'When I try to hit, I throw the kitchen sink at it'
The handshake is firm, and with his bald head and neat beard, Chris Lynn would not look out of place in the Ultimate Fighting Championship. But Lynn has instead packed a punch with the bat in T20 cricket, most recently for Kolkata Knight Riders in the IPL. He takes that form to the Champions Trophy, aware that his ODI experience amounts to only one game for Australia. In this interview Lynn, who Australia coach Darren Lehmann called the "excitement machine", offers several fascinating nuggets about his game and how it has evolved.
You seemed to have a lot of fun in your first proper IPL, didn't you?
Getting to open the batting interested me. When they [Knight Riders] asked me to do it, I jumped at the opportunity. I knew my game would be suited to that role, especially in Indian conditions, and it was fine.
I had batted No. 3, so I have been in the first over many times before. My game definitely suits opening, with the ball coming onto the bat nice and early, and in the Powerplay, it gives me a bit of licence to swing the bat.
You have often said: see the ball, hit the ball, four or six, every ball. How simple or difficult is that to execute?
It is hard to go in and whack a six off the first ball. You have to give yourself a couple of balls. It takes longer to get used to conditions, especially if you are playing on different pitches [in a tournament like the IPL]. But once you are in that mindset, the best thing to do is to commit to every shot. I have found that you might get out when you half-commit. So when I try and hit the ball, I have learned to make sure I throw the kitchen sink at it. That is how I play the game - it is, sort of, all or nothing.
But, in a way, aren't you are adding pressure on yourself by revealing your hand to the bowler?
That is where, I reckon, my game awareness has got better over the years, reading the scenario of the game. If I need to tee off, then I need to tee off. Calmness and experience are factors that come handy. As long as I am out in the middle, I can control the game. It about playing smart cricket.
There is this video of you batting in the nets for Brisbane Heat in 2015. You tell yourself: "Head still. Watch the ball." Do you need to keep telling yourself these basics even during a match?
A lot of batsmen think about the more complicated side of things, but I like to keep things simple. "Head still" means I can see the ball a lot clearer. As for "watch the ball", sometimes guys say that without actually watching the ball. But I actually really like watching it till it bounces off the bat. Those are two very simple things I say to myself all the time, no matter what form I am in. It seems to be working. "Head still" is the main one because if you are moving around, it is so much harder to see the ball as your head is moving. Head and eyes still, and then clear the front foot and swing.
You have one century in T20 cricket, for the Heat at the Gabba. A takeaway from that knock was how still your head was, how still your body was, when facing Shaun Tait. Can you talk about facing sheer pace and being still?
My theory for that is because he [Tait] was bowling so quick, I had to swing harder. I've got to hit the ball before it hits me as it is coming down at a pace like 145kph. It is not pleasant when it hits your ribs or the thigh. So my theory has been to just try and get the bat on the ball somewhere. Again, if you keep your head still, you actually see the ball clearer and a lot slower, I guess, whereas when you are moving around, things come at you a lot quicker. And then, in between balls, you look around the field and get an idea of where they are going to bowl. That allows you a little bit of an advantage not to premeditate your shot, but just to have a good game plan against what is coming at you.
There must be times when such a plan did not work?
It does not work when you are chasing a big total, or when you are batting first and you are not quite sure what total to get. If you are under pressure, you are trying to score too many runs too early, before you have picked up the condition of the pitch. But if I can settle myself down and soak up the atmosphere and the situation of the game in the first few balls, then I am calm and fine. The moment I don't do that, I feel like I am not in the contest with the bowler or the game. Those are the times when I am scattered. I just don't feel I have been involved in the game.
Say I am batting at No. 3. There is a massive partnership by the openers already and I walk in around the 16th over. I have not contributed in the field a lot, so I feel a bit lost. Those are the hardest times to bat, I reckon. You have seen two other guys blasting the ball and you are expected to go out there and whack it from ball one when you are actually tired and more likely going to fail.
What kind of batting partner would be helpful to you during such a scattered mindset?
Someone who keeps it very simple. Someone who reinforces my strengths. Not necessarily someone to pump you up, but just someone to calm you down and give you reassurance that you are out there and you have to be aware of the situation of the game.
Do you make it a point to check the dimensions of the field before every match?
Yes, I do. I go out there with the bat in hand and ask the groundsman and players about the dimensions of the ground. I like to feel the hardness of the wicket with my spikes to get an idea of how it is going to play, pretend to play some shots by getting the dimensions of the field. It is the office, isn't it? You want to know exactly where everything is in your office before you go to work. You want to feel comfortable out there on the pitch. I am also a big one on visualising what is going to happen, who you are facing, and how you plan to score off him.
A healthy percentage of your strokes are played in the V. Do you target the straight boundaries more?
Giving myself the best advantage is for me hitting the ball straight. For one, I am using the full face of the bat. You have a nice gap between mid-on and mid-off and not many fielders are defending the sightscreen. Also, hitting through the line of the ball is pretty important because then you take out bowled and lbw most of the time if you are hitting straight. You are just minimising your risk of getting out. Whereas if I were to play across the line, I feel I am opening up a lot and being vulnerable to lbw and being bowled a lot more and also hitting the ball straight up. I am not saying you can't do that if you are playing straight, but you just minimise the risk. I also think when I am playing straight, it gives me the opportunity to score 360 degrees, whereas if I am thinking square then I find it harder to hit straight.
Former England batsman James Taylor said during the IPL that your bat was in the right position to counter the short-of-a-length delivery.
It is a funny one, because I got it growing up. To score a four or six, you had to hit the ball with a full face and straight. My old man would not allow runs if I was hitting the side nets, so I was always trying to hit flat-batted and straight. That has got into my game. It works perfect for me because my home ground is the Gabba, where the bowlers like to hit the back-of-the-length and they bring mid-on and mid-off up. It gives me the opportunity to hit straight. And if those fielders are pushed back, it gives me an easier option to score somewhere else.
What is the one change in your batting of late that has kept you stronger?
My improvement against spin. Before this year, I had limited opportunity in the IPL, but in the Caribbean Premier League, where I have played for the Amazon Warriors for two years, I have played on tricky pitches. The pitches are very spin-friendly and I have worked very hard on my batting to counter that. My strategy is not to sweep as much, but play through the line of the ball. That is paying off. Of course, on the Guyana pitch, the ball spins but it skids, so it is harder to sweep. I have consciously worked on the sweep shots and understood the right time and place, the right line and length, to play the stroke.
Also, what has changed is just my awareness [about playing the right strokes] rather than trying to whack the ball out over the fence. It is about putting your ego away for a few overs while the spinners are on. Just taking the back seat and let the local players dominate the spin because they are much better aware of conditions. And spending more time on such pitches has helped me to become more confident against spin.
The biggest thing I have found is communicating in the middle. In the IPL, I shared big partnerships with guys like Gautam Gambhir, who is a good player of spin. We spoke about minimising the risks, putting our egos away, admitting our weaknesses to each other so that way we could help each other out. Batting as a unit, rather than batting as an individual is so important.
In a nutshell, your career has been the reverse of David Warner - you started well in Shield cricket and now you are recognised for your T20 exploits, whereas Warner, who started as a short-form basher, is dominant across formats? Do you agree?
Yeah, probably right. The opportunities of T20 franchise cricket around the world are unbelievable. I guess my passion for the game probably dropped off a little bit in the longer format. T20 franchise cricket has really sparked an interest in me. I enjoy travelling and playing with guys from all around the world in different countries. My prospects of playing Test cricket - I think I still have a long way to go. I feel more and more comfortable playing the T20 stuff. I really enjoy waking up, getting really excited for a T20 match because I know I get to whack the ball. And that is why I played cricket as a junior because I wanted to whack the ball.
Has the passion for the longer form of cricket lessened because of the various injuries?
I find it harder and harder to back up each day with the injuries. It is not ideal. Even in T20 it is hard to back up a day or two days later, because it is go-go-go, 100% flat out. But I just enjoy the shorter formats of the game at the moment. I am not going to close the door on the longer format, but right now I have to get the body 100% right before I think about that stuff.
Injuries have cost you a lot of time. In terms of longevity, do you reckon you might to reconsider whether you continue playing Shield cricket or instead focus on limited-overs formats?
At the moment, T20 franchise cricket is a priority over Shield cricket. You spoke about David Warner - he got picked for Tests pretty much through one-day cricket. Can I do that? Possibly. He is obviously a great player, but I have a long way to go.
I suppose it is about what makes you happy in life. A baggy green is great and I respect very highly everyone who has played for Australia in Test cricket. At the end of the day, there is more to life than just playing Test cricket. If I don't enjoy the format as much as I should, then someone else deserves that opportunity. Growing up, that was the dream, but times are changing now that T20 cricket is a reality that is taking over.
You have played just one ODI and now you are part of the Champions Trophy squad. Are you prepared and confident about your role?
I am very confident. As I said at the start, see ball, hit ball. I don't think that changes in any format. I just have to give myself a bit more time, and hopefully I can relax a bit more out there. It is pretty simple: the longer you spend out in the middle, the more runs you are going to score, the more comfortable you are going to feel. I am fine with whatever role Boof [Darren Lehmann] or Smithie [Steven Smith] give me. I am happy to play. At the end of the day I am playing for my country. It is not the be-all-end-all about cricket, but it is obviously a pretty special feeling to pull on the green and gold.
Nagraj Gollapudi is a senior assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo