Audacious Hetmyer evokes memories of a bygone era

Alan Wilkins was on air when Shimron Hetmyer smashed his first T20 century in Lauderhill for Guyana Amazon Warriors. It was during the Caribbean Premier League earlier in the year, where the 21-year-old became the youngest centurion in the tournament, and the youngest to do so on American soil.

What caught Wilkins’s eye then was not that his century was the third-fastest in six years of the competition, off just 47 balls, or any such records; it was his follow-through when he hit down the ground. That reminded Wilkins of the legendary Clive Lloyd.

“Fearless, utterly uninhibited, like West Indian batting from a bygone era. Beautiful to watch!” said Wilkins of that 49-ball 100.

On Sunday (October 21), at the Barsapara Cricket Stadium in Guwahati, Hetmyer reproduced a knock, similar, with all the characteristics that fit Wilkins’s description. He even brought back memories of that bygone era by donning the trademark West Indian floppy hat.

Hetmyer could have been caught before he had opened his scoring when a mistimed lofted shot fell just out of reach of the fielder. That lucky reprieve resulted in a sensational innings from the youngster, who scored his third one-day hundred in 13 innings. He was not just aggressive against the pacers, but also against the spinners, using his feet well. His array of shots, that were timed to perfection, were dispatched to different parts of the ground, with bulk of his 106 coming on the leg-side.

He came in at a time when Marlon Samuels, who was making his 200th ODI appearance, got out for a duck and Windies were reduced to 86 for 3. He took on the mantle thereafter, picking out regular boundaries and rotating the strike in useful partnerships with Rovman Powell and Jason Holder. Given the batting-friendly conditions, the Indian bowlers didn’t want to bowl too full; the length was pulled back, and with the ball coming onto the bat well, Hetmyer’s horizontal bat shots were used well on the leg-side, as he got almost 60-plus runs in the region.

During the Test series, Hetmyer fell to Kuldeep Yadav three times in four innings. The other time, he was run-out. When India didn’t pick Kuldeep for the first ODI, Hetmyer took full advantage, having been kept on his toes by the chinaman. Antsy against Kuldeep, who consistently had the ball going away, Hetmyer tried to slog twice, both times getting top-edges that brought about his downfall, while being trapped leg-before the third time, missing a googly.

In Guwahati, he counterattacked and took on Ravindra Jadeja initially before picking the right deliveries to take on the seamers. His strokes, like the one against Jadeja where he got down on one knee to dispatch a slog sweep over the backward square leg fence, showed that he not only got his timing right, but also was powering his way through his shots. He played through the line by clearing his front leg. Before one knew it, he had raced away to a fifty off 41 balls, before upping the ante further to score his next fifty off just 33 to bring up his hundred with a magnificent six over extra cover as he raised his arms in delight, that off 74 balls. He fell three balls after he brought up the landmark with a sweep that soared to straight Rishabh Pant in the deep. He ended his innings with six boundaries and as many sixes.

The left-hander has had a great run of form in white-ball cricket since his one-day debut last December. He scored 481 runs at 5.73 runs per over since his debut with no other Windies player having scored more in that time-frame. In the CPL earlier in the year, he finished with 440 runs in 12 innings, averaging 40, striking at 148.

Hetmyer is still very young, yet one of the most adored cricketers in the Caribbean. His teammates love him, and his sense of humour. He’s bold, audacious, both in strokeplay and character, and the best part is that he’s only 21. He’s led West Indies to an Under-19 World Cup title, but that has not stopped him from aiming higher nor quashed his desire to achieve greater.

Hetmyer may have ended on the wrong side of the result on the day, with Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma dominating the 324-run chase with centuries of their own. But amidst the carnage, a star arose. One that is here to stay. One that could lead the revival of Windies cricket. Or at least, inspires that hope.

“The joy with which Shimron bats is like the joy he exudes in everyday life. He is a natural smiler. He brings a smile to faces on people who watch him bat. Everyone with the exception of bowlers!” summed up Wilkins. And rightly so.

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