Kyle Mayers began his career as a bowler who could hit some sixes lower down the order. At the 2012 Under-19 World Cup in Australia, he emerged as the highest wicket-taker for West Indies - and the fourth highest overall - with 12 strikes in six matches at an average of 11.83 and economy rate of 3.78. Three years later, on his first-class debut for Windward Islands, he took the new ball and bagged a duck from No. 8 in his first innings.
Mayers to open the batting for West Indies at a T20 World Cup? Who'd have thunk it? A series of unexpected events now means he could well be returning to Australia as an opening
Chris Gayle hasn't officially retired yet, but his West Indies future is uncertain. Gayle, 42, has not played for West Indies since the previous T20 World Cup in the UAE. He will not be in action in CPL 2022 either and has instead turned his focus to 6IXTY, a T10 tournament.
Evin Lewis' immediate future with West Indies seems uncertain as well after he failed to complete a fitness test that had been arranged for him by the CWI during his recent IPL stint with Lucknow Super Giants, according to chief selector Desmond Haynes. Much like Gayle, Lewis has not played for West Indies since they bowed out of the 2021 T20 World Cup.
So, let's talk about Mayers now. An ankle injury sustained in 2018 forced him to reduce his bowling workload and remodel himself into a batting allrounder. In 2018, Mayers didn't have a CPL contract and, after he recovered, he worked his way back into action, with high returns in a low-profile setting in Oslo.
When his side Eagles didn't have an opening batter at the Norway T20 Premier League, Mayers stepped in and cracked 528 runs in six matches at an average of over 100. Once he returned home, Mayers told his father Shirley Clarke, the former Barbados allrounder and now Level-3 coach, that he preferred to continue at the top for his local club as well.
"Norway was where I opened the batting for the first time," Mayers told Caribbean Cricket Podcast last year. "Then, when I came [back] from Norway, I went home and my dad asked me where I wanted to bat at the club. So we had T20s and I was saying: 'you know what? At the top (laughs).'
"I broke a record in Norway, then I broke a record for Carlton [club] as well in the domestic T20. So, I thought it [opening in Norway] was a stepping stone and it gave me another option. It showed me what I'm capable of doing."
At the CPL for Barbados Royals, Mayers had shown what he is capable of at the top. On Tuesday, against India's IPL superstars, on a used pitch in St Kitts, Mayers once again showed everyone that he could be explosive as an opening batter.
When Avesh Khan dug in a hip-high delivery at 140kph, Mayers jumped into position quickly and short-arm jabbed it over midwicket for four. Most quicks in modern T20 cricket rely on heavy lengths to stop batters from driving and pulling, but Mayers has developed this short-arm jab to counter them and manufacture scoring opportunities. The next ball was even shorter from Avesh, but Mayers was one step ahead of him. He sat back for this exact length and pulled him with the strong wind over square leg for six.
The ball didn't swing for Bhuvneshwar Kumar but he still kept things tight by targeting the stumps, with protection on the leg side. Mayers, however, found a way to score once again by backing away and belting a leg-stump ball through extra cover. Mayers was responsible for 29 of the 45 runs West Indies had scored in the first six overs.
Since the start of 2022, Mayers has struck at 147.44 in the powerplay - the highest among openers who have played at least 10 innings in T20I cricket during this period. Rohit Sharma (140.16), Regis Chakabva (137.60), Andy Balbirnie (136.36) and Paul Stirling (123.21) are the others in the top five on this list.
Immediately after the powerplay in the third T20I, Rohit matched up R Ashwin with Mayers, but the left-hander kept up the intent high by stretching out and pumping the offspinner to the left of long-off. Mayers then briefly appeared clueless when Hardik Pandya hid the ball away from his swinging arc with a mixture of slower cutters and on-pace back-of-a-length deliveries.
But, after slogging and missing three times in a row against Hardik, Mayers adjusted and played late, deliberately opening the face of the bat and dinking a four between backward point and short third man. When Avesh, one of India's most inexperienced seamers on tour, returned to the attack in the 14th over, Mayers went after him once again.
He then launched Bhuvneshwar with the wind for another six, but when tried to repeat the shot, the bowler took pace off and took him out for 73 off 50 balls.
Of course, Mayers is no Gayle or Lewis but he can give it a good whack and with Brandon King also showing some improvement against spin, West Indies could have a promising left-right opening combination at the World Cup.
"It's about communication," Mayers said of his partnership with King. "Whoever gets off to the flier, you continue to give him the strike. Once the person is hot, you continue to feed him to get him going and give the other person that's not going the time to get in and click at the end."
Batting aside, Mayers can also play on the egos of batters with his floaty legcutters and legrollers. In the second ODI against India in Port of Spain, he tricked both Shubman Gill and Suryakumar Yadav with lack of pace in successive overs. In the same game, he had pulled off a spectacular sliding catch at deep third to dismiss Shikhar Dhawan.
Mayers is only into his second year in international cricket but has already established himself as an "important" all-format player for West Indies, as captain Nicholas Pooran suggested in his glowing appraisal of Mayers' all-round abilities during the ODI series.
"Kyle has been impressive so far in all formats," Pooran had said. "He is one of the West Indies' most important players at the moment and [in] every game, he continues to grow and improve and that's something wonderful.
"Going forward, we do hope he can continue going from strength to strength and, you know, he is working really hard as well. He is now getting rewarded and we are really happy for that." Australia calling, then?