Kieron Pollard looks up at Chris Lynn's six

Sir Six-A-Lot: Chris Lynn was the first batsman to hit 100 sixes in the Big Bash

© Cricket Australia/Getty Images

Interview

The Lynn thing

Australia's T20 revolutionary explains why and how he does what he does

Tim Wigmore |

It is Christmas Eve, and Chris Lynn is frustrated. After seven months marooned away from cricket because of a shoulder injury, all he wants for Christmas is to play T20 again.

"It's like I've been on sick leave," he says. "I just want to get out and play the game, because it puts a smile on my face." Lynn is dressed in the Brisbane Heat tracksuit. He is perched on the corner of a sofa in a hotel lobby in Melbourne, as the team prepares to return to Brisbane after a game against Renegades. For Lynn, who missed the game, it was a wasted trip. He had thought it would be his big comeback, but the team management deemed the risk of aggravating his shoulder too great. Naturally, Lynn disagreed.

"Yeah man, it's been f******* hard to be honest. Mentally more than anything. Obviously the physical side of things, with the shoulder, but what people don't see is the hours you spend behind the scenes getting it right... it's those little things that you've got to do to get back out on the park - all those extra sessions. It's just mentally draining. But I see light at the end of the tunnel now, and I'm pretty confident I can stay on the park - but not just one little block. I can stay on there for 12 months, two years - hopefully, touch wood, injury free."

When he does play, Lynn is an intoxicating sight. He is #Lynnsanity - the biggest star that the Big Bash League has yet produced. At the start of 2018, he became the first man in Big Bash history to hit 100 sixes; at the time, the next best was languishing on 58.

He is also Australian cricket's first T20 revolutionary. Those just before him formed the first generation to earn millions playing T20 around the world. Where Lynn is different is that he is the first player to embrace specialisation while still in his 20s.

He actually has a fine first-class record - 2743 runs at 43.53, with six centuries; far better numbers, indeed, than many who have been selected in Australia's Test middle order in recent years. But Lynn chose to become a subversive. Last year he rejected a state contract with Queensland for 50-over and first-class cricket, preferring to play for Brisbane Heat in the Big Bash, and put himself in a position to secure lucrative T20 contracts.

Most frequent six-hitters (since June 2016)
Batsman Innings Runs Strike rate  Balls per boundary Balls per six
Evin Lewis 45 1521 9.87 3.98 7.76
Chris Gayle 65 1929 8.74 4.63 8.49
Darren Sammy 53 999 9.13 5.17 9.51
Chris Lynn 28 1165 9.62 4.32 9.55
Luke Ronchi 40 1172 10.37 3.73 10.43
Glenn Maxwell 30 994 10.31 4.04 10.91
Kieron Pollard 81 1726 8.73 5.70 11.39
AB de Villiers 27 1013 9.39 4.90 11.76
David Willey 35 949 9.03 5.00 11.89
Dan Christian 53 1052 8.91 5.66 12.00

*All stats updated till February 4, 2018

"I can still bat time," he says. "It was only a couple of years ago when I made 250 against Victoria, and batted for a whole day… I know I can do it, but do I enjoy doing it? That's another thing. I don't want to go out there and play - for example - a longer format if I don't enjoy it, and I think another kid deserves to play in front of me if my motivation isn't quite there for that longer format."

Lynn's journey to this point began in the horrific time of November 2014 when Phillip Hughes, a close friend, died after being struck on the head during a Sheffield Shield game. During our conversation, Lynn repeatedly brings up the tragedy as a clarifying moment in his own career and life.

"What makes me happy? What do you want in life? I always keep coming back to that, because if you don't want to do it, then… I lost one of my best mates in Phil Hughes, so why would I do something in a different space that I don't enjoy?"

Lynn looked within and realised that he got most fun out of hitting sixes and playing T20. And he became utterly brilliant at it.

"I just always wanted to whack the ball, I suppose," he says. "It's like when you're playing footie [Aussie rules], you want to kick it between the posts. When you want to be a golfer, you want to smack it as far as you can. I suppose it's not when I realised it's T20 for me, I guess just the other formats, the longer format, wasn't for me."

This realisation, and the rare honesty with which he articulates it, pitted Lynn firmly against cricketing convention.

"It's frowned upon in Australia, as every little kid's dream is to wear the baggy green - and I think whilst that's an amazing achievement, there's more to life than wearing that baggy green. And do I get judged as a different person because I have one or not? Or my interests are with the shorter format?

When Lynn has been on song, Brisbane Heat ticket sales have soared

When Lynn has been on song, Brisbane Heat ticket sales have soared © Scott Barbour/Getty Images

"But I think they're coming around to it. I just think they'll fall behind if they don't embrace what the player wants. We've seen it in other countries."

More than anyone else's, Lynn's story is intertwined with that of the Big Bash. Even though he began this summer injured, he was ubiquitous on TV advertisements for the tournament, which resembled evangelicals proclaiming the imminent return of Lynnsanity. Since 2012-13, the summer in which Lynn established himself as indispensable, Brisbane's average attendances have doubled: the two have soared in tandem. Lynn's frustrations this summer have mirrored those of the Big Bash, which has seen a dip in average attendances after its expansion.

When the league launched at the end of 2011, he was a 21-year-old batsman who had made a fine start to his Sheffield Shield career. He had scored a century in his second game - a brisk hundred after Queensland had to follow on against Western Australia - and averaged 53.41 the following season, 2010-11. He only batted three times in the last two seasons of the old state-based Big Bash.

Today he is the first A$1 million (approximately US$ 808,000) player in Big Bash history, thanks to the five-year contract he signed with Heat before this season. In T20 across the world since June 2016, he has the fourth-highest strike rate and hits sixes more frequently than any other players bar Evin Lewis, Chris Gayle and Darren Sammy. He averages a remarkable 79.90 in wins.

Lynn did not just rise because of his brilliant hitting. He also soared because he was an Australian everyman, a man who carries himself with no airs, and who, with his penchant for beer and betting, provided an antithesis to the image of the regimented and robotic international cricketer. He was at once a throwback to the fabled age of Aussie larrikins and a symbol of the new T20 age. And so, well beyond Brisbane, he became the most anticipated player in the tournament. This gave rise to "Lynnsanity" - which Brisbane Heat coined in imitation of the basketball player Jeremy Lin and "Linsanity".

"I definitely don't promote it," Lynn laughs. "I suppose, you're doing all right if someone sort of calling you by that or whatever - or the Bash Brothers. It is what it is. In a way it sort of drives me to keep that trademark or whatever going, because you don't want to let the fans down."

"Everything that I do in my life is always explosive. I'm more of a fast-twitch type of a guy - explosive velocity" © BCCI

Lynn sees T20 as the natural outlet for his personality: effervescent, dynamic and determined to have fun. "Everything that I do in my life is always explosive," he says. "I'm more of a fast-twitch type of a guy - explosive velocity. That's me in a teacup, basically."

Yet if Lynn is viewed as a renegade, it is paradoxical that, rather than embrace scoops, ramps and cute improvisation, he has shown how to take the contours of a classical game - hitting in the V - and recalibrate it for T20. The combination of power and orthodoxy has allowed him to combine a high average and a high strike rate in a way that makes a mockery of the traditional trade-off in T20 batsmanship between scoring quickly and scoring consistently.

"I try and simplify everything, give myself the best opportunity to hit the ball," he says. "So I'm looking to hit the sightscreen every ball. If they bowl a bit wider, then my plane of the bat is still looking at mid-off. If they do tuck me up, I can still try and hit it straight, but if it does angle in then I can just roll with it, which comes into my arc. Every ball I basically try and hit back over the bowler's head.

"My risk versus reward is so much better hitting the ball straight. Even though it's a bigger boundary, I'd rather do that, and I believe now there's just probably five or six blokes that can hit five out of six yorkers in an over. Other than that, you're waiting for that ball that they miss - whether it's a half-volley or a low full toss - and you jump on that ball. And then if they bowl the other ones yorkers, that's fine, you still get 11, 12 off the over."

Lynn v pace and spin
  SR v pace SR v spin Avg v pace Avg v spin
Before June 2016 9.64 6.64 36.54 19.39
Since June 2016 11.71 7.14 51.40 65.66

He has honed these methods with his private coach and friend of eight years, Gavin Fitness. Initially, Fitness says their training involved "long hours of playing straight, leaving well, learning his own game and how to bat for long periods of time. Now, when he is preparing for T20 competitions, the big focus is on his head being as still as possible on impact, the balance at impact, keeping his shape and bat speed. When working with him, we always do scenario practice with set fields and a target to chase in mind."

Lynn's six-hitting ability has been underpinned by many hard hours in the gym. "For the power game, everything I do in the gym, again it's explosive," he explains. "So whether it's chin-ups, throwing myself up and catching myself, whether it's wood chops, it's always an explosive movement. Whether it's a medicine-ball throw, I'm always trying to throw it as far as I can. I'm not just sort of there, just doing little reps. Everything I do is a fast movement. I do a lot of sort of forearm strength, because at the end of the day, if you do get beaten in flight or if you need to hit the ball, it's a lot of wrist and forearm strength."

The upshot is that, against spin - by far the weakest part of his game - Lynn can sometimes hit sixes even if he has been deceived. And it means that, when he greets you, Lynn doesn't shake your hand so much as crunch it.

Beyond the gym - where his work has inevitably become more focused on rehab - Lynn uses the golf range and hitting cricket balls in a baseball cage to hone his swing. He then takes this intent into the nets.

"Literally when I first get in the nets, I just like to just smack the ball - and I can. As long as I've got a couple of fundamentals - I'm keeping my head still and hitting the ball late - I just try to hit it as hard as I can. It's irrelevant, I believe, where my front foot goes. We've seen guys like Hashim Amla, they just put their front foot straight down the wicket - as long as your head's still, and you're hitting late, then you can hit the ball wherever you like, basically. So I just try and whack the ball from those two fundamentals."

"As long as I've got a couple of fundamentals - I'm keeping my head still, and hitting the ball late - I just try to hit it as hard as I can" © Getty Images

For all the illusion of effortlessness that permeates his batting, Lynn has a well-honed pre-match routine.

"I like to watch a bit of footage the day before. So I can go to bed that night, and when you're just laying in bed, looking at the roof, I'm sort of just visualising the game. You don't want to play the game in your head before you get out there, but you're just running through scenarios what could happen, so you're already prepared for those situations. I'm a big believer in that."

Once he gets out in the middle, he says, "I like to try and crunch a few along the ground early. Obviously I pick up the pace of the wicket, reduce the risk of getting out." He has two mantras while batting: "Don't play the bowler, play the ball" and "See ball, hit ball."

Ultimately, he says, "you just try and simplify the game". Taming his emotions is part of this. "Whether I'm having a good or bad day, no one knows that from the TV, 'cause I'm very emotionless on the field. But I suppose if I'm consistent with my attitude out on the field, I think that's going to come out in my performances."

In between balls he tries to remain imperturbable. "I don't like walking around, tapping the wicket too much. I like just standing still, control your breathing. But you also give yourself more time to pick up little signs from the bowler, or around the field, to sort of half-guess where they're going to bowl the next ball. I find a lot of guys will walk around the pitch - yeah, they're in their own space, but I think they're missing a lot of clues from the opposition, where you can get an advantage yourself by picking up those little body language, or little signs as to what they want to try."

When it all comes together, he is sometimes left disbelieving the innings that he has produced. "When you're playing well it feels like you just put the plane on autopilot and it just sort of works itself. And you look back and go, 'Shit, how did I actually do that?' or 'How did I hit that ball that far?'"

At 27, Lynn could still conceivably play Test cricket ("I definitely haven't given up on that"), but he is also a man well aware of the fragility of cricket careers - and life - and how they are short and can rapidly acquire their own momentum. He is utterly unapologetic about his career choices, which have just received their greatest vindication yet: a Rs 9.6 crore (US$1.5 million) IPL contract with Kolkata Knight Riders.

It's not like Lynn doesn't know how to bat for long periods of time - his Sheffield Shield 250 took nearly eight hours - he just finds the shorter format more fun

It's not like Lynn doesn't know how to bat for long periods of time - his Sheffield Shield 250 took nearly eight hours - he just finds the shorter format more fun © Getty Images

"I get to travel the world, play T20 cricket, and have heaps of fun doing it. I think the best thing about franchise cricket and T20 is, you nearly throw all the sports science out of the window, and you go out there, they just want - what does the team expect from you? Score runs, win a game of cricket for your team. Other than that, all of the sports science, which happens in Australian cricket, especially - you can put that out the window, basically. It doesn't matter how fast you run a 2K time trial, or how good your skin folds are. The IPL guys, they don't care about that. The Caribbean guys don't care. Just as long as you turn up, score runs, win a game of cricket for your team, that's what matters. And I think at times in Australia, we lean to the opposite, and if you don't run a 2K time trial at a certain speed then you're basically not available for selection. So that's something that grinds my gears a bit, but I'll probably learn to deal with it and move forward."

Lynn has crafted a Sheffield Shield double-century over eight hours and slammed a Big Bash century in an hour. The T20 hundred was "absolutely" the more fun. "And I can have a beer that night, and then the next day I might be a bit sore, but I get to do it all again in two, three days time. So it's just something that excites me. And I love that go-hard-and-go-home attitude'.

"I don't have to stand in the sun for a couple of days and then get my opportunity to bat. I could play three times a week and try to smack the ball out of the park. And obviously the entertainment factor is something that I really enjoy."

Three days after we meet, Lynn finally makes his comeback. He races out into the Gabba at No. 3 at the fall of Brendon McCullum's wicket. He is a gladiator returning to his stage. He crashes his first ball for four: a shot with a high elbow and even higher velocity, the sort that fans of the old and new school can delight in. He pulls his third ball for six, then scythes three fours from his next three balls. He has the air of a man trying to have seven months' worth of fun in seven minutes. In the end he lasts 15, but each is savoured by the Gabba's sellout crowd. He is caught attempting a second six over midwicket, for 25 off nine balls: an innings, he says later, played entirely in "fifth gear" - an innings that could be emblem of the cricketing age that he represents.

"Aw mate, it's been great," he says. "Even kids nowadays, they don't teach them to block. They teach them to whack the ball for six."

Tim Wigmore is a freelance journalist and author of Second XI: Cricket in its Outposts

 

RELATED ARTICLES

Comments