“Lara saarkha disto but Gayle saarkha maarto.” (Looks like Lara, but hits like Gayle.) The policeman’s description of Shimron Hetmyer to his colleagues at the MCA Stadium in Pune might not have been very accurate. Hetmyer does hit the ball a long way, and he was easily depositing it some 20 rows back with each hit on Friday. But by now, Indian cricket fans have seen enough of the young Guyanese batsman in only two matches to know that he does resemble a former West Indian left-hander. But it’s not Lara. If anything, he’s more a modern-day Keith Arthurton, at least when he’s got the floppy hat on.
The “full of life” Hetmyer was the life of Windies’ practice session on the eve of the third ODI. When he wasn’t smacking them like Chris Gayle, he was dribbling a football past his teammates and creating goal opportunities —though his team did require an almost characteristic cool, calm finish from veteran Marlon Samuels to score a goal.
Once done with his batting stint, Hetmyer was indulging in the fielding challenges set by coach Nic Pothas. And long after the rest of the West Indians had left the field, the latest batting sensation from the Caribbean was still out there, sat on the sidelines giving an interview to the official broadcasters.
It’s been Hetmyer’s series so far after all. Yes, Virat Kohli has scored two customary tons in the two matches, and India lead 1-0 after the tied encounter in Visakhapatnam. And it was Shai Hope whose century brought the visitors within a single run of their first win on tour. But it was Hetmyer’s brutal 94 off 64 balls that got the run-chase on track after an early stutter. Just like it was his 106 off 78 in Guwahati that pushed the Windies total over the 300-run mark, after yet another stutter. What he’s also done — after a few shocking dismissals in the Tests — is make sure that the ODIs have been a lot more competitive than many had expected, starting with the West Indians themselves.
Bumrah, Bhuvi back
There will be one major difference from hereon though. While the Windies will have their coach Stuart Law back in the dressing room after a two-match suspension, India welcome back their premier limited-overs fast bowlers in Jasprit Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar Kumar. It’s not to say that Hetmyer & Co. have had it easy against the likes of Mohammed Shami and Umesh Yadav — who tormented them in the Tests — but they’ve certainly held their own over the last week or so.
According to Law, his team has forced India’s hand in bringing back Bumrah and Kumar. Perhaps there’s some truth to it. But it’s more likely that India would have brought them back anyway, considering the build-up to the World Cup is underway. With their pacers in the mix and Ambati Rayudu firming up the No.4 spot with each outing, India will go in with their almost full-strength playing XI in Pune on Saturday. The only missing cog, of course, is the injured Hardik Pandya, who has developed into the third seamer in the 50-over format in recent times.
Bumrah and Kumar will present stiffer challenges with the ball, for sure. Their lengths will be a lot more precise, which will test Hetmyer unlike so far in this series. Bumrah, meanwhile, will bring in extra pace and penetration that’s been lacking in the Indian attack against Hetmyer’s carnage. The MCA Stadium used to be one of India’s premier six-hitting venues but the pitch was slower and drier during the IPL, bringing Chennai Super Kings’ spinners into the game a lot more on their adopted home ground. It should suit India’s spin trio, and make swatting them over the fence, like Hetmyer has been doing, a lot more difficult.
The Guyanese youngster has shown enough skill that he might yet overcome whatever comes his way or, like his coach said, “not shy away” from the real test that lies ahead. And if he does, he might not just attract many more plaudits and high-profile comparisons, but might give the West Indians more reasons to smile.