AS A six-year-old, Shimron Hetmyer would accompany his elder brother Seon to the Young Warriors Club ground every weekend. While Seon went about his business as the team’s key batsman through the day, the tiny but sprightly kid would hold court during the lunch and tea breaks. In fact, he’d not give the others kids his age a chance. For, as Anil Beharry, former Berbice cricketer-turned-administrator and long-term mentor of Hetmyer, recalls, “the boy would bat through all 40 minutes of the lunch break in their ‘bat till you’re out’ games.” While the older Hetmyer boy would be the “initial attraction” for the crowd present, Shimron or “Hettie” would become the “added attraction”.
At times, the club players and coaches — including Hubern Evans who played for Guyana alongside Roy Fredericks and Alvin Kallicharran in the 1970s — would stay back after the game and chuck balls at Hettie, just so that they could see him bat more. Before long, Hetmyer was playing with the big boys, which would become a recurring theme of his cricket career, where he kept making teams well above his age. Along the way, the aggressive left-hander would also develop another reputation. And as the rest of the cricket world continues to discover the powerful Guyanese striker with a penchant for three-figure scores, those in Berbice who saw him first recall how they’d identified him as the next big thing, long before he took the Indian bowling apart in Guwahati.
“In a first division club game, he smashed a ton against a bowling attack including (Veerasamy) Perumal and another Guyanese regional bowler. There was this big talk about this little 16-year-old boy who was hitting it big. He then scored a hundred in his first game against me, and the whole of Berbice (a region in Guyana) were talking about him,” says West Indies leg-spinner Devendra Bishoo, who hails from the same region, about his young Caribbean teammate, who’s now taken his century-trademark to the next level with his third ton in 13 ODIs.
Hetmyer hails from a humble household in the Canefield Settlement in East Canje. His father Gladston retired only recently after having spent his entire life working in the nearby sugar estates. Seon, too, despite playing under-19 cricket for Guyana and scoring a century in the regionals, would have to pack up his cricket and join his father in the estates. But so prodigious were the youngest Hetmyer’s returns with the bat from a very young age that there was only one direction his career was headed in, according to those at Young Warriors, which is based in the village of Cumberland — next door to East Canje. Like coach Evans puts it, Hettie was “always a class above the rest”, and not just when it came to his batting exploits.
“The boy was so athletic. A lot of times, the guys would have to do 100-yard sprints as part of their training, and he would beat them silly. He had more energy than any kid I’ve seen. He would reach the ground before everyone and run the three laps that were mandatory pre-practice. Then he would join the rest of the boys and run three more laps with them,” recalls Evans. Hetmyer played for the Guyana under-19 team when he was 14, and was soon making a name for himself outside his region and across the Caribbean islands.
The one Hetmyer knock that stands out for Beharry was a 189 he scored around six years ago against a team from Leguan in the Essequibo Islands, where he showcased his other characteristic prowess, that of clearing the fence with consummate ease. Hetmyer smashed six sixes en route to his 78-ball 106 at the ACA Stadium on Sunday, and finished up with the highest number of sixes in this year’s Caribbean Premier League with 24. Meanwhile, all three of his centuries have come at strike rates of over 130.
“He always hit the ball hard. He was bigger and stronger than all the boys his age even back then. He had this reputation of six-hitting in Berbice, and his centuries would always be scored at rapid rates. Even his most sedate knocks used to be more than run-a-ball,” says the former Berbice left-arm spinner. Evans, who played nine first-class matches for Guyana and is now based in the USA, puts his former pupil’s ability for hitting sixes to picking length early. He though insists on being more impressed with young Hetmyer’s ability to use this same hand-eye coordination to put bowlers off even while playing along the ground.
“I love it when he rocks back and drives the ball square of the wicket. He’ll then stretch out and punch a fuller delivery with the same intensity a ball later,” he says. The coach does lament about how Hetmyer hasn’t, however, managed to display his batting talent in Test cricket to the same extent yet. “He tries to carry the same batting tempo into Tests. You can’t do that. I want him to be more selective because we know he has the skill. He’s unlucky to not have great batsmen around him to learn from like a young (Prithvi) Shaw does,” says Evans.
Evans and Beharry though were instrumental in giving Hetmyer the necessary breaks from the very beginning. It was done not only to “give him the limelight” as the coach puts it, but also because they saw in him, even in his teens, the ability to be a leader.
While most around him describe the ebullient Hetmyer as being a chatterbox and a “very funny guy”, his mentors also recall him having had great respect for discipline. Like the time he once came to the ground donning an earring and when told that it was against club rules to have it on the cricket ground, the teenager took it off and never tried it on again.
“In fact, we were the ones who made him captain first, at our club, even though he was 18. Guyana under-19 soon followed suit, and then so did the West Indies under-19s, whom he captained to the World Cup win in 2016,” says Evans. Hetmyer was welcomed back home with a large motorcade two years ago, and though Beharry insists the reception is unlikely to be as dramatic as this time around, he and the whole of Berbice are expecting Hetmyer to return to India next year, “and show just how special he is on the IPL stage.”
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