Ben Jones analyses the ongoing difficulties of Australian batsman Peter Handscomb.
Peter Handscomb is surely on the brink. After another low score, and another scrappy innings, the Australian No.5 looks more and more like a man unable to succeed in Test cricket with his current approach.
Today, he fell prey to a classic bit of seam bowling from Mohammad Shami. Pitching the ball up when they first came together, Shami then drew his length back and surprised Handscomb with a short ball – which the Australian duly slapped to short midwicket.
It was a disappointing dismissal, and one which moved India closer to victory, but more worryingly for Handscomb itself it is not a way that he is supposed to get out. That is not a Classic Handscomb Wicket. If anything, it’s the opposite.
Because Handscomb’s entire technique is built to punish the short ball.
His high hands and high backlift allow him to rock back and pull the ball confidently, and cut the ball hard. His weight being so far back allows him to play horizontal bat shots comfortably, and that translates through to his Test returns – he averages 58 with the cut, and 45 with the pull.
He plays so deep in his crease. In Tests, his average impact point against pace is 1.53m from his stumps – the only Australian batsman to strike the ball later, since 2015, is Chris Rogers. For Rogers, the late contact reflected that he was playing the ball under his eyes and playing late, but for Handscomb there’s no such explanation. For him, it reflects an inability to get forward onto the front foot, so everything is played on the back.
What we think of as a Classic Handscomb Dismissal is the pitched up ball on a length, in that channel outside off-stump. Handscomb has repeatedly struggled when bowlers have pushed their length fuller, his back-foot emphasis meaning he can’t transfer his weight forward to stay in control of the shot. Of course, that’s a relatively standard area of weakness, but the degree to which Handscomb struggles is a real problem. There is no question in the mind of the opposition bowlers about where to bowl to him, such is the extent of his weakness. You pitch it up, and wait for him to nick off.
The problem today was that he survived those balls, and got out playing a shot he’s supposed to own. This is the kind of thing that can happen when you’re not in form, when your mind is scrambled, and when you’re overthinking certain elements of your batting. You focus so much on battling your weaknesses that your strengths no longer come as naturally as they once did.
It’s always the way when a player has an unusual technique, as Handscomb does. Their extreme methods give them success coming through the ranks, but they get found out at the top level. They return to the domestic game, where they succeed again, and so the cycle continues. It’s hard to tell whether a player has actually solved their technical issues, or if they are simply in an environment incapable of exposing them.
Handscomb returned to the Australian side after a solid if not spectacular Shield start, 361 runs at an average of just over 45 representative of a player primed to do very well at domestic level. However, it wasn’t the overwhelming haul of a man in blistering form and feeling completely confident, playing well above his ability level. To compare him to two of his Yorkshire teammates, his return is more like that of Gary Ballance than Jonny Bairstow, two other players with notably unconventional techniques. Perhaps, in order to overcome such pronounced technical flaws, you need the adrenaline of a purple patch.
Handscomb isn’t there right now. He’s making mistakes against deliveries he needs to be dominating, and while that’s the case, it might be time to give his position to someone in better form, with better experience, or with greater potential. He’ll most likely get one more chance at Perth – he has to take it.
Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.