Corey Anderson: Let me entertain you

By Alan Perrott

Corey Anderson’s not content with being just a name on everyone’s lips, he wants to become a true Black Cap and leave his stamp on the game, Alan Perrott discovers.

Black Caps cricketer Corey Anderson. Photo / Christine Cornege
Black Caps cricketer Corey Anderson. Photo / Christine Cornege

It was a shock that came as no surprise. But then, no one knows cricketer Corey Anderson's batting pedigree better than the man himself. He's been clearing fences since he could swing a bat and his family and friends know to duck for cover when the mood takes him to, as he puts it, "bully the bowlers a bit".

All the same, no one was thinking world records as the leftie strode out to face the West Indies in a one-dayer in Queenstown on New Year's Day. Especially as the game had already been written off ...

"No one thought we'd be playing, the ground was pretty wet and a lot of guys had already packed their bags ... 'See you in Nelson'. Then we got the thumbs up and it was all on. We knew it'd come down to who switched on the fastest and Jesse [Ryder] kicked everything off pretty quickly. He was great to watch and it became this virus that ran through the whole team. Everyone wanted a piece."

So, the Black Caps were rattling along at a clip; the match had been reduced to 21 overs a side, essentially making it a T20 slogfest. They'd reached 84 in only the eighth over when Ross Taylor went for 9.

Anderson strode out with one of the former skipper's bats and enjoyed watching Ryder bring up his fastest one-day 50 before his turn came and the world went blurry as he went all Bamm-Bamm on the Windies attack. After only 36 balls, the 23-year-old all-rounder was raising his bat, having smote the fastest-ever one-day ton before striding off with an unbeaten 131, including 14 sixes.

"It was a bit of a shock that I'd got a record, but it wasn't a surprise that I could get runs that quickly. I just rode the wave and that's something I've always been able to do. Once you're over that fear of failing and of who you're playing against, it all just becomes a blur. I'm not really thinking about anything.

Sometimes that's a hard space to get into but, when I do, I can hold on to it for a long period of time and everything that comes down can either be hit for six or skied for a catch because you just know every ball can fly over the fence. It's a rare feeling, but it might be playing so many T20s, because it seems to come about more often now."

In an interview with the Cricinfo website, he said the pair's chatter during their turkey shoot extended no further than "shot, bro". Then again, he may have been standing the wrong way round to hear Ryder; Anderson has only 5 per cent hearing in his left ear.

The immediate reaction internationally to his wild, record-setting knock was "Corey who?" Former record holder, Pakistani Shahid Afridi, certainly had no idea even as he tweeted his congratulations. From there reactions fell into two camps. One focused on the assumption that he was a millionaire in waiting given how irresistible his pyrotechnics will be to the money men of the Indian Premier League (IPL), while the other tried to explain his feat and, in so doing, slightly diminish it - the Queenstown ground is tiny, the game had been shortened, and it was probably a one-off, beginners luck. Let's see him do it again ...

The rest of us wondered if we'd witnessed the arrival of our next sporting great.

But, as Spinal Tap asked: "Where do you go from 10?" Instant success can burden a newcomer to international sport, and he admits to feeling the pressure when his afterburners fell well short of 10 - let alone 11 - in the subsequent one-dayers and T20 matches.

What he needed was a gentle word from his skipper, Brendon McCullum. After all, in 2008, McCullum had smashed 158 not out in the inaugural IPL match, making him an instant T20 superstar and setting a ridiculously high bar.

"I'd spoken to a few people," says Anderson, "then Brendon came up and asked how I was feeling. He told me that there'd now be this expectation whenever I played, to do it again and maybe even do it faster, but he said 'don't let that get in your head'. He'd battled with it a bit as well and, mate, to have someone like him say that, it was pretty good, and to pass on a bit of his experience before anything turned bad kind of thing, it's crucial really."

Now, maybe it was the pep talk from McCullum, but in his next match, against the mighty touring Indians in Napier, Anderson hit 68 off only 40 balls followed by a handy spell with ball. His relief when he and I met during the team's lead-up to the second match in Hamilton (where he hit another quickfire 44 off 17 balls) was evident in his constant smile. Despite a sleepless night all he wanted was another lash. "It's an exciting time and when you get a taste of success, doing well and then going back to the changing room and getting a pat on the back, that becomes pretty addictive. It's a feeling that's hard to replicate anywhere else in life."

Anderson's sweet run ended at Eden Park in the third ODI, when he was bowled by Ravichandran Ashwin for just eight in a thrilling game that ended in a draw. (At press time the final two games in Hamilton and Wellington hadn't been played.) But Queenstown, Napier and Hamilton suggest he's at the start of something. Yes, he's well aware he's far from the finished product but he's dead set on not only becoming an established Black Cap, he wants to "leave a stamp on the game, create a legacy ... I like having a big crowd and things like that, I want to be an entertainer as well".

Corey Anderson kicks off 2014 batting against the West Indies on day three of the One Day Series in Queenstown. Photo / Getty Images
Corey Anderson kicks off 2014 batting against the West Indies on day three of the One Day Series in Queenstown. Photo / Getty Images

It's an attitude that was forged early on in his family's Christchurch home.
They remain a highly competitive bunch, his mother, Linda, played top-level netball, while his father, Grant, sprinted at the 1974 Commonwealth Games. Neither enjoys losing and his father is still getting used to being known as "Corey's dad".

When it came to backyard cricket, they had all the usual rules, but in a sign of how the T20 generation of cricketers are growing up differently to their elders, their pitch came with Max Zones, a concept from Martin Crowe's Cricket Max format which rewarded players with double runs.

So, from the get-go the youngest son was hitting straight - and for the boundary. To help out, his older brother, Cameron, would spend hours with him in the nets, bowling and then racing off to collect the ball from wherever it had been belted to.
But Anderson never looked like following on from his father. "I loved Mum's home baking too much, I was a pretty chubby kid." Aside from cricket and rugby, he dabbled in athletics, particularly discus and shotput.

By the time he arrived at Christchurch Boys' High School he was showing definite promise in the two big codes: "It was always going to come down to cricket or rugby [he played No. 8 for the 1st XV] but I think I loved cricket just a little bit more." It helped that his school was a cricketing powerhouse. In five years Anderson felt defeat only twice, in the third form against Otago Boys' High and against Wellington College in the national interschool Gillette Cup, a competition his team dominated from 2005 to 2007.

"It got to where you'd be turning up on Saturday knowing you're going to win. It wasn't arrogance, it was knowing we were better than them. Okay, that sounds a bit arrogant, it was more confidence and making winning a habit, every team in the country knew who we were."

Though initially more of a bowling all-rounder, the school's 1st XI coach Neil Fletcher saw his obvious power and with the support of Anderson's parents, set about switching his emphasis to batting. It suited him fine that practice sessions often ended with the players using a bowling machine to practise six hitting.

One of his teammates, (Canterbury and Crusaders first five) Tyler Bleyendaal, watched his evolution up close as the pair often ended up batting together and still share the record for the sixth highest Gillette Cup partnership (139).

"He was much the same as you see now," says Bleyendaal, "he was pretty laid-back to play with, but he could always hit the ball hard. I remember one game in Palmerston North where he was clearing the grandstand, he was just punishing, and he got a 100 as well. It just made you want to get in on it, too, but when he was in that mood and the ball was flying around you didn't want to be backing up too far, that's for sure."

In 2006, Anderson's form saw him named secondary school player of the year - alongside current Black Cap fast-bowler Tim Southee. It also attracted the attention of the Canterbury selectors and Anderson got the first shock of his life when the provincial team's coach, Dave Nosworthy, called to offer him a professional playing contract.
"That still amazes me," he says, "I hadn't even played a senior club game or anything. But I'd been tossing up which sport to follow and that kind of made my decision for me, I jumped at it."

It wasn't until later that he found out the coach had already discussed the offer with his parents. At just over 16, it made Anderson the country's youngest professional cricketer in 59 years and Canterbury's youngest in 129 years, achievements that were always going to attract media attention. It also meant more money than his classmates were making from paper rounds and pushing trundlers, enough to buy a car anyway.

So, his first-class debut came against Central Districts in Napier on March 12, 2007.
"I turned up at the airport to meet the guys. [Former Black Cap] Chris Harris was playing, someone I was used to watching on television. It wasn't that long since I'd have been one of the boys asking for their autographs. But you can't help but enjoy it, I wasn't used to talking to reporters or being on the news and I was naive, I didn't realise how all those things can take you away from the game a bit."

Still, he took Canterbury's first wicket when he bowled Black Cap opener Jamie How, then hit 29 off 35 in their first innings. He hadn't set the world on fire but it was a solid start. Then the real world intervened as his teammates trotted off for a post-match beer without him. Anderson was a boy in an adult world. If that was hard to deal with, going back to school proved to be even harder, and it took him a fair while to reconcile the "crazy lifestyle" of juggling both environments.

Then came the injuries. A run of shoulder and groin injuries limited his playing time, leaving him worried for his future. All the potential in the world means nothing if your body can't cope. "Well I was still a boy and I'd been going at 100 per cent all the time to keep up, so I guess something had to give. Then it kept on happening. I'd come back from one injury and something else would go, I never had a chance to play a massive chunk of cricket."

Despite three truncated seasons, Anderson managed enough cameos for the right people to retain confidence in his prospects. In 2008 he was one of the star turns at the under-19 World Cup, topping the batting averages in a squad that also featured current Black Caps Kane Williamson, Trent Boult, Tim Southee, Hamish Rutherford and Martin Guptill, although his 70 in their semifinal wasn't enough to prevent a loss to an Indian side boasting current star, Virat Kohli.

By the end of 2010, Anderson decided a change was needed. He left home, a decision he says was not influenced by the earthquakes, and moved to Mt Maunganui where, with no contract offer on the table, he made himself available for Northern Districts coach Grant Bradburn. Sure, said Bradburn, but only if you sort your fitness out. So the by-then 20-year-old quickly lost 20kg and hasn't looked back.

He did well enough to make the New Zealand A team, then was selected for the T20 side to play South Africa in December 2012, the one-day team against England the following June, and then, four months later, the Black Cap team to tour Bangladesh, where he managed his maiden century despite three doses of Dhaka Belly.

Now, after all the dash and bash of the short forms he's gagging to be selected for the Indian test series, with the T20 World Cup (back in Bangladesh) to follow. Despite his obvious power with the bat, Anderson is adamant he wants to continue bowling too for as long as his body allows. As an all-rounder, he says he gets confidence from having two opportunities to leave his mark on a game. It also means that should he fail in one discipline - as he did with the bat against India in the third one-dayer - he can still make amends with the other, as he did with his five-wicket bag until that crazy, dramatic final over that saw the game end in a rare tie.

So to say he's excited about the future is an understatement, even if he is slightly envious of friends who've finished university and are OE-bound. It's a youth he'll never have. Even his world record came with a tiny cloud. "You have to be smart when you go out and have a drink. It's about being careful of who's around because there are people who want to knock you down. It's just a reality but I know a lot more people would be really happy to be in my position and, well, I love what I'm doing. If I'm not travelling, then that means I haven't made the team, so it's an easy decision to keep working. But it is a very weird way to live, it's my job to go out, hit the ball and it's hard for some people to comprehend that. Yes, it's sport, but if I don't perform it's just the same as if you don't perform in the office or whatever, you can lose your job, and then, if I get injured, someone else gets a chance to take my job ... I mean I was just this hardhitting young rooster from high school until someone said we may as well give him a crack. But no one knew who I was [until the Queenstown game], then that happened and it turned a lot of heads ..."

The ladies' heads?

"I wish, I wish ..."

It's doubtful anyone will be shocked or surprised if that changes fairly soon.

The Black Caps two-game test series against India begins on Thursday at
Eden Park.

- NZ Herald

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