IRELAND VS SOUTH AFRICA, 2022
Reeza Hendricks scored 42 from 40 as South Africa won ©AFP
Looks like a mannequin. Fortunately, does not seem to know. Excessively polite. Even tempered almost to a boring degree. Able to reel off half a century after another, bada bing, bada boom, seemingly with virtually no effort expended. What’s not to love about Reeza Hendricks?
Everything, if you’ve played against him in the last 10 days. That fate has befallen 14 players from England and Ireland in the five T20Is their teams have played against South Africa. They deserve, at the very least, a record of their attendance: Mark Adair, Moeen Ali, Curtis Campher, Sam Curran, Gareth Delany, George Dockrell, Richard Gleeson, Chris Jordan, Josh Little, Andy McBrine, Barry McCarthy, Adil Rashid, Reece Topley and David Willey.
Delany, Gleeson, Jordan and Moeen had the satisfaction of firing Hendricks. Delany did it twice. Only McBrine, Adair and Campher escaped Hurricane Hendricks after conceding less than a ball to it. He crushed Dockrell, McCarthy and Curran for over 10 runs and Dockrell for over two runs per ball – nine of four. He made anyone who dared to deliver to him look decidedly ordinary.
And, in Bristol on Friday, he came within eight runs of passing Brendon McCullum and Chris Gayle and everyone else who swung a bat in a men’s T20I. When Hendricks scored 74 against the Irish in Bristol on Wednesday, he became the sixth player to reach 50 in four consecutive T20I sets. A hat-trick of half-centuries in the format isn’t all that special, even at this level. It has been done 46 times, and his accomplishments include Virat Kohli and Martin Guptill, who have done it three times each. Only McCullum and Gayle have been there, four times in a row.
Hendricks’ attempt to put daylight between him and the chasing pack ended with the 13th’s first ball. Delany threw a straighter, faster delivery in front of anything in his path. Except leg stump. Hendricks’ characteristics – timing and footwork – were what they should have been, but they weren’t up to par on this delivery. It was a disappointing if compelling ending to his attempt to achieve splendid isolation. Rather go in that direction than have what could have been a record six caught by a leaping lizard from a borderline defender.
Hendricks will leave England – he is not in the squad for the Test series which starts at Lord’s on August 17 – having scored 296 runs from 208 balls, including more than half on four and six. It is the last of these facts that will shock. Has he really reached so many limits? Yes: 31 fours and four sixes. Hitters who play as well as Hendricks on this tour may seem to score runs almost by accident; as if they were more focused on making their shots than making their shots count in the logbook. It’s the difference between art and craft, and it’s a beautiful thing.
In Bristol on Friday, after Hendricks painted his unfinished picture, his frame was cobbled together with determination and discipline. South Africa recovered from the loss of Hendricks and a bristling Aiden Markram – who hammered 27 out of 10 balls – in the space of three deliveries, and thus stumbled to 84/5, for a total of 182/6. That was largely thanks to Heinrich Klaasen, David Miller and Dwaine Pretorius crushing 88 of 43 between them. Then Wayne Parnell, bowling with creativity and verve, won a career-best 5/30 as Ireland disappeared for 138 in 18.5 overs without showing many of his famous fighting qualities.
That Hendricks should stand out from the bigger names around him is the real story. While battling a storm, Quinton de Kock scored 31 runs in the same five innings. Or not quite 10% of Hendricks production. That De Kock is among the best players of his generation anywhere in the game and will undoubtedly find his form only adds to the uniqueness of what Hendricks has done. Another metric is that, despite South Africa’s 2-0 win over Ireland, only Hendricks and Markram are among the top five scorers in the series.
Perhaps the most profound lesson of Hendricks’ success, for the South Africans, is that they didn’t have to depend on some of the usual suspects in this game or even against England. As David Miller – himself a fish out of water as substitute captain for injured Temba Bavuma – said in his TV interview: “We find ways to win.”
Hendricks is one of those ways. How he stays in the XI at the T20I World Cup in Australia in October and November is a question for another time and for another group of people: the selectors. His job is to ask that question, and he did. In a refined style.