overs old when Rishabh Pant strode to the middle to join Shreyas Iyer with his side80 for three and in some trouble. When Iyer departed in the 37th over India had strolled to 194. By the time Pant got out three overs later, the score was 210 and he had made 71 off 69 deliveries.
Instructively, it was not the kind of innings everyone had come to expect from Pant. He is well known for his belligerence, as a batsman is not reluctant to blaze away from his very first ball. Here, however, he was studious at the beginning of his innings – his first 19 runs ate up all of 31 deliveries – and it was only as his innings aged that he moved up a few gears, widening his range and hitting with power.
The West Indies won the game, however. India’s eventual 287 was easily overhauled by the visitors, who gained victory with eight wickets and 13 balls to spare. Yet Pant’s innings was instrumental in extricating his side from the considerable peril in which they were placed, lifting them to a position that allowed for a fighting chance.
Afterward, Pant’s take on his innings was pleasingly mature for one so young, and especially for a player who always lived and died by the sword, regardless of the state of the match: “When we were kids”, he explained, “We would hear that ‘play the natural game’, but since I have played the international game, I have realized that there is nothing called natural game. You have to play according to the situation and what the team needs. A good player is one who can mold his game according to the situation and the team’s demand”.
Playing in that same encounter was Hetmyer. The 139 he smoked off 106 deliveries led his side to victory and earned him the man-of-the-match award. Somewhat like Pant, he was more restrained at the start of his innings before returning to his normal method.
But if anyone thought that meant he had turned over a new leaf then they had better think again. Since then Hetmyerseems to have again fallen into the habit of wantonly tossing away his wicket. During the second game of the West Indies/Ireland series the Guyanese batsman lost his wicket attempting an almighty pull to a ball from Barry McCarthy, the wicketkeeper gladly accepting the resultant top-edge. This ill-advised stroke was played on a surface from which the ball sometimes bounced more than the batsman expected. Additionally, Hetmyer was just seven deliveries into his innings when he committed such a grave error. Luckily for him, the West Indies was still able to take out a win with one wicket and one ball to spare.
One would probably have excused this misstep if it were a one-off occurrence. Two days prior, however, in the first game of the series, Hetmyer lost his wicket in a jarringly similar manner. On that occasion, his innings was eight balls old and the top edge, again caught by the keeper, was off-spinner Simi Singh.
At his most belligerent, Hetmyer appears to want to play every delivery with violent intent. The problem with that kind of approach, however, is that sometimes the situation calls for thoughtfulness and restraint. His stroke-making ability is almost off the charts but there will be problematic conditions and troublesome bowling that ought to be tackled watchfully. Hetmyer, brimming with talent as he is, has not yet absorbed that lesson.
Batsmen will play at their own pace. They’ll flow according to some kind of natural rhythm that is somewhat unique to them. Ideally – and some have more difficulty than others doing this – they adjust that flow based on things like match conditions and quality of bowling.
Still, there are players who are loath to deviate from their normal way of playing. West Indian batting great Shivnarine Chanderpaul, for instance, was often berated for his pedestrian way of batting, even when his side needed him to score with more urgency. Virender Sehwag lived at the other extreme, and would hardly ever deviate from his entertainingly assertive shot-making.
One can hardly fault a man for sticking with the methods that allowed him to ascend to the highest level. Yet cricket is a team sport and the needs of the whole ought to be the first and most important consideration. The best players, as Pant said, tailor their play according to the needs of their team. “The needs of the many”, instructed Mr. Spock in Star Trek II, “outweigh the needs of the few…or the one”.
Hetmyer has too often been guilty of not batting according to the requirements of his team. Too often he’d be batting in some ease before gifting his wicket. Too often he’d try to delve into his sizable bag of outrageous strokes from his very first minute at the crease.
Whenever he succeeds the result is stunningly entertaining. Whenever he fails, however, as he often does with such a high-risk approach, it all seems so needless, so frustrating to his legion of fans.
He’s well-advised, therefore, to take Rishabh Pant’s words to heart. The Indian batsman still has to press his words into action in order to overcome his own challenges. His words are a start, however. They show that he is aware of what is required.
A year older than Pant, Hetmyer has the equipment to become a great batsman in all formats. He’d do well, though, to recognize that he needs to exercise more control. He has to know that it’s not always prudent for him to play in the overly aggressive way he obviously likes to. He should take Pant’s words as some sort of mantra. For it would be a shame to see so much talent wasted.