Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo
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For a while, it appears as if she might not bat or bowl. And then in the ninth over of the chase, she is thrown the ball. Two uneventful overs pass but she already has the batters wondering: is she a legspinner or a googly bowler? It's a question that player after player asks for the rest of the evening.
In her third over, Kerr makes a splash. Out come three wrong'uns, again. This time, the over reads 0W0WW0 - no hat-trick, but she caps a memorable debut with a triple-wicket maiden.
That over in itself makes for absorbing viewing because of her variations. The first wicket is off a googly that dips and spins gently to beat the inside edge and crash into the stumps. The follow-up is a flipper that is left alone on line and length. Then she bowls a fizzing googly that strikes the pad even before the batter has shaped to play the cut.
Sydney Sixers are eight down and Kerr has a chance to close out the game in the same over. She brings out a flighted delivery. It drifts in, pitches on off and spins back in to beat a forward prod. Bam! Another googly, another wicket. It's a dream beginning - a teenager varying her pace and trajectory like an international veteran.
The story repeats in the Super Smash final of 2021. Kerr's high-quality bowling leaves batters unsure of which way the ball is turning. They're stabbing nervously at her, with leaden feet. They fall like ninepins. Kerr picks up a hat-trick, though Wellington Blaze lose out on the title to Canterbury Magicians, thanks to Lea Tahuhu's cameo with the bat.
"I called her a googly bowler," laughs Ivan Tissera, Kerr's childhood coach, who is now in charge of Wellington Blaze, her domestic team. Tissera first met Kerr when she was a ten-year old, who her father, Robbie, wanted to spend summers outdoors. As they began working together, Tissera remembers accuracy being Kerr's first big strength.
"She had a natural legspinning action - clean, good arm-speed, a lot of flight. As kids, the wrists are flexible, so she'd come to the nets and keep bowling, not knowing which way she's turning the ball. She'd land the ball in the same spot outside off, see the ball rip away both ways and then ask in amazement how it's happening."
As she grew up and hit her teens, Kerr began to understand the nuances of the googly. She worked on developing a quicker arm. "Initially, I just wanted her to enjoy bowling," Tissera says. "Then she understood the googly needs to be subtle, but struggled a bit with drift. So the line would end up being middle and leg. It took a good two years of hard practice to get that balance right."
As Kerr began to travel the world and play in the leagues, the realisation dawned that she ought not to be a one-trick pony. She watched Rashid Khan and wanted to fizz the ball around like he did. It was her next project, to get quicker through the air but without losing the bite in her bowling.
It's this awareness of her craft, the ability to understand the subtle differences and work on them tirelessly, that helps her execute unfailingly in a match scenario. It's also this aspect that sets her apart from the next best at the googly, Poonam Yadav.
The India legspinner relies heavily on flight and dip, to the extent that her slower pace and trajectory can sometimes allow batters to line her up. This is perhaps what made her predictable when South Africa toured India last year. She finished the ODI series with no wickets, and managed all of two overs in her lone outing in the T20Is, a far different bowler than the one that bamboozled Australia on that magical opening night of the T20 World Cup in February 2020.
"I think bowling at her usual speed, she has dismissed good batters like Meg Lanning, but it's just that when you play non-stop, you want to pick up aspects of your game you don't have, and that drives her," Tissera says. "Now she bowls around 76-80kph, earlier she was around 65-67. Before, when she bowled quicker, she used to lose the shape of the ball. Now, she has lost that bit of extra turn, unless it is a rank turner, but her consistency in lines and lengths are amazing."