At first glance, Ben Cutting seems like a player that can be handy in the odd game, but never really holds down a place in the XI. In a T20 game, he might bat at No. 5 or 6 or even lower, and bowl about two or three overs.
With a batting average in the early 20s and a bowling average in the early 30s, it is easy to label Cutting a bits-and-pieces allrounder in limited-overs cricket. A useful cog in the wheel, but one who rarely pulls off single-handed victories.
The only numbers that are really frightening about Cutting are his 1.92m frame and a T20 strike-rate of 156. But a conventional reading of the numbers doesn't do justice to his utility; players like him ought to be judged on impact. A case in point is his run out of Kedar Jadhav during the season opener against Royal Challengers Bangalore on Wednesday.
Jadhav and Travis Head had put on 56 runs in 31 balls for the third wicket, and suddenly an equation of 92 off 51 balls didn't seem that imposing. Off the fourth ball of Moises Henriques' over, however, the game changed significantly, and in hindsight decisively. Jadhav lapped a ball to long leg and set off for two even as Cutting, taking a few giant strides, got to the ball quickly. The only thing that went in Cutting's favour as he bent to pick up the ball was it bounced into his hands at a comfortable height. Everything else was his doing, including a bullet throw that demolished the stumps. Jadhav was run-out for 31 off 16 balls, and in the next two overs Head and Sachin Baby would depart to leave the Royal Challengers with an asking rate of 13.
This wasn't Cutting's only contribution to Sunrisers' victory. He had walked into bat with eight deliveries remaining and finished with an unbeaten 16 off six balls, including two sixes in the final over bowled by Shane Watson to take the total past 200. Cutting also bowled in the Powerplay, bouncing and even beating Chris Gayle. His overall figures (3.4-0-35-1), though, looked less impressive as the batsmen went after him in the later overs. Cutting was similarly expensive in this year's Big Bash, conceding runs at 9.92 an over, the worst among all Brisbane Heat bowlers who had bowled at least 10 overs. On the other hand, he was the team's joint-third highest wicket-taker with nine strikes in nine games.
If Cutting is ever accused of lacking rhythm - in the IPL at least - it is probably because he has never played a sizeable number of games on the trot. Sunrisers used him in only four games last year, with his first one coming in the second week of May. He made small but vital contributions with the ball in the Eliminator and Second Qualifier, but importantly unleashed his ferocious hitting ability in the final.
Walking in at the fall of the fourth wicket with the score on 147, Cutting socked the ball around the Chinnaswamy Stadium. By the time the innings was complete, his unbeaten 15-ball 39, including four sixes, had taken Sunrisers to 208, with 61 runs coming in the last four overs. Cutting missed much of IPL 2016 because Sunrisers opted for either Eoin Morgan (seven matches) or Kane Williamson (six) in the middle order and preferred playing the other allrounder Moises Henriques in each of their 17 matches in 2016.
Henriques made 182 runs at an average of 15.16 and picked up 12 wickets at just under eight runs per over in the last IPL but he had a pretty good BBL. He was the second-highest scorer for Sydney Sixers with 263 runs at an average of 29.22 and he carried that form into this year's IPL, smashing 52 off 37 balls at No.3 against Royal Challengers.
Incidentally, both Henriques and Cutting were involved in a thrilling semi-final clash between Sixers and Heat. When Sixers needed six runs off the last over, Cutting conceded only five to set up a tie. Henriques one-upped him though, as he followed a 34-ball 64 with a two sixes and a four in the Super Over to lead Sixers to victory.
Captain David Warner acknowledged that the toss-up between Cutting and Henriques was "tricky." "They are both fantastic assets for our team," he said on Wednesday. "They bring both dynamics - Moises batting at No.3, Cutsy hitting down the order, and look at their bowling style as well. And, they are both fantastic athletes, so to have them both in the team and then the way that Ben is playing is fantastic.
"So, moving forward, hopefully they keep playing the way they do, and as I said it is all about balance. Somebody's going to give or take during the tournament."
Coach Tom Moody agreed with Warner's assessment, and said that while the team management wanted to ensure continuity in the playing XI, it would adopt a horses-for-courses approach. "I don't think anyone is guaranteed a position in the side," he said on Saturday. "I think what we will do is continue to try to pick the best players for the opponent that we come across and also the conditions. If we are on a turning wicket, for instance, we have got some really good alternatives to that allrounder's position in Mohammad Nabi."
With Moody confirming that left-arm quick Mustafizur Rahman was "more than likely" to be available for Sunrisers' third game against Mumbai Indians on April 12 at the Wankhede Stadium, Sunday's clash against Gujarat Lions could well be a crucial audition for Cutting.