The evolution of Corey Anderson
"The biggest compliment I could give Corey Anderson is I wish I could hit the ball like him," Chris Cairns had said after Anderson smashed the fastest ODI hundred recently. How would you feel if the man you consider your idol said this about you? To get this far, however, Anderson has had to overcome a potentially debilitating cocktail of injuries, surgeries and weight issues.
He also shifted domestic teams for better prospects when he was only 20, an age when most players would be happy to be part of the squad and get the odd look-in. Anderson might still be quite young in terms of years, but for someone who made his first-class debut aged 16, and was the youngest domestic contracted player in New Zealand, maturity has come early.
The talent has been there from Anderson's junior days. Virat Kohli remembers him hitting big sixes in Under-19 games. "He smashed us at Kuala Lumpur as well in the Under-19 World Cup, he hit some massive sixes," Kohli said. "Even then he had a lot of power. Even when we came to New Zealand with the Under-19s, in Dunedin he scored a hundred on a drop-in wicket which was very difficult and he hit some massive sixes there as well.
"It is good to see someone from the same batch coming in, maybe from another country but doing well. He has a lot of talent, bowls decently as well, good fielder, pretty strong lad. He is a huge bonus for the New Zealand team. Especially, I don't think they had any pinch-hitters in the middle order before him, so they were struggling after Ross Taylor would get out. Now they have a dangerous player like him who can change the course of the game anytime."
Before he started changing the course of games for New Zealand, Anderson took a route that led up north from his hometown Christchurch, and one that was to turn around his career. Grant Bradburn, who was the coach at Northern Districts when Anderson shifted there from Canterbury in 2011, said the move revealed a lot about Anderson.
"He made the decision himself that he needed to move away from his home association and wanted to push himself to take his game to a new level," said Bradburn, also a former New Zealand player. "He decided to move here without even being contracted. That makes it even more special that a guy with such talent was prepared to come up here knowing that he was going to be under pressure to perform, and he did it. He challenged himself by coming out of his comfort zone. That was a big decision to leave his family, leave his association where he first started the game. He'll always hold huge respect from me and all the staff and players for that.
"That is a sign of his integrity, of his desire to prove himself, to make himself accountable. He knew he needed to play his way into a very strong squad here. He made some big physical changes, lost 20 kgs very quickly and became a lot more resilient because of that."
Anderson had missed most of the 2010 season for Canterbury with a severe groin injury and wanted a "fresh start." But he had been known to have troubles with his weight and Bradburn said it was "non-negotiable" that he work on that when he joined Northern Districts. To Anderson's credit, he drew motivation from his new colleagues and worked hard to shed the excess weight.
"He knew that strength and conditioning was very important up here in this environment in terms of how it related to performance. It was almost non-negotiable when he came into this environment. There were a number of dedicated cricketers around him training very hard. He is very close to Kane Williamson and [Trent] Boult, for example, who are exemplary with their physical conditioning. Corey realised even before he made the move that it was not going to be easy up here. Physically it was going to be tough. He was up for that challenge. He wanted to make those changes. Without him wanting to make those changes, they would not have happened.
"We have just provided the environment for him to do that. We recognised his immense ability. We welcomed him into our environment. He recognised, too, that Northern Districts was a place where he would be valued and supported."
Anderson has been marked out for his talent for a long time, but, for all his potential, he did not have any first-class hundreds until 2012, and often used to fall after getting starts. Then he cracked a second-innings 167 against Otago in Hamilton. Bradburn calls that knock the "turning point" in Anderson's career, and says the allrounder has learned to control himself. A fitter body has also meant a stronger mind, and Bradburn says Anderson is able to concentrate hard and long now.
"He's always had the ability to hit the ball hard but also had the tendency to get out too early. During that innings he showed, most of all to himself, that he has the ability to think tactically through a situation and apply his skills for a longer period of time. He learned so much during that first breakthrough innings.
"He is more determined and confident now that he has the ability to bat for longer periods of time, and therefore, much more significant innings than short, explosive ones. Technically we haven't had to make many changes. It is more applying those skills to the situation that we have worked hard with him."
Within a year of moving to Northern Districts, Anderson had earned himself a new contract. With a leaner frame, he became much more effective with the ball as well. And crucially, the injuries are less frequent now.
"With the better physical condition, he was able to be a lot more effective for longer periods of time, was able to stay on the park a lot more," Bradburn said. "It really helped his whole game and his confidence.
"He's always been a very strong, powerful man. Because of that immense power, his body has taken a little bit of time to build the resilience it needs to control the power. He's always got some niggles here and there, but because he is in great shape now and his body has matured, we are finding that he is getting a lot less injuries.
"He's always been quick because of his power. With the coaching up here, he has learned to control that power and also use if more effectively. He has learned so much about his bowling rather than just coming in and charging. He has learned the finer points of release and good strong body position. We always had the feeling it was a matter of when and not if Corey would make the necessary physical changes to go to the next level."
The next level is well and truly his now. But there is plenty more to come. Anderson is widely expected to earn a huge IPL contract at the February auction. Can all the success, and money, get to his head? He is still only 23, after all. Bradburn thinks there is no chance.
"Corey is fortunate that he is from a well-balanced and a very supportive family, and he is a very well-balanced man himself. He has the right people around him to keep him under control. Knowing Corey so well, he will be enjoying the fact that he is playing good cricket and improving all the time, that he is proving to himself that he can do it at the highest level. There will be no problem now."
Abhishek Purohit is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo