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T20 cricket's undercover dangerman

Ross Whiteley's big-hitting exploits have often passed unnoticed Getty Images

Four fifties in 91 innings. An average in the 20s. One season with more than 300 runs. In traditional cricketing metrics, Ross Whiteley does not stand out. Those statistics hint at an unremarkable twenty-over career, and from Whiteley's reserved manner it is hard to picture him as a swashbuckling, globe-trotting superstar.

But the discourse of T20 cricket has changed. Since his mid-season move to Worcestershire in 2013, Whiteley has the most non-Powerplay sixes (92) of any Blast batsman; he has made 2.29 runs per scoring shot, exceptional when also considered alongside a low dot-ball percentage (32.09) which might suggest he was more a nudger and nurdler; and he has an impressive smart strike-rate of 178.56. For number-crunchers around the world, Whiteley's numbers put among the most valuable players in the world: he is a game-changer with the bat, among the best finishers in domestic cricket.

For the average punter at New Road, those numbers mean very little. Even Whiteley himself is unlikely to look at them much; he is a man who keeps things simple, and sees overthinking as a dangerous thing. But his reputation in county cricket has grown immensely in the past five years; algorithmist or arithmophobe, it is hard to question Martin Guptill's claim that Whiteley is one of the cleanest hitters of a ball in world cricket.

Plenty of the star names in the Blast rely almost entirely on their talent. Aaron Finch - the tournament's leading run-scorer - ditched the nets for a mid-season trip to Berlin with his wife. Dwayne Bravo's Middlesex stint was punctuated by dinners with MS Dhoni and visits to Mayfair nightclubs. But for Whiteley, clearing the ropes is something that hinges on sweat and toil.

"It comes down to practice," he says. "It's something I enjoy doing. I enjoy hitting sixes, and at the time I come in, I have to hit sixes - they're easier to hit than fours in that situation of the game with everyone out. It's something you have to be able to do to be successful down the order.

"I've become smarter over the years. You always need to adapt in this game. I enjoy the challenge of that finishing role. It's something I've done for a couple of years now, and I feel very comfortable in it."

One feels that Whiteley could hardly have timed his rise to the top any better. Even ten years ago, a self-contained, reserved professional who could hit sixes would have been loved by his own shire, but almost unknown outside of the county boundaries; a Neil Carter, a Stephen Moore, or a Gareth Andrew. If they did get picked up, it was often by a side that saw them as little more than a cheap punt, as Graham Napier found out in 2009 when he sat on the Mumbai Indians' bench for an IPL season.

Now, with franchise teams around the world desperate to find diamonds in the rough, every game that Whiteley plays is an opportunity for recognition. Last winter, he turned out for Sylhet Sixers (BPL), Multan Sultans (PSL), and Maratha Arabians (T10 League), and has his agent on the hunt for further opportunities this winter.

"Experience from T20 tournaments around the world last year was massive to me," he says "and finding out my weaknesses in my game and where I needed to work."

His cause is helped, of course, by his membership of one of cricket's most exclusive clubs. Last year, he hit Yorkshire's left-arm spinner Karl Carver for 37 runs (six sixes and a wide) in a single over, putting his name alongside Sir Garfield Sobers, Ravi Shastri, Herschelle Gibbs, and Yuvraj Singh as one of just five players to pull off the feat.

"It was a little bit crazy," he laughs. "I think I was something like the fifth person to do it. As someone who's not played international cricket, I wasn't as marketable as people who had, so that probably stood me in good stead to get picked up for those tournaments. It's a nice thing to be able to say I've done, and hopefully that will get me picked up again this winter.

"It's not set in stone, these sorts of tournaments are hard to get into, with all the good players around the world, and I need to do something special to keep getting picked up. But it's down to me, and down to how I go this season."

The signs so far are good. Without making an eye-catching score in the first half of the group stage, Whiteley made 28 (22 balls), 34 (17), 36* (15), and 37 (24) to help Worcestershire to the top of the North Group, before hitting a match-winning, 26-ball 60 to see off Durham on Friday night. With four games to go before the quarter-finals, there is a genuine hope that they can make it to what would be their first-ever Finals Day.

"We always expect to be somewhere near the top - we've got such a dangerous team. For the fans, it's really frustrating that we haven't made it there yet, but hopefully this year is the year."

One gets the feeling that life is straightforward for Ross Whiteley. He trains hard, he keeps things simple, and he reaps the rewards. International recognition is unlikely ever to materialise, given the calibre of players England possess in the shorter forms, but that is no longer the be-all and end-all. As franchise tournaments become increasingly meritocratic, it seems inevitable that more opportunities lie ahead.