Could Hetmyer solve WI opening troubles in NZ?
By Akeem Greene
Shimron Hetmyer has returned to the Test squad for the upcoming tour to New Zealand, but based on current form and impact, Jermaine Blackwood should keep a hold on Hetmyer’s number six position, at least for the first Test.
In his comeback to the Test squad, Blackwood scored the most runs (211) for the regional side on the tour to England, had the best average (35.16) and highest score in the form of a match-winning 95 in the first Test.
He came into the squad on the back of a solid Regional Four-Day season, topping the charts with 768 runs at an average of 51.20 and a highest score of 248.
So the question now is where does Hetmyer, usually a first choice in the middle order, bat in the current construct?
For starters, it seems he might find it difficult to make the playing XI for the first Test on December 3.
Chief Selector, Roger Harper, has backed the decision to give John Campbell another chance at the top, given rise to the possibility of him partnering vice-captain Kraigg Brathwaite for that opening Test.
The experienced Darren Bravo seems a logical shoo-in for the axed Shai Hope, who batted at three, and Shamarh Brooks has exuded competence and confidence at number four.
Brooks has a century and three half-centuries in six Tests and was second-best batter for the regional side on the tour to England.
The ever-consistent and reliable all-rounder Roston Chase has cemented the number five spot, and there is Shane Dowrich at seven and captain Jason Holder at eight.
Harper, on multiple occasions, has explained that Hetmyer is a middle-order option for this tour.
“Shimron gives the squad more options in the middle-order and it is another opportunity for him to show how good a player he is,” he stated in a Cricket West Indies press release.
Given the only way Test reserves can join the squad is due to the injury of a player in the Test squad, Campbell is the other outright Test opener in the 15-man squad, aside from Brathwaite.
However, the Jamaican is going through a lean patch after a promising start to his Test career.
The left-hander batted six times on the tour to England and produced a high score of 32, a large chunk of the 84 runs he made at an average of 16.80. Hope averaged 17.50.
In 18 Test innings, Campbell has just one half-century (55), which came on the tour of Afghanistan in 2019.
He had started his Test career with scores of 44, 33, 47, 11*, 41 and 0 against England in the Caribbean, but did not pass 25 in the ensuing four innings until the fifty against the Afghans.
Though not producing the big scores, himself and Brathwaite had some solid opening stands.
In the series against England in the Caribbean they averaged 50.8 from the six innings, but since then they have averaged 16.18 in 11 innings, with the best stand of 43 in England.
The former West Indies Under-19 player was the sixth leading run-scorer in this year’s Four-Day competition with 491 runs at an average of 32.73 along with two centuries and one half-centuries, while challenger, Shayne Moseley, made 490 runs with a lone century (155*) and two half-centuries at an average of 35.00.
Truth be told, the general lack of productivity from players in the regional competition has not given the selectors much options, allowing the likes of Campbell to have an extended run.
On the tour to England, he suffered an injury in the first Test, and Brooks had to be the makeshift option in the second innings, however, he recovered in time for the second Test.
Barring injury, if Campbell’s string of low scores continues in the first Test, the bold option could be to ask Hetmyer to open to the batting.
Though he has batted at three in First-Class cricket for Guyana, Hetmyer is an opener by upbringing, having opened in regional youth cricket.
In his international debut against Pakistan in 2017, he batted three and made 11 and 20 and continued in the position until Bangladesh tour to the Caribbean in 2018. On the return tour to Bangladesh he became the fixed number six and smashed a 47-ball 63 in his second innings.
Notably his first innings at six where he made 18, came as a result of Keemo Paul coming as the night-watchman; Hetmyer was initially listed at five.
While his numbers overwhelmingly suggest in the Test format he is better suited at six, his average of 30.50 in New Zealand, where he made his maiden Test-half-century, could make way for him being a viable option in the opening position, at least for the second Test.
Opening the innings could spark a different approach by Hetmyer; a sense of responsibility and maturity that could further propel his game. His natural aggression could also be the perfect marriage to Brathwaite’s doggedness.
Certainly, on paper, it looks like a strong batting group with Hetmyer included.
However, that same need to feel bat on ball could be his undoing, given the swing Trent Boult and Tim Southee produce at home.
Some may ask, how worse can Hetmyer do at the top, given Campbell’s struggle?
Realistically, if the current middle-order begins to consistently produce the goods, Hetmyer’s only option to play Test cricket would be a return to the top-order. Whether it would be a temporary or long-term option, would be up to his output.
Test Squad: Jason Holder (captain), Jermaine Blackwood, Kraigg Brathwaite, Darren Bravo, Shamarh Brooks, John Campbell, Roston Chase, Rahkeem Cornwall, Shane Dowrich, Shannon Gabriel, Shimron Hetmyer, Chemar Holder, Alzarri Joseph, Keemo Paul and Kemar Roach.
Test Reserves: Nkrumah Bonner, Joshua DaSilva, Preston McSween, Shayne Moseley, Raymon Reifer and Jayden Seales.