As Matt Renshaw crawled through the first session yesterday, more than one Channel Nine commentator mentioned the Australian batsman had a limited range of strokes. Similar comments were being made by fans online.
It was an understandable opinion to have given that, in Renshaw’s brief Test career to that point, he had scored predominantly off his pads through the legside. His scoring avenues had been very limited.
For people who hadn’t seen the 20-year-old bat in the Sheffield Shield or domestic One Day Cup – neither competition is well followed – all the evidence they had was his shackled strokeplay in the baggy green.
But those of us cricket geeks who had got a good look at Renshaw at State level had seen him unfurl a far greater repertoire of shots, particularly when well set. Truly is a throwback opening batsman.
Like some of the great openers of the past, he prefers to play within narrow parameters until he feels well set.
Renshaw is at his most comfortable scoring through the leg side, so that’s what he focuses on before he gets his eye in. His vast patience allows him to wait and wait until the bowlers strays on to his pads before he looks to score.
At times this can be to his detriment – he undoubtedly needs to improve his strike rotation.
But it’s also a trait which should serve him well in the longest form of the game. The common desire among modern Australian batsman to immediately impose themselves on opposition bowlers is a key reason the side has had so many collapses in recent years.
Where many batsmen refuse to play within themselves in their first hour at the crease, Renshaw relishes it.
He’s also fortunate that, in the ballistic David Warner, he has the perfect opening partner to allow him to bat with such caution. Yesterday as Warner dashed to a century before lunch, Renshaw crept along. At the break, Warner was 100 from 78 balls and Renshaw was 25 from 84.
At no point during his 151-run stand with Warner did Renshaw let his ego get the better of him.
The young left hander did not try to match his teammate, content instead to operate in his slipstream. But once Warner was dismissed, Renshaw took it upon himself to up the ante.
After scoring at a strike rate of 30 in the first session, he doubled that to 62 in the second session. Then, after tea, we saw the full extent of Renshaw’s talent. He laced 84 from just 98 balls, playing in an expansive manner unrecognisable from his earlier approach.
Renshaw dispatched 11 deliveries to the rope in the third session, having hit just seven in the first two. Among them were scything cuts, powerful off drives, trademark flicks off the pads, and even one audacious shot more commonly associated with cavalier batsmen like Glenn Maxwell.
That stroke, a reverse sweep, flew off the middle of Renshaw’s blade from the bowling of one of the world’s elite spinners, Yasir Shah.
The very next ball Renshaw skipped down the deck and planted Yasir back over his head for another boundary. At this point, Renshaw was donning a Superman cape, long ago having shed his conservative Clark Kent persona.
So confident did Renshaw grow that, with just three balls left before stumps, he again charged Yasir and lofted the ball over mid off for four. It was a resounding finish to an extraordinary day for the rookie.
This settle-then-accelerate strategy has been the template for Renshaw’s batting at Shield level. In his last Shield match before earning Test selection, Renshaw dawdled to 22 runs from his first 103 deliveries, before sprinting to 136 runs from his next 151 balls.
It’s a tried and true method in Test cricket, but one which few batsmen these days have the patience to implement. Renshaw has not just the patience, but also the talent.