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Feature

Kyle Mayers had one shot, and he didn't let it slip

In the small window he had before Quinton de Kock's arrival, he did everything he could to make it extremely hard for Lucknow Super Giants to drop him

Deivarayan Muthu
06-Apr-2023
Of the 671 cricketers who have played in the IPL across 16 seasons, only one has scored half-centuries in his first two innings in the league - Kyle Mayers.
After his match-winning 73 off 38 balls on debut for Lucknow Super Giants against Delhi Capitals, Mayers said he had "always dreamed" of playing in the IPL.
He's had to wait to realise that dream. In 2021, Mayers had joined Rajasthan Royals as a reserve player and did the week-long hard quarantine mandated by the league's Covid-19 protocols, only for that season to be interrupted midway by the pandemic. When the season resumed months later in the UAE, Mayers was not called upon again by Royals. In 2022, he was signed by Lucknow Super Giants at his base price of INR 50 lakh, but watched the entire season from the bench.
In October that year, Mayers played an incredible shot while opening against Australia in a T20I - a lofted back-foot drive off Cameron Green that sailed 105 metres to clear the cover boundary. That astonishing display of power and balance took place in a largely empty stadium in Carrara, but Super Giants' mentor Gautam Gambhir saw it and was gobsmacked.
Nevertheless, Mayers may have begun this IPL season on the bench as well had Quinton de Kock not been on South Africa duty for the start of it. He would have known that he had only one or two chances to stake his claim at the top of the order, before de Kock joined the squad. And he took it.
Mayers followed his half-century on IPL debut with another rampaging 53 during a 200-plus chase on MS Dhoni's home turf, making himself almost impossible to drop for Super Giants' third game against Sunrisers Hyderabad on April 7.
If Super Giants want to fit both de Kock and Mayers into their starting XI, then Marcus Stoinis might be the one to miss out, with Nicholas Pooran and Mark Wood filling the third and fourth overseas slots. De Kock slammed a T20I century off 44 balls on March 26, while Stoinis has scored only 33 runs and hasn't bowled yet in his first two matches in the IPL.
Mayers, on the other hand, has been bowling an over or two in the powerplay, and along with a deceptive legcutter, he can swing the ball both ways in helpful conditions. He opens the bowling regularly in the CPL and for West Indies.
He had started his career as a proper swing bowler who could hit some sixes lower down the order. At the 2012 Under-19 World Cup in Australia, he was the highest wicket-taker for West Indies - and the fourth highest overall - with 12 strikes in six matches at an average of 11.83 and economy rate of 3.78. Three years later, on his first-class debut for Windward Islands, he took the new ball but bagged a duck from No. 8.
In 2018, an ankle injury forced him to reduce his bowling workload and remodel himself into a batting allrounder. Mayers didn't have a CPL contract back then and after he recovered, he worked his way back by going to play cricket in Norway.
Mayers is now the undisputed first-choice opener for West Indies in white-ball cricket. He torched the most recent CPL for Barbados Royals, played for Durban Super Giants in the inaugural SA20, and has now shown that he can cut it in the IPL as well. His IPL team-mate Wood, one of the fastest bowlers in the world, fears bowling to him in the nets. His West Indies team-mate and IPL opponent Rovman Powell says Mayers is a bigger hitter than him.
Morne Morkel, Super Giants' bowling coach at the IPL and the SA20 and Mayers' former CPL team-mate at St Lucia Zouks, is particularly impressed with Mayers' progress.
"Very happy to see Kyle [perform]. It's amazing to see him sort of move on, he's progressed into a quality white-ball player," Morkel said after their previous game. "Saw him in Durban [in the SA20 league] and he played these sorts of innings where upfront he really puts the bowlers under a lot of pressure."

Who opens if both de Kock and Mayers play?

Though Mayers started his career in the lower order, he is at his best when he opens. His game is built around hitting the ball over the top and taking advantage of the field restrictions during the powerplay.
Since 2022, Mayers has had a T20 strike rate of 138.05 in the powerplay; de Kock's powerplay strike rate (138.65) during this period is almost identical. There isn't much to separate the two as openers on recent form.
De Kock, though, has the game and gears to manoeuvre the ball in the middle overs, and he is also a better player of spin than Mayers. They were team-mates during the CPL and SA20, where de Kock batted down the order to let Mayers do his thing at the top.
"How we're going to work that [selection decision] out, luckily that's not for me to think about," Morkel said. "But yeah, it's fantastic to see him [Mayers] upfront, firing, and playing well and in form."
A muscled West Indian left-hander with dreadlocks, smashing the ball around in the powerplay, is a familiar sight in the IPL. Mayers has only just begun, but his nickname of "Dappa" might catch on this season, just like the the Universe Boss did all those years ago.

Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo