Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo
Tim Seifert is up against Bhuvneshwar Kumar in his first T20I as an opener. The wicketkeeper-batsman hurries down the track, picks the knuckleball and swipes it disdainfully into the stands beyond midwicket. Two balls later, he comes down the pitch again and wallops Kumar down the ground, forcing the umpire to duck for cover. On commentary, Ian Smith is excited, saying he sees a bit of Brendon McCullum in the 25-year-old.
Seifert clubs 84 off 43 balls and hands India their worst T20I defeat in terms of runs.
This ability to bash the ball - and his boyish looks - had already earned Seifert a nickname from his Northern Districts team-mates, inspired by, of all things, The Flintstones .
"At that time [in 2014], I was the youngest one in the Northern Districts team," Seifert says on the phone from Hamilton. "They thought it was a bit like Bam Bam with his stick. It was Corey Anderson or Daryl Mitchell who gave me that nickname, and apparently, they say I look like him too. (laughs)"
Going down the track to club the ball is just one stroke in Seifert's wide range, which perhaps owes its breadth to his diverse and rich sports background. He played hockey for New Zealand Under-18s and Under-21s for his district, Midlands. His father, too, played multiple sports; his mother played netball, and his sister nearly became a professional golfer.
"Playing hockey has helped playing cricket, especially the reverse hits and the switch hits," Seifert says. "Because that's the same kind of shot you play in hockey - the reverse shot. And I enjoy playing golf as well. The whole swing path of the club is very much like the cricket [bat-swing] path as well."
Some of the more artful of those shots were on show when he struck a 40-ball hundred, the fastest in New Zealand's domestic T20 competition, late in 2017. That came against an Auckland bowling attack containing Lockie Ferguson, Sam Curran and Tarun Nethula. Seifert has been among the top run getters in the tournament since that season. It has been the platform from which he has boosted himself into New Zealand's senior white-ball sides.
"The Super Smash hundred and the 80-odd against India made me believe that I belong," Seifert says. "That [India T20I] was another innings where afterwards I could sit back and go, 'I'm up for this level and good enough to compete with the best players going around.' I didn't feel like I was out of depth. I still want to get better and more consistent to compete against the world's best. But those are two innings, looking back, that gave me the belief to do well on the world stage.
"I think it was Steady [coach Gary Stead] who told me the day before that I was going to open [against India]. I watched a bit of McCullum [on YouTube] - how he goes about opening the batting and how he takes down attacks. It's something that's my game, but I just want to see how people do it on the international stage."
McCullum's fearless batting and captaincy are a touchstone for Seifert, as for many other next-gen New Zealand cricketers. "He has always been a player I've looked up to as a keeper-batter batting at the top," Seifert says. "I just like the way he puts pressure on the bowlers, and you know if they do bowl a bad ball, obviously most of the time you put it away to the fence. He's definitely there as a mentor to get advice and [to talk about] what he would do in different situations."
The blitz against India set Seifert up for a wild-card entry into New Zealand's 50-over World Cup squad later in 2019, but a finger fracture sustained during the four-day Plunket Shield put paid to those hopes. Tom Blundell eventually made it into that squad as the second wicketkeeper, while Seifert needed two surgeries and a bone graft out of his wrist to fix his little finger.
Having missed that bus, he is now determined to establish himself in New Zealand's T20I team and make it to the upcoming T20 World Cup - when and if that happens. "That's definitely one of the big milestones in the near future that I'm trying to push," he says, "and not necessarily just be in the squad but in the playing XI."
Where he plays, should he get there, is going to be an increasingly pressing question. With the captain, Kane Williamson, and senior players Martin Guptill and Colin Munro occupying the top three slots, Seifert is having to adapt to a middle-order role. He stood out in the 5-0 T20I whitewash by India, scoring back-to-back fifties and striking overall at 142.42. Seifert says he relished the battles against Jasprit Bumrah in that series.
"Absolutely loved it. Hopefully, there's more to come in the future," he says. "That was my first time ever playing Bumrah. Obviously, you sit down and have a look at him in video and all of that, but actually facing him is the best way to train; getting that knowledge from trying to hit him a bit across the line to hitting him towards the sightscreen or over extra cover or cover. Adapting over a game held me in great stead [for] other games, and I thought I played him all right after that first game, from learning."
Seifert had similarly been thrown in at the deep end when he was asked to bat in a Super Over, bowled by Chris Jordan, at Eden Park late last year. After cracking 39 off 16 balls from No. 4, he was asked to open with Martin Guptill in the Super Over, with the series on the line. Seifert couldn't get a scoop away and England ended up winning. He has taken that in his stride and backs himself to execute his shots under pressure in the future.
"I don't think it [the failed scoop] got to me at all," he says. "I back any of my shots, but it was just for that bowler, we knew, kind of, what he was going to do. Look, some days that might have gone for six or four first ball, and the pressure is right back on them. But it's a thing with Super Overs - if you have one or two bad balls, that's game over. It was a great learning, and hopefully the next time I'm involved in a Super Over, I can bring it home for the boys. It hasn't really been New Zealand's luck with the Super Over, has it?"
Is he looking to raise his game to the next level in T20 leagues outside of New Zealand?
"[These are] still early days, and I still want to play for my country as much as possible," he says. "But definitely, when there are gaps in the New Zealand summer or even in the New Zealand winter, those [CPL, IPL] are definitely competitions that I want to target to play against the world's best and prove that hopefully I can do well in franchise cricket against the best as well."
For now, during this pandemic-induced break, Seifert is running around the Hamilton river, and he has ordered some gym equipment so he can work out in his garage. New Zealand's tour to Europe has been postponed and there is no clarity on when the T20 World Cup may take place. Seifert wants to make sure, though, that he is fit and ready whenever normalcy is restored.