Remember when you would play cricket with your friends and you had to be picked into a team? You’d count the number of kids around, and pray you weren’t picked last — or at least that you were picked to play. That seems to be Matt Henry’s career until now – praying that he gets a chance to play.
When he made his debut for New Zealand in the final One-Day International of a five-match series against India in 2014, Henry seemed another brilliant fast bowler in the making. As he showcased consistent speeds of over 140kph with some variations thrown, it seemed like a bright future lay ahead of the 23-year-old.
But gradually, it became clear that the New Zealand selectors saw him as cover for their first-choice pacers. Henry has been unable to string together a steady run of games in any of the formats – a couple of ODIs here, a lone Test or two there, and then back to warming the bench. Most other players with such potential would have been extremely frustrated and not as understanding of his situation as the man from Christchurch.
The situation doesn’t seem too different in the IPL, where he warmed the bench for his previous team Chennai Super Kings, and didn’t get a match for his current side Kings XI Punjab until the last week of league matches, against Kolkata Knight Riders on Tuesday (May 9).
In this chat with Wisden India, Henry reflects on his ‘replacement’ status, the depth of New Zealand’s pace resources, and teammate Jimmy Neesham’s social media fascination. Excerpts:
On being a replacement pacer: Yeah, it’s always tough not getting the opportunities that you’d like but that’s the way professional cricket works. You’ve just got to make sure you’re in the right frame of mind. There’s lots of things I’d like to develop in my game and if I can keep focussing on as much as I can improve as a player, it’s gonna hold me in good stead. For, when I do get an opportunity, I can make an impact. As long as I’m trying to get better, I can help the team out in different ways, add value in different areas.
On dealing with the frustration of not being picked regularly: I suppose I’ve been fortunate enough to play a number of games for New Zealand now and I’ve had success at that level as well, so it gives you confidence knowing that you can compete at these levels. You’re sitting here and hoping that you’ll get an opportunity at some point but at the same time, I’ve just got to make sure that it’s not being disappointed in those things, missing out. It’s just keeping on progressing and as long as I can keep working out and being a better player myself, I think that will hold me in good stead. The rest will take care of itself.
On the competition for pace bowling slots in the New Zealand team: We’re very fortunate at the moment where we do have a lot of depth in the fast bowling stocks. It’s probably a good problem to have. There is lots of competition but I think we all have slightly different assets – you look at Tim Southee, he swings the ball very well. You’ve got Boulty (Trent Boult) as well, same thing, and then Mitch (McClenaghan), he hits the wicket. (Adam) Milne bowls extremely fast, bowls 150 kmph, and myself, I look to nip the ball a little bit more off the deck and get my variation from there. We all have our different attributes, I suppose.
On what sets him apart from the crowd: For me, it’s just making sure I focus on developing my game in different areas so I can add different strengths to my bowling and opportunities, and go from there.
On his batting: I’m massively working on my batting. That could help me massively to push my case to get into the side. I think a lot of us (the bowlers) have done a bit of batting, so it’s just trying to keep improving to get those more consistent scores and get more opportunities at that No. 8 position.
On his fast bowling idols: Growing up, I always liked watching Shane Bond, he’s one of my favourite bowlers. Glenn McGrath, I am a massive fan of Glenn McGrath. And also in England, James Anderson with the Duke was unbelievable, so those three bowlers were the ones I really enjoyed watching, growing up.
On Shane Bond: Bondey’s been brilliant with me. He’s always been someone I can go to and talk to about things. He knows my bowling well and we’ve had similar injuries in the past as well, so he’s been a really good guy to come and talk to when I need a bit of help.
On being a part of Kings XI Punjab: (We’ve) got a great side here, we’ve got a very heavy overseas-batsmen side, it’s always going to be tough to get a game, especially with our strong Indian bowling line-up as well. It’s just the way it goes. I’m still loving the time here and I’ve got a great bunch of guys. I’ve got a great coach around to get a lot of work done and just keep improving my game in different areas and keep learning. As long you’re learning to become a better player, that’s what you strive to be — the best possible player you can be. As long as you keep improving, that’s all I want.
On learning from Glenn Maxwell and Hashim Amla: The players we’ve got, the batsmen have all the shots and I think it’s incredible, going about teaching yourself in the nets and the scenarios where these guys can hit you for six anywhere. It’s been some great competition in the nets and I’m trying different skill-sets.
On exchanging notes with the Indian bowlers: Especially over here, I think with the slower nature of the wickets and variation of the bounce and slower balls, (I’ve been) talking with the local bowlers, just playing around with slower balls, with different strengths. It’s always quite interesting to see just what works with you and what you can do and turn into your own little weapon. So yeah, it’s been really good.
On Jimmy Neesham and his social media obsession: (Laughs) Oh, he loves it, doesn’t he? There’s no denying that. I’m sure he’ll be the first one to say how much he loves it. It’s one of those things where you’re either in to it or some people take a back step from it. As Kiwis, we’re wary of kinda just chucking ourselves in the mix of things. But he obviously really enjoys his media, that side of things and he’s worked in radio as well. He’s really into that social media side of things while I think there’s a few other guys that kinda rather just stay away from controversy.
(With inputs from Garima Srivastava)