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Feature

Sam Hain packs away risk-averse persona in hope of encouraging England gamble

Birmingham batter has increased his strike rate and his average while batting in one of the toughest spots in the team

Cameron Ponsonby
24-Jun-2021
Sam Hain has focused on playing a more attacking game over recent seasons  •  Getty Images

Sam Hain has focused on playing a more attacking game over recent seasons  •  Getty Images

In one of the more inspirational songs of the 20th century, Bananarama and The Fun Boy Three posited that it wasn't in fact what you did that mattered, but the way that you did it.
Sam Hain knows this feeling all too well. Weight of runs has never been an issue for Hain, but the rate at which they have been scored has. A strike rate in the low 120s saw him go undrafted for the Hundred in successive years and left a man who many believe to be the best uncapped white-ball player in the country "soul-searching" as to what to do next.
The answer was simple in its conclusion if complex in its process: just go out there and whack it.
The results are clear to see in the numbers. In the last three editions of the Blast, Hain's strike rate has risen from 118.60 in 2019, to 139.21 in 2020 and now 147.42 in 2021. Similarly, his average has gone from 41.72 to 56.80 to 71.50. He's scoring more runs, faster. Bananarama would approve.
But surely just deciding to whack it can't bring about change like this? It certainly feels like it shouldn't. However, that's to underestimate the power of will required to leave behind a mindset that has taken you to within touching distance of the pinnacle of your profession and adopt a new one entirely.
Hain describes himself as quite a risk-averse person. As a cricketer, it's a personality trait that has seen him become the Bears' go-to man for years. Know your strengths as much as your weaknesses, win the ball in front of you, put the game on your back and carry the team home. However, Hundred franchises and England didn't need responsibility, they needed runs, quickly.
Over time and through conversations with the Warwickshire coaching staff, Hain began to reassess his interpretation of risk.
"You've got to flip it on its head," he says. "What makes me, me, is that I play the game of percentages. So what I've been trying to do is take the riskier options earlier and know that if it doesn't work and I do get out, I'm only going to learn from that and that's how I'm going to get better."
As a risk-averse person, Hain realised that the greatest risk confronting him was to not take any at all. Staying in his shell risked a potential England career, whereas coming out of it merely risked his wicket.
As a motto for life, it's poignant if cliched. However, in cricketing terms, it's not a strategy that would work for everyone; Hain is already very good at cricket and his new mindset has only served to unleash his ability.
"Technically, there's honestly not much I've changed," he says. "I feel like I've got most of the shots and I'm pretty 360 [degrees]. I truly believe I can play all around the ground and it was just the confidence to do so that was lacking."
Another thing of note with Hain's success is the position in which he's been scoring his runs: No. 4. Four is the worst place to bat in T20 cricket. Hain himself admitted to some hesitancy when he was first given the role last season saying, "it's quite a tricky position". If you come in during the Powerplay it means you've lost two early wickets, whereas if you come in just after the Powerplay you're likely facing the opposition's best spinner. Any later than that and you're expected to tee off from ball one. It requires immense versatility and a player's strike rate often suffers as a result, a metric that matters more for Hain than most.
However, it is working with the Bears. And given the success he has found in the role, Hain insists that he "definitely wouldn't change at the moment", and that he doesn't crave a return to the top of the order for Birmingham any time soon. Although he does say it in the same way you tell your girlfriend's family that you're happy with any takeaway when in reality you want the duck pancakes and to open the batting.
In two years, Hain's T20 game has transitioned from being the thorn in his career to bringing him into strong contention as one of the Hundred's wildcard picks for this summer's tournament. And whilst it remains to be seen if it's enough to force his way into England's white-ball teams, he remains, as ever, the Bears go-to man. Still getting the job done, just that bit more quickly.

Cameron Ponsonby is a freelance cricket writer in London. @cameronponsonby