In the wake of his dropping from the Australian team midway through last summer’s Ashes, middle-order batsman Peter Handscomb looked down the barrel of the camera and insisted there was nothing wrong with his unorthodox technique. “It’s funny that,” he said. “I was doing exactly the same thing last year but I was making runs, so my technique was okay then.”
Seven months later, though, and it is a different world. Australian cricket’s former combination of bluff and intimidation was stripped away by the Cape Town ball-tampering scandal, and the resultant bans on Steven Smith and David Warner have pushed a handful of lesser talents to the forefront of the national team. In his subsequent appearance at the Wanderers, the crease-bound Handscomb looked an obligingly stationary target for Vernon Philander and was bowled by the South African craftsman in both innings.
So with the benefit of time at home and at the National Cricket Centre in Brisbane, Handscomb has found fresh perspective and also a fresh set of eyes to help him take his game to a higher level than that at which he was operating while cobbling 86 scratchy runs from five Test innings in Brisbane, Adelaide and Johannesburg. With the help of the NCC batting coach Chris Rogers, Handscomb is rediscovering a front-foot game against pace, in both attack and defence, to counter quality bowlers who he now admits did “work me out” after his promising 2016-17 introduction.
“I have definitely gone back and looked at my technique and tinkered with a few things,” Handscomb said. “That’s sort of how the game goes a little bit – when you come into it on such a big scale, no one really knew how I batted, and then bowlers start to work me out, so now they have plans for me. Now it’s my job to go back and try and beat those plans.
“Then no doubt there’ll be that time where it goes back and forth, the fights I guess between the bat and ball, they’ll push hard and then I’ll push back, and hopefully I can come out on top. I’ve been working hard with Chris Rogers up at the Academy, sending videos to him when I’ve been down in Melbourne and also been able to fly up a couple of times, so hopefully, something comes of that and I can make some runs this summer.
“I feel like there’s an improvement definitely, I feel like I’ve got my drive back and hopefully can access the ball off the front foot a little bit better than what I have in previous years. I still want to stay just as strong off the back foot, you don’t want to lose those strengths, but just trying to make it a complete game.”
A further step in that process will be spending more time with the new national team coach Justin Langer, who has been blunt in his assessments of numerous players either side of the limited-overs tour to England and Zimbabwe that underlined the yawning gap left in the team’s batting stocks by the absence of the former captain and deputy.
“We have had a few chats, either through email, text messages or a phone call. It’s been awesome, he’s been so accessible and very open and honest conversations,” Handscomb said. “I’ve shared some footage with him as well of my current batting and seeing what he thinks and then we can have a discussion about that and move forward. It’s been a really nice start and look forward to doing some work with him in person.”
Handscomb is in a curious position in that his methods when facing spin are widely regarded as among the best in an admittedly slim Australian field of batsmen who have excelled against quality slow bowling. But at the same time, he is in the process of addressing the aforementioned flaws when combating pace. Significantly and perhaps fortuitously for Handscomb, the chances he has to buttress a place in the Australian Test top six now include an Australia A tour of India and a Test series beyond against Pakistan in the UAE.
“There’s going to be guys really trying to take their opportunity and step up and push their case for Test selection. I’ll be doing the same to try to retain my spot, show I’m a good player of spin and hopefully set myself up for the Australian summer,” he said. “It [national selection] seems to be a bit open slather – you are going into this [tour], if you make runs you are a massive chance and, if you don’t, you haven’t taken that opportunity they are trying to give you.
“Personally I feel like I am a really good player of spin and I hope I will go over there and make runs. I have done that before on the subcontinent, so I hope I can do that again. It [playing spin] is just about getting my feet moving as fast as possible, whether that’s coming down the track or playing off the back foot. It depends on the conditions so you’ve got to be able to read them as quick as you can – if it’s spinning big maybe stay back a little bit, if it’s not then I might be able to use my feet. I just assess the conditions and go from there.
“It can be tough in the subcontinent where there always seemed to be that ball with your name on it. You can kind of feel set but something can happen and that’s it. Mentally I’m definitely preparing to try to bat longer times. I’ve had a lot of conversations about converting starts into bigger scores and that’s what we need at the highest level.”
Following the Cape Town and Johannesburg fiasco, Handscomb and his partner went on safari, and they have subsequently become engaged. He reflects now that after regaining a spot in the Test XI through the suspensions, he is now eager to ensure he can retain it purely on merit – aided by the technical work with Rogers.
“It was a bit of a shame to come back into the Test side under those circumstances,” he said. “I’d really wanted to get back in through sheer work and putting numbers on the board and making sure I was doing all the right things, but sometimes a bit of right place, right time and trying to take that opportunity. So hopefully I can continue with that.”