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Comment: Guptill is sweeping aside the myths around him

Wisden India Wisden India 24/03/2016 Sidhanta Patnaik
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New Zealand were preparing for Brendon McCullum’s final One-Day International, against Australia on February 8 this year in Hamilton, when news came in that Martin Guptill was the only marquee player to have gone unsold in the Indian Premier League auction. What was odd was that even though Guptill had kept his base price at Rs 50 lakh, there were no bidders in the second round either.

“If I owned a team I would have picked Guptill,” Kane Williamson had said soon after the snub. “He’s playing amazing cricket at the moment and he’s a world-class player, certainly in the white-ball format.”

Guptill had asked his team-mates to not bother him with auction results as he wanted to focus on the series-deciding third ODI. He would make 59 to set up New Zealand’s 55-run win and end their skipper’s limited-overs leg of the farewell series on a happy note.

It has been argued that Guptill has never scored big runs in Indian conditions, and numbers backed the claim as he had just four half-centuries and an average of 29.11 in 19 innings across formats in India before the start of the World Twenty20 2016. Some franchises felt that he was too classy a player to be bought and benched – Williamson himself was an example of that in the 2015 IPL where he played only two games for Sunrisers Hyderabad.

The logic was sound as most of the teams had some of the best overseas hitters in their ranks. It’s only that they overlooked the fact that Guptill is one of the best and classiest overseas hitters as well.

Martin Guptill almost single-handedly hit the Black Caps to victory over Pakistan. © MONEY SHARMA/AFP/Getty Images Martin Guptill almost single-handedly hit the Black Caps to victory over Pakistan. Guptill, now bearded and looking more like a man on vacation, left no room for any more speculation about his adaptability in Indian conditions and to which category of batsman he belongs with an entertaining 48-ball 80 in a 22-run win over Pakistan at the PCA IS Bindra Stadium in Mohali on Tuesday (March 23). With their third win, New Zealand became the first team to qualify for the semifinals and a lot of credit goes to Guptill. He started the Super 10 stage with a straight six off R Ashwin against India before scoring a 27-ball 39 to set the tempo against Australia, and then made the Pakistani bowlers look ordinary.

Guptill was cheeky when asked if he missed being a part of the world’s biggest league. “I don’t know, to be honest. I haven’t played (in) it.”

Guptill’s smarts were on display on the field as well. Mohammad Irfan started the game’s second over with a full delivery, which Guptill defended. Anticipating a similar ball next up, he gave himself room and lofted with a dead straight bat into the sightscreen. The moment the ball left the bat, there were traces of Sachin Tendulkar’s six against Michael Kasprowicz during the Desert Storm in Sharjah from 1998.

Guptill regularly used the ploy of staying on the leg side of the ball in order to get room for himself and hit boundaries straight of the wicket with minimum risk. After he hit his first four in Mohammad Amir’s second over, Shahid Afridi sent mid-on back and brought third man in. No problem. Two dots and a wide later, Amir pulled the length back and slowed the pace, but Guptill was waiting for the ball that was slapped horizontally to the square fence. The follow-up act went to the third-man fence off a thick outside edge, and Guptill was off and running. Imad Wasim and Mohammad Sami were hit for delightful sixes too, but it was the two sweeps off Afridi in the 11th over that gave a glimpse of his tremendous power and awareness.

Just after reaching his half-century in the second ball of the over, Guptill swept a full ball from Afridi, which was on middle and leg, to the right side of the midwicket fielder. A prod later, a similar delivery arrived, but it was slightly wider. Guptill went with the shot again, but this time hit it between the midwicket and long-on fielders. All that Afridi did after that was swap the midwicket fielder with one from the 30-yard circle even if none of those two shots had any chance of being stopped.

Guptill swept Afridi once again, this time between short fine-leg and deep square-leg, in the next over. And, when Afridi changed the length, he cut it to the point fence for another four.

When Sami came back in the 15th over, Guptill knew what the bowlers were doing better than the bowlers themselves. He waited for a back of the length delivery from Sami on outside off to play a flat-batted shot for his tenth and final four. Guptill played on a ball later, but he had done his job with precision by then. As he walked to the dugout, he had taken his T20I strike-rate for the year to 174.53, the best among those who have faced at least 100 balls.

“That was instinctive. There were a couple that went down the leg and I tend to sweep them. I was lucky to get on to a couple of those. But on another day, it might be a different story,” said Guptill about sweeping Afridi. “I found the (pitch at the) nets played pretty similar to the way the wicket played in the middle today. We were lucky to get decent tracks in the nets, play some shots there and carry on from there.

<p>Martin Guptill hits out as Australian keeper Peter Nevill watches on in Dharamsala.</p> © Provided by Wisden

Martin Guptill hits out as Australian keeper Peter Nevill watches on in Dharamsala.

“Obviously the wickets were a bit slow and low from the wickets in New Zealand. Obviously we have to use different skills and adapt. We have to go and play the way we know,” he went on when asked if he had prepared in a specific way to succeed in the subcontinent. “I think it was pretty important for the team rather than myself, to be honest. We needed somebody to bat the majority of the innings to set the back end up. We were lucky enough to bat through most of the innings and a couple of good partnerships with Kane and Corey (Anderson) set the total up as well.”

Guptill found Amir relatively challenging, taking only 13 runs in 11 balls, but had a strike rate of at least 150 against the other four bowlers.

“They are obviously world-class bowlers. Amir has got his swing and Irfan has got his bounce. They are obviously different characters to handle, but Kane and I really like to be aggressive and play our shots in the front six (overs). We are used to a mindset of being aggressive and just going out and having fun at the moment,” he said. “We are playing some good cricket together and putting in some good performance. So we wish to keep going out there and having a lot of fun and backing our abilities. If we can do that against Bangladesh (in the last league game), we can go through unbeaten.”

The game against Bangladesh is Guptill’s next chance to break that myth about playing in India.

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