Tim Seifert has all the shots in the book, ranging from the scoop over the keeper's head to the down-the-track leg-side slog to the perfect straight drive. But, until recently, he didn't seem to have the clarity to pause and reflect on the game-scenario before pulling out his trick shots. For instance, in the Super Over against Chris Jordan at Eden Park last year, he searched for the scoop when he might have been better off trying to clear the shorter straight boundary. Jordan knew that Seifert would go searching for that shot and darted a wide yorker away from his reach. It resulted in another Super Over heartbreak for New Zealand.
A year on, Seifert understands his strengths better and knows when to play the right shot at the right time. This mindset change came to fore during his back-to-back half-centuries in the ongoing T20I series against Pakistan.
In the series opener at Eden Park, Seifert shelved his scoops and ramps and instead focussed on timing orthodox shots like that defensive push off Faheem Ashraf which whistled past extra-cover for four. The in-form Glenn Phillips holed out in the next over, but Seifert still played within himself, gliding a rapid short delivery from Haris Rauf to the third-man boundary. He fell for 57 and after the game said that he was disappointed at not finishing off the chase. Two days later, Seifert remedied that.
The conditions at Seddon Park were strange. The new ball didn't swing, but then Tim Southee got a semi-new ball to move both ways. Then, in the second innings, Pakistan's seamers got spongy bounce from a good length. Wary of that bounce, Seifert realised that scooping the ball in the 'V' behind the wicket would be a better option than looking to hit it in the 'V' in front of it.
After plays-and misses against Shaheen Afridi and Ashraf, Brendon McCullum, who has coached Seifert at Trinbago Knight Riders and Kolkata Knight Riders, called it on the Spark Sport commentary that the batsman would "pick up the ball" behind the wicket. The scoop found the boundary, as McCullum predicted, and Seifert was off and running. He would be unstoppable on Sunday, finishing with an unbeaten 84 off 63 balls.
"There was a tricky little period when Kane [Williamson] came in," Seifert said at the post-match media conference. "But, you know in T20 cricket if you just ride that wave, the tough little period could just be one or two overs. Then you get one good ball out of the middle - that gets your innings underway.
"Personally, [I] felt like I chewed up a couple of balls and then that's when I did my scoop and got my second half of my innings underway. I just felt on that wicket, hitting through the line over the top of the bowler was a tough option with the ball popping up a little bit. I thought it was a good time to bring the ramp out and it worked."
There's a team in yellow (CSK) that might have a look at you as wellStephen Fleming to Tim Seifert on Spark Sport
Seifert felt that he went too hard at the top against West Indies at the start of the international home summer and tossed his wickets away. In the first T20I against West Indies, he backed away and spliced a catch to mid-on, and in the second he jumped across off and dragged the ball back onto his stumps. Against Pakistan, he learnt from those errors, he said, and maintained a stable base while meeting the ball.
"Being able to play 360 [degrees] - sometimes a lot of shots are going through your head, which can be a downfall as well," Seifert said. "So, I think it was a big learning from the West Indies series that I got off to a good start, but I didn't really push through. The two times I got out, I got myself out with trying things.
"So, it's just a matter of standing still and reacting. You know when you need to bring those shots out like tonight there were a few dots balls that built up, so I knew it was the right time and right option. I've just learnt over experience and obviously not doing as well as I wanted last series as to when to actually play those shots and when to go hard and what bowlers to attack."
The experiences that have contributed to Seifert's evolution include stints under McCullum at both the Knight Riders franchises in the CPL and IPL. Even during Managed Isolation Quarantine (MIQ) in Christchurch following his return to New Zealand, Seifert was doing shadow-keeping with McCullum. Indeed, McCullum was particularly pleased with Seifert's ability to adapt over a short period of time.
"There are people who want to learn and then there are people who go and get what they desperately want in the game," McCullum told the host broadcaster. "He picked up the phone and tried to get some help around him but then I was lucky enough to spend some time with Seif over the past six or seven months. I've seen his work ethic up close and his ability to develop quickly is something very few players have. Not just his batting but his wicketkeeping has been one of the most improved aspects that I've seen. His best years are in front of him. The rest of the world needs to see over the next couple of years to see how good this guy can be."
Seifert's progress has also caught the attention of Chennai Super Kings coach and commentator Stephen Fleming who said: "There's a team in yellow that might have a look at you as well. Not just Brendon's team, there are other teams out there!"
From having been ignored for the 50-over World Cup in 2019, Seifert is now becoming too hard to ignore.
Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo