Shimron Hetmyer: ‘I’m trying to just find my footing’

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Warriors Shimron Hetmyer became the youngest player to score a century in the CPL at age 21 (Peter Della Penna image)

As Phil Simmons and Kieron Pollard plot West Indies’ T20 World Cup title defence in 2021, they can feel safe in inking in three names from Nos. 4 to 6: Nicholas Pooran, who made his maiden T20 hundred on Sunday evening, off 45 balls, on a pitch where the second-highest strike rate was 128.26; Pollard himself, a T20 titan who seems to be getting better with every passing year; and Andre Russell, the star of last year’s IPL and a man who’s taken power-hitting to new heights.

At No. 3, Shimron Hetmyer’s name is currently written in pencil. Hetmyer is clearly the man West Indies want in that slot – he has not missed a T20I since August 2018, after all – but his performances in the role to date have left his position insecure: he averages just 21.4 in the role, with a strike rate of 121.59. He feels his place is not yet locked in.

Hetmyer has plenty of opportunities to impress before that tournament. He started this year’s CPL – a tournament that has been difficult for batsmen due to slow, low pitches and a lack of match practice – with two half-centuries, and is desperate to break Guyana Amazon Warriors’ knockout curse if they reach the semi-finals, which they look likely to.

And after that, he has a USD 1.1 million price tag to live up to at his new IPL franchise, Delhi Capitals. “I’m still learning my game somewhat,” Hetmyer tells ESPNcricinfo. “I’m trying to take it one step at a time: setting out how to build an innings, how to set it up and how to finish it.

“I’m hitting the ball pretty well. To come out after five months without competitive cricket and to get two good scores was something I’d take any day. For most of it, I tried to spend some time and home and relax – to take my mind off the game, to be honest. It had been three or four years without a break.”

The IPL will serve as a good audition for that T20 World Cup. While it will be staged in UAE rather than India, Hetmyer knows that he will be playing with and against the world’s best on pitches that suit spinners.

His reflections on his season for Royal Challengers Bangalore last year – “it wasn’t the best; it wasn’t what I was looking to do in my first year of IPL” – are mixed, but in truth he was set up to fail. He was used at No. 5 (twice), as an opener, and at No. 4 in the first four games of the season, then left out for the rest of the tournament until the final game with RCB already out.

But his innings on recall – 75 off 47 balls against Sunrisers Hyderabad, with four fours and six sixes in a successful chase of 176 – gave him confidence that he belonged at that level.

“I’m not really trying to put too much emphasis on what happened last year,” he says. “It’s always nice to go back and reflect on it and see what went well, like in the last game – what I did well, and how I went about setting up my innings.

“I think some of the other games, I was kind of ultra-aggressive, somewhat. I’m still learning my game and trying to set it up in such a way that most times, I’ll be successful. In some situations, I tend to become ultra-aggressive and move away from my actual gameplan. I’m really trying to structure it better – starting in the nets and taking that onto the field, still thinking about every step I’m taking.

“In some situations, I tend to become ultra-aggressive and move away from my actual gameplan. I’m really trying to structure it better – starting in the nets and taking that onto the field, still thinking about every step I’m taking.”

“I heard from Keemo [Paul] and Sherfane [Rutherford] that they’ve very good people and very good guys to be around [at Delhi], so I’m actually looking forward to that. For me it’s another opportunity to showcase my talent and do what I love. I’m trying not to think about the money too much – I’m trying to just do what I’ve been picked to do, and see the money as a bonus.”

While Hetmyer’s focus is currently on the CPL, he has been unable to escape the fact the IPL is looming. In the Amazon Warriors’ early-season game against the St Kitts & Nevis Patriots, he was mic’d up on the field, and told by the Capitals’ spin-bowling coach Samuel Badree: “Shimron, on behalf of the Delhi Capitals coaching staff, we want to see you drop some weight before you go off to the IPL.”

“I did [take it as a joke] to be honest,” Hetmyer chuckles. “We have a good relationship, both from when he used to play and even off the field now. I’m going to the gym and doing my fair share of running, and so on.”

But fitness has been a consistent theme this year after a challenging 2019. That year started and ended well, with ODI hundreds at home against England and away in India, but his figures for the calendar year – averages of 24.40 (Tests), 38.70 (ODIs) and 18.36 (T20Is) – were underwhelming. This year, he found himself left out of the ODI squad to play Sri Lanka due to a failed fitness test in February, and Badree’s jibe seemed to have a layer of uncomfortable truth to it.

The hope with Hetmyer is that he can knuckle down this year and come good on his clear promise. As the Caribbean Cricket Podcast’s Santokie Nagulendran has noted, Guyana is yet to produce a great T20 cricketer; anyone who has seen Hetmyer in full flow knows he has the ability to fill that void.

But Hetmyer’s aspirations extend beyond that. In fact, Test cricket is the format he is keenest to crack. “There’s like this legacy for Test cricket in Guyana,” he explains. “It’s something to live up to. I haven’t done as well as I would have liked, but I’m up for the challenge. I’m trying to just find my footing.”

He sat and watched England’s series against Pakistan from his hotel room in Port-of-Spain, and admits to “sitting and thinking about it” when his mind wanders. He is cagey when asked about his decision to decline selection for West Indies’ tour there earlier this year. “It was just the matter of Covid. That’s it.” Does he have any regrets about giving others the opportunity in the middle order? “None that I could think of.”

But the thing that Hetmyer keeps coming back to is his age: he is only 23, and he emphasises time and again that he is still learning, still working out the tempo and rhythms of batting in each format.

“I’m still taking it one step at a time with my career as it is and with my batting,” he stresses. “But it’s coming. It’s going to be here sooner rather than later.” You would be hard pushed to find a fan in the Caribbean who doesn’t hope that is true. (ESPNCricinfo)