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Glenn Phillips: 'If I don't know what's going on, how does the bowler?'

The in-form New Zealand batter explains the thought process behind his reverse pull

Matt Roller
Matt Roller
"I don't play [reverses] very often and I don't practise them either. I try to stick to my strengths for as long as possible before I get funky"  •  PA Images/Getty

"I don't play [reverses] very often and I don't practise them either. I try to stick to my strengths for as long as possible before I get funky"  •  PA Images/Getty

There was strong competition for the best shot played by a New Zealand No. 4 in England last month: Ross Taylor's flick off the pads to seal the inaugural World Test Championship title had the most significance and resonance, but Glenn Phillips' reverse-pulled six off Dan Douthwaite in the Vitality Blast was the winner in terms of viral social-media clout.
Twenty-four hours after New Zealand's Test team had begun their celebrations at the Ageas Bowl, Phillips - the second-highest run scorer in the Blast while averaging 70.16 and striking at 165.09 for Gloucestershire - stood a foot outside his leg stump to get access to the short off-side boundary, then jumped round in his stance and pulled a full ball into the flats at the Ashley Down Road End in Bristol. It was the bite-size highlight from two innings of 94 not out on consecutive nights - off 41 and 58 balls respectively - in wins against Glamorgan and Sussex.
"It was a spur of the moment thing," Phillips laughs while describing the reverse pull. "I saw the field and understood that [off side] was the shorter side of the boundary, so it was a question of: how can I get the ball there as hard as possible? I thought he [Douthwaite] was going to bowl at me [Phillips' body] anyway, because it was a significantly bigger leg-side boundary, but knowing that I'd given up all three stumps, I thought ideally he might go at them.
"It was really a risk-reward sort of thing. It was more to confuse him, or any bowler for that matter. I did it to Chris Jordan a week or so earlier and he went at the bottom of my heels [Phillips played on via the pad trying to heave the ball to the leg side]. It was just playing with the bowler's ego, seeing what they felt they could do, and trying to be different. If I don't know what's going on, how do they know what's going on?
"I don't play [reverses] very often and I actually don't practise them either. It's all dependent on the field. If the situation doesn't mean I need to do that, I won't, because I trust the power that I've got to hit down the ground and play 'normal' shots and I try to stick to my strengths for as long as possible before I get funky. But if you can pull off those shots with two or three overs left, it really screws with the bowler's head."
The following night, he led a recovery from 35 for 4 after the powerplay to take Gloucestershire to 162 for 5, which they defended comfortably. But Phillips fell just short of three figures again, struggling to get Tymal Mills away at the death despite tucking into the rest of Sussex's attack.
"If you look at the runs I scored off Mills, two was the most I got off a ball and that was a left-handed shot too. My right hand wasn't working at the end so I had to try something else," Phillips says. "I've got four [T20] hundreds, so it wasn't the end of the world - I'm not losing too much sleep over it."
Despite Phillips' individual efforts, Gloucestershire have been less consistent in the Blast this year than they were in their run to Finals Day in 2020, leaving them a point off the top four with three rounds of fixtures to go before the quarter-finals. If they do qualify, they will have to cope without Phillips in the knockout stages. He is staying in the UK to play for Welsh Fire in the Hundred as a partial replacement for Kieron Pollard, but will be leaving mid-August to an as yet undetermined destination.
"It's at the [New Zealand] selectors' discretion," he says. "We've got a Bangladesh tour straight after that, and I'm unsure whether I'll be going. I never booked an MIQ [managed isolation and quarantine] slot back home because I didn't know my movements but my girlfriend [who is in the UK] has one on August 19. I either have to go home for that slot with her, go to Bangladesh, or go to the CPL - so regardless, I won't be here for the quarters."
The CPL has become an annual trip for Phillips ever since his Auckland coach, Mark O'Donnell, drafted him as a replacement for Shakib Al Hasan at the Jamaica Tallawahs in 2017. He has been the Tallawahs' leading scorer for three consecutive seasons, and it is clear that he has benefited from playing against high-quality spin on tough pitches, particularly when it comes to his middle-order role for New Zealand and Gloucestershire.
"In 2017, I did enough to get a contract for the next year and came back with a better knowledge of what I was going to do and how I was going to do it," he says. "It's helped me learn how to cope with pressure, especially playing spin on slow wickets, when it's a bit tougher to find those ones in between boundary options. You can take learning from different places, chuck it onto a pitch that you're on, and play accordingly. Being able to take that information into things like a T20 World Cup is really important."
Phillips has nailed down his place in the New Zealand middle order ahead of the World Cup later this year, playing all 14 of their home T20Is last season and making a maiden international hundred against West Indies in November.
Like a number of his New Zealand team-mates, Phillips was born in South Africa and moved countries at a young age. "It got to the stage where it was a question of paying for security or paying for food and my parents wanted to give me and my brother [Dale, the Otago batter] a better life - the same as all of us guys."
But one detail about his childhood makes Phillips unusual among the South African-born Kiwi contingent: he was brought up as a Mormon.
"I'd say it defines how I live as a person," he said. "I wouldn't necessarily say I'm devoted to anything particularly; I have my personal beliefs and am more than open to anybody else's. It's like any other religion: everybody loves everybody.
"That's just what I learned personally: to treat people how you want to be treated. The whole thing about religion is treating people with love and kindness and that's how I live as much as I possibly can. Some days that's easier than others, as any human would know, but in the end, everyone forgives and forgets or learns from their mistakes. I make my fair share, but try to improve and be a better person every day."

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98