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Hayden Kerr's journey from 'deer in the headlights' to BBL bowling star

The left-arm seamer is currently Sydney Sixers' leading wicket-taker and has his eyes on the IPL

Hayden Kerr has been a central part of Sydney Sixers' attack  •  Getty Images

Hayden Kerr has been a central part of Sydney Sixers' attack  •  Getty Images

After such a stop-start career, which was at the crossroads a year ago due to another injury setback, breakout Sydney Sixers player Hayden Kerr remains unsure if he's a bowling or batting allrounder.
"I don't know what I am anymore," he laughed having climbed the junior ranks as a left-arm pace bowler before injuries forced him to focus on batting while playing grade cricket for Sydney University. "It all depends on what the game needs."
Such is his emergence in this season's BBL, where he is the fourth highest wicket-taker with 15 scalps at an average of 9.73 and economy of 6.95, perhaps Kerr has his answer. Although his aggressive right-handed batting hasn't been greatly needed for two-time defending champion Sixers, where he's positioned at No. 8.
Kerr, 25, did provide a glimpse of his big-hitting talent when he calmly iced the game in the last over against Adelaide Strikers at the SCG after smashing a short delivery from Peter Siddle over midwicket for six.
He had earlier turned heads last November when he compiled a rapid half-century for New South Wales against Victoria in his Sheffield Shield debut. While it might be debatable where his proficiency lies, the overall talent is quite obvious and Kerr's potential is being realised during his spectacular BBL season to such a degree that he could attract interest at the upcoming IPL auction.
"I want to throw my name in the ring for the IPL," he told ESPNcricinfo. "I had mid-to-long term goals but [success in] the BBL might have accelerated them."
Maybe Kerr was destined for something special being from Bowral, where he lived across the road from Bradman Oval. "It was never forced on me but cricket was the only sport I was good at," he said. "I naturally grew up congregating at Bradman Oval with friends and playing in the nets after school."
A stress fracture in his back at 18 curtailed his promising career and forced him to instead concentrate on batting to keep his position with Sydney University. "I always had something go wrong with my body but I started practicing batting every day and eventually became an opener in white ball cricket," he said.
Kerr's dynamic batting prowess was noted by Sixers and he was given a run early in the BBL's 2019-20 season, including opening the batting once. But he scored just 25 runs from four innings and only bowled three overs without claiming a wicket.
"I felt like a deer in the headlights when I first played BBL," Kerr said. "There were just so many things going on I couldn't even focus on the ball."
Hitting the six [against Strikers] was another breakthrough moment and a culmination that I can do it. I felt very calm. That's one of my biggest improvements - having composure out in the middle.
Hayden Kerr
Still his initiation provided a springboard for Kerr who hoped for a more sustained run the following season. But in late 2020 in Hobart, while preparing for the BBL season, Kerr suffered a pectoral tear prompting home truths from Sixers senior physiotherapist Danny Redrup and physical performance coach Ross Herridge.
"They recognised that I could take my cricket further," he said. "It was good of them to give me a push. The suggestion was to take the punt and get time off work, live uncomfortably and find some cricket elsewhere. I was always dedicated and in the gym and hitting the nets every day but something wasn't clicking. I needed to play more cricket."
Five months later, Kerr decided to make a move and shelved his job as a mobile physiotherapist to join the T20 Strike League in the Northern Territory kick-starting a busy off-season where he played in three states ahead of a pivotal summer.
"I felt comfortable with my game and fitness heading into this season but I was anxious about getting selected because I had put it on the line spending six months on the road," he said.
His hard work was rewarded and a couple of key performances instilled belief for the increasingly confident Kerr who is now contracted by NSW. "Doing well in the Shield was nice to prove to myself and my team-mates that I belong," he said about his debut marked by an unbeaten 62 and three wickets overall. "I gained the trust of my team-mates which I didn't have before.
"Hitting the six [against Strikers] was another breakthrough moment and a culmination that I can do it. I felt very calm. That's one of my biggest improvements - having composure out in the middle."
It was a clutch shot Kerr had been practicing for months knowing an opportunity with star-studded Sixers would likely see him bat down the order. "I'm trying to get better at the finisher role," he said. "It's really difficult trying to clear massive boundaries which I'm not used to. But I think my versatility is my strength as I can bat throughout the order."
It's been the powerfully-built Kerr's nippy and accurate pace bowling which has really caught the eye and he's now established as a key cog in Sixers' strong attack. With their pace stocks depleted heading into the season, a fit and firing Kerr sensed an opening and grabbed it with both hands.
"I've been able to string together six months of bowling. I had never been able to do that before," he said. "There are batters who haven't seen me before which has helped. But I will have to keep adapting and keep one step ahead, which you need to be in T20s."
Part of NSW's renowned production line of quicks, Kerr has had invaluable mentoring through the years and once gained pearls of wisdom rooming with Pat Cummins for a week.
"Pat was so giving of his time, they all are. You learn so much," he said. "To play with Sean Abbott…he's setting the benchmark and is the perfect template for an allrounder."
Set to be without a contract in any form of cricket, Kerr is about to become an intriguing free agent as recruiters worldwide start taking note of his improving allround skills.
"I always thought I could get there eventually," he said. "I just took a longer path than most."

Tristan Lavalette is a journalist based in Perth