“I think I deserve a Test crack, whether it comes or not, we will see” – Munro © Getty
Mum always gave me [a challenge] if I could hit one onto our roof.. When I got to about 12 or 13 years old, I remember hitting one onto the roof.. Mum bought me a pair of shoes.. That’s where it started off!
The Durban-born New Zealand power-hitter Colin Munro‘s penchant for hitting sixes is no secret, especially after he carved his name on the Twenty20 map with a tournament-topping 366 runs, powered by 24 sixes in just 11 games of the Super Smash competition in 2016. To beat that, the southpaw has sent 85 of them packing beyond the fence in the last three years of the Plunket Shield, New Zealand’s first-class tournament. “Few guys come to me and ask me, how do you hit so many sixes? I really don’t know, I don’t hit big sixes honestly, say, ummm.. 80 meters.. you have guys like Andre Russell and Chris Gayle, they hit 100-110 metre sixes.. Doesn’t matter, right? You don’t get 12 for them. I often tell Colin de Grandhomme, ‘Mate, you don’t have to hit it out of the stadium, just over the ropes is fine’ [laughs].. As long as I can hit 80 meters, not many boundaries are greater, it’s only getting shorter. [laughs]”
Behind this flashy cloak of his six-hitting prowess though, what often gets lost is Munro’s emphatic run in the first-class arena of New Zealand. The crest which started to form in the 2014-15 season of the Plunket Shield competition when he amassed 899 runs at 56.18 – more importantly still at a strike-rate in excess of a hundred – hit the roof in the following seasons. While he hit three tons during that season, a couple of seasons later in 2016-17, he smashed 685 runs at an even better average of 85.62, this time riding on four tons and a strike-rate in excess of 135. Yet, there hasn’t been any Test call-ups for the southpaw since his solitary Test appearance in 2013.
“It is hard. Obviously, the last two seasons have probably been my best in the domestic scene. The time when I got my Test debut, I wasn’t prepared, playing South Africa in South Africa was tough. After the last two years I have had, hopefully… They say, ‘keep smashing the lights out,’ and I keep saying to them, ‘Form lasts only so long..’
“I think I deserve a Test crack, whether it comes or not, we will see. It does bother, that’s where sometimes you know that the selectors do have a hard job, keeping balance and all in mind but you need to select people when they are in red-hot form and give them the best opportunity to succeed at that level because it is hard going up to that level.
“It’d have been nice to sort of get a crack last summer but I have come here and got that 60-odd in the four-day game. It is about being positive, if Test cricket doesn’t happen, then it doesn’t happen. I could have given up last year and got on with my white-ball cricket but I will have a crack with Auckland this year, play some four-day cricket, hopefully put some numbers up and see if I can go one better and get that average even higher, I don’t think they can keep ignoring me.”
However, while Munro still craves to play red-ball cricket for New Zealand, he isn’t turning deaf to the growing noises of franchise-based cricket. Munro tells Cricbuzz that he was very close to head in that direction this year until he got the central contract with NZC. He admits that being on the road for so long, just playing cricket could often leave one with not too many options to fall back on after retirement. “This year, I was very close, I wasn’t sure if I was going to get the New Zealand contract or not. I still want to play all formats and that is why I am here on the ‘A’ trip. So as long as I am in the fray to play all three formats for New Zealand, I am up. As soon as I feel that it’s just about playing some T20s here and there, one got to weigh up options.
“There’s financial stuff as well, I have got two kids, wife back home, mortgage and stuff… these little things, in fact not little things, they are big things and you got to take care of all that. At the moment, I have accepted my NZC contract and I am going to take it year by year. So I have got a year with New Zealand now, hopefully a new role in terms of going up the order and batting at the top, if it comes to batting in the middle and get the opportunity to bowl a few overs as well.
“But if the time does come, as long as I have kept the lines of communication open with NZC like I have in the last three or four weeks where I am thinking of going, there’s always a time and they are pretty open to it if you don’t accept your New Zealand contract and you’re going to go and play some franchise cricket around the world and if you are free, you can still play for New Zealand. As long as I am being looked at for all three formats, New Zealand is my hundred per cent priority. When things change, things like T20 cricket will take care of things later on.”
The 30-year-old doesn’t mince a word while admitting that there are younger blokes who are coming through the ranks and going ahead towards the World Cup in the next 2-6 years, there would be a time when the younger ones are preferred when it comes to like for like replacement. Munro’s acceptance of the real world hits you in the face and comes from a very pragmatic understanding of the nature of sport in the current day. He, however, presses the alarm button fearing that if a 20 or 21-year-old chose to play franchise-based cricket now till the end of his career, that could possibly be quite a danger.
“You got to make your name a little bit wide at the international level and get your stocks up there, before getting to anything else. For example, if I had to go T20 leagues now and if I don’t really have the stock behind me, and I have a couple of bad tournaments.. bang, I would be forgotten about. Like I said, if I give New Zealand cricket 100 per cent for the next 2-3 years, see where I am at and then move on, I can get away with it, ’cause T20 leagues are always going to be there, it’s only growing. When you get older, it’s [international cricket] not going to be there, your time is limited at the international level.”
Munro adds meat to this by citing a conversation with his good friend from the Kolkata Knight Riders, John Hastings, who’s trying to give himself every chance to get his body fit now but self-admittedly, it has given up on him. “Walking up to the ground knowing that you got to bowl only four overs is a lot easier than bowling 15 or 25.”
It wouldn’t be overstating if one had to say Munro has become a well-known cricketer in the cricketing world mainly due to his success in the shortest format of the game. A strong advocate of the T20 form, Munro feels that playing in front of big crowds against such big names of the game in itself is such a rewarding experience, and it is not just about the moolah involved. “People who say they don’t want to play in the IPL or CPL or Big Bash, I think they are talking a lot of garbage. Those tournaments are great for the game, not just financially but to play in front of massive crowds, in different conditions, can be so good for your game.
Munro is known for his big-hitting prowess © Getty
“Very fortunate to be playing in this time. I would love to cut my age to 20 years and not 30, but in this sport, we got to make the most of our opportunity, be it Auckland, New Zealand or any of the franchises around the world.”
Munro also hinted at the shift in paradigm that is slowly descending upon the cricketing world courtesy the rise of the shortest format of the game. He mentions how the traditional methods of training could make way for a neo-modern approach where hitting it across the fence will take precedence over keeping that elbow high, head on the ball and blocking it with a dead bat. “Guys used to be thrown in the nets at the age of six or seven, and the first thing you teach them is how to defend, then you teach them the cover drive, straight drive, the cut and pull. In this day and age, if I am going to teach the kids, I will tell train them to hit fours and sixes from the word go. It is something if you do from a young age, you will become a natural. Hitting fours and sixes means you are watching the ball well, probably getting into decent positions, you can learn to defend after that.
“A lot of times you look at players who have grown up trying to play longer formats or Test cricket, not saying they are bad or something but hitting boundaries doesn’t come naturally to them. When I was in the Big Bash, I was told to go out and hit the ball as hard, don’t worry about the technique, it can come later.. there is always a part that you need to defend by keeping the good balls out, but if you can hit the good balls for fours and sixes too, then why defend for long periods of time.”
But the present-day’s uber-confident Munro had a tough time while growing up, shifting bases from a small town called Tongaat around Durban in South Africa to New Zealand, being asked to adjust to completely different lifestyles, different conditions cricket-wise and then the struggles to make his way through the pipeline of Under-19 cricket to first-class. He admits with incredible honesty, like he has many times during the conversation, that he wasn’t a happy kid either, at 15, changing bases just when he was becoming a senior at school and started playing in Natal in their U-15s and making a pathway for himself.
Munro credits his parents for the move, something he realised along the way that it benefitted him and his brother in more ways than one. “South Africa isn’t the safest places going around, mum and dad just thought that it was time to go, to give me and my brother more opportunities, in getting jobs, going to better universities, all things that could give you a better future.”
And the man he is, he doesn’t take away the learnings he had from playing in South African conditions during his formative years. However, it was challenging – from hitting through the line on pacey, bouncy South African surfaces as a batsman who could bowl a bit to finding himself on alien, soft and slower surfaces in New Zealand where he saw himself nicking out mostly. “In South Africa, I was always a batsman who could bowl a little bit but when I went to New Zealand, it took a long time for me to adjust to the slowness of the surface, a little bit of seam too and I was nicking out a lot too and got pushed down the order. So I had to concentrate on my bowling then and became a bowler who could bat, funny how this game works, isn’t it?
“In South Africa, it’s a lot to do with school cricket where you don’t have coaches per se, you have got teachers taking out time and helping you. When I got to New Zealand, it was so much about club cricket and coaches, that played a big part and I had a real good coach in Dipak Patel when I moved to New Zealand. Probably a year into my stay, he saw me and that developed a very good athlete-coach relationship. I still catch up with him over a few beers and he’s someone I talk to about my cricket.”
Munro was a part of New Zealand’s Under-19 team alongside Martin Guptill, Tim Southee and Todd Astle at the World Cup in Sri Lanka in 2006. While Southee and Guptill went ahead and made their debut with the Black Caps in a few years from there, Munro took six years to make his debut at the top level. However, he did make his first-class debut in the same year as he played the Under-19 World Cup, which he interestingly calls as much good as bad. “I just accepted it, sort of happened to me, there were a few injuries, I was the next bowler in and I just didn’t take opportunities well. I played 2-3 games, following year I didn’t play a game, I thought I wasn’t getting a fair crack at my club, changed clubs where I got more chances with the bat. Matt Horne was the coach there and he helped me a lot with my batting there. Had a couple of good seasons and still didn’t get a crack with Auckland, so I had gone without playing first-class cricket for a good 3-4 years since debut.”
Just when things were looking extremely bleak for the Durban-born, he moved to Australia upon the advice of a friend, at the age of 23-24 to play a season of club cricket. While he believes that it was one of his worst seasons ever, the thought of not looking to break into any senior side there freed him up mentally as he claims he enjoyed his cricket thoroughly during that phase. The following year, Munro moved back to his older club, this time with a few senior players having moved on. As a result, he got a crack in the T20 format with Auckland, and in his own words, “Since then, I guess, I haven’t looked back.”
Munro’s game is strongly based on belief, one where he feels he can hit even good balls over the ropes. Much of that is self-engineered but hasn’t come overnight, it is a product of the struggles he had to put up with while growing up in New Zealand’s domestic arena. How he wishes to have had the confidence of today’s youth back in his teens. “You look at this day and age, the youth that comes straight out of the Under-19s, the confidence about them.. I don’t think I was like them back in my time. I was playing with Andre Adams, Kerry Walmsley, Brooke Walker, these were Auckland legends, people who we grew up watching. And all of a sudden, you are running in and bowling, you think you are not good enough to be on the same park with those players. That was the big mindset, probably if I believed a bit more in myself, it might have been a little different in terms of that gap of 4-5 years to make my debut.”
However, his last few seasons have seen the best of Colin Munro – the batsman, and he’s leaving no stone unturned in ensuring that those are not his last. With him being on the ‘A’ tour and looking as determined as he’s, one never knows, there could be another pair of new shoes up for grabs that could help him run faster and farther.