Cricket News By TODAYLIVESCORE.INFO - How the nuts and bolts of Steve Smith's game helped Glenn Phillips. "The thing I took out of Steve Smith was the backlift," Phillips
"The thing I took out of Steve Smith was the backlift," Phillips
The New Year's Test at the Sydney Cricket Ground in January 2020 got a lot of people talking on social media. Not because of the quality of the contest considering Australia were absolutely hammering their Trans-Tasman rivals but a certain Glenn Phillips, making his debut, drew comparisons to the world's best Test batsman Steven Smith with his batting stance. He pretty much did justice to that stance by scoring a measured half-century but people who have watched him ever since he turned heads a few years ago in the Super Smash knew that the stance was very different back then.
“Guys were bowling at different areas of my body and were finding holes in my game, so I decided to change to be able to combat their plans,” Phillips tells Cricbuzz ahead of his side's first game in the ongoing T20 WC. “The whole idea around my technique was that I could change it at any point. There is nothing that's ever set. Currently the movements I make pre-delivery are very different to what it was back then.”
Despite the comparisons, Phillips insists that he has taken only a small chunk out of Smith's technique to improve his game. “It's more about the flexibility to be able to move and change as opposed to try and copy anyone's style,” he says. “The only thing I took out of Steve Smith was the backlift. His bat goes more towards the gully. The movement as such I haven't copied from him at all. The angle of the bat I definitely took from him. I mixed around and played with it to make it more comfortable for me and have the bat coming down the angle I want it to. The main thing is to try and be flexible at any point regardless of the situation.”
The change has certainly worked wonders for the youngster, who has continued making rapid progress in the last two years. In this period, apart from the Test debut, Phillips also managed to register the fastest T20I century by a New Zealand batsman, fetch a central contract for the first time, bag a maiden IPL gig and is now set to play in his first World Cup. Despite making a name for himself in the beginning as an opener, it is the middle order where Phillips will be expected to make an impact during the World Cup. It's a transition he was forced to make with the likes of Martin Guptill, Colin Munro, Kane Williamson occupying the slots in the top order over the years.
By his own admission, Phillips did struggle at the start to adapt to the new role. “To be fair when they asked me to try the first time, I was in a rough slump form wise,” he recalls. “At one point, I just almost forgot how to score runs, so being able to make those changes at that point in time was almost virtually impossible. So I had to go away, start again, work from scratch, go play domestic cricket. But when I came back last season I knew my game a lot better, batted in the middle order, it became more natural. I got fitter and stronger so the whole side of being able to clear the boundary under pressure made things a lot easier.”
Scoring only 140 runs in his first 11 games in T20I cricket for New Zealand, Phillips found himself out of favour before making a strong comeback. Last year, making a comeback after two years, he hit three sixes in a seven-ball cameo to guide the team home in a tough run chase against world champions West Indies before smashing an incredible 51-ball 108 that saw him clear the ropes eight times. “I was just at that point in time willing to take any opportunity that was given to me whether it was in the middle or opening,” he says on his comeback last year. “I definitely think I enjoy the middle order role a lot more because the game is already set up in front of you. It's very defined and you can plan and go for it.
“Whereas as an opener, you dictate the pace of the game and sometimes you don't always get it right. Sometimes you don't get it right anyway but I think with where I'm at the moment, the middle order suits me quite well.”
The ability to constantly clear the rope is a very important aspect for a finisher in modern-day cricket especially in this format, and Phillips had to put in the hard yards to match with some of the biggest names in world cricket. In 2021, he has smashed 89 sixes in T20 cricket (including The Hundred) – the most in the year. The 24-year-old had, who had earlier credited the success to the time he has been spending at the gym, feels that bulking up can help him get away with mis-hits. “I do go about things very differently,” he says. “I try not to look into how other people bat, you know guys like Pollard (Kieron) who are so successful doing what they do, I will never be able to do what he does because of his size and body type.
“So for me it was just finding a way to do things my own way and find what I'm best at and figuring out what works for me the best. The gym aspect of it was more so that I could get away with mis-hits. Obviously, being a smaller guy compared to Pollard and Russell (Andre), when they mis-hit it's going to go for a six whereas I always have to rely on timing more than anything else to be able to clear the rope. I don't necessarily hit big sixes as such but I try to hit sixes in the gap so that if I get it wrong, I don't get caught often in the boundary.”
Despite possessing the ability, he certainly has his task cut out in the ongoing tournament. Phillips is likely to come up against India's Jasprit Bumrah and Pakistan's Shaheen Afridi at the death in the Super 12 stage and the outcome of those battles might very well have a huge bearing on the final result. But that challenge of batting in the final five overs of a game is something he relishes as per his own admission.
“If the team needs me to keep, I will but my passion is bowling through and through.”
“They are human, they can miss,” he says of Shaheen and Bumrah. “Every bowler can hit the yorker or the slower ball but those two obviously have a higher percentage of it. So I just got to be prepared for the ball they do miss and hopefully send it out of the ground. Those are the scenarios I feel most comfortable in because of how my game plan is set up. If you need 12 or 15 off the last over, I would back myself to get it more times than not. It definitely builds a lot of confidence to be able to take those pressure situations. They are not always going to come off, but I suppose to try and entertain the crowd and be that something extra for the team and also for those who are watching is an exciting prospect.”
With spin expected to play a major role, Phillips is also gearing up to roll his arm over alongside Mitchell Santner and Ish Sodhi. A ‘passionate bowler' in his own words, Phillips has been trying to get rid of the ‘wicketkeeper' tag for many years now. “Every time someone says I'm a wicketkeeper, I absolutely hate it,” he says. “If the team needs me to keep, I will but my passion is bowling through and through. I will bowl all day.
“We have two allrounders (James Neesham and Daryl Mitchell) who can bowl pace and then to have an allrounder to bowl spin just allows Kane (Williamson) to be able to find an over from here and there. I won't be bowling plenty of overs but for me it's about contributing to the team. If I can do a job for an over or two when the captain needs me, that will be an awesome opportunity and I will relish it at any point of time.”
Even during the recently-concluded IPL, where he got to feature for Rajasthan Royals as a replacement player, Phillips managed to bowl in a couple of games after convincing Sanju Samson in the nets. Phillips also believes that it's his bowling that will help him force his way back into the Test side at some point in the future. “He (Samson) didn't actually know I have bowled before but I said ‘mate I have bowled in international cricket', so I think he went away, had a little look and then he saw me bowl in the nets and after that he realised that he could use me whenever he needed.
“I think bowling spin will allow me to play more Test cricket especially if it just means going to the subcontinent to be in that allrounder role for the Blackcaps which is sort of my way in because we have so many batters who have their roles settled already in the Test and ODI formats.”
A return to the Test set-up can wait. For now, the focus is on helping New Zealand secure their first ever World Cup. Phillips says he doesn't get emotionally attached to the games he isn't involved in which is part of the reason why he went off to sleep instead of staying up to watch the 2019 World Cup final. But unlike that tournament in England, he will be in the thick of things this time. Not many players in that squad are used to playing on slower surfaces, something that the 24-year-old has done in the CPL over the years, but he still expects New Zealand to challenge the three subcontinental teams in the group.
“I don't necessarily think they have an exceptional advantage over us,” Phillips says on India, Pakistan and Afghanistan. “We have proved over and over again that we can perform at the top level against the top teams. I think for us it is about adjusting and adapting as quickly as we can and keep playing the brand of cricket that we're after and hopefully we can pull through again. Obviously India, Pakistan and even Afghanistan are really strong sides, so it isn't going to be an easy pool to be in but there's nothing saying that we can't pull through.”