MELODY MAKER

Sunday Herald Sun - - Cricket -

THE song first bounced into Peter Hand­scomb’s head in In­dia in March last year. It was the fi­nal day of the Ranchi Test and it was stink­ing hot. Aus­tralia had to bat out the day to save the match.

The tourists lost four wick­ets be­fore lunch and Hand­scomb, in just his sev­enth Test, found him­self at the crease with Shaun Marsh, and 70 overs to go. It was go­ing to be a long one. Hand­scomb hadn’t fired in the se­ries to that point, fail­ing to pass 30 in five in­nings. But he had a se­cret weapon. The song.

It bounced around his head, kept him calm in be­tween the 200 balls he faced in an epic 261-minute dig.

Hand­scomb bat­ted out the day, made a gritty 72 not out in a 124-run part­ner­ship with Marsh, and helped Aus­tralia to a cru­cial draw.

In the af­ter­math of the in­nings, as the Vic­to­rian poured in flu­ids and sat in ice baths hav­ing en­dured the sti­fling con­di­tions, the song left his mind.

So too did runs at Test level, and af­ter mid­dling re­turns against Bangladesh, then Eng­land last sum­mer, Hand­scomb was dropped.

Now he’s back, bat­ting as well as ever and on the verge of another Test ap­pear­ance.

It’s no co­in­ci­dence that song is back too, play­ing in his head ev­ery time he goes out to bat and the runs — first in the do­mes­tic one­day com­pe­ti­tion, and now the Sh­effield Shield — have flowed.

“I won’t tell you the song purely be­cause it’s a bit rude,” Hand­scomb told the Sun­day Her­ald Sun.

The ques­tion has been posed at least three times this sum­mer to the Vic­to­rian cap­tain, but he re­fuses to give it up.

“I never re­ally liked it be­fore, but it just has a nice melody which re­laxes me,” he said.

“I re­mem­ber hear­ing it be­fore walk­ing out to bat in Ranchi. I bat­ted the day there, so I thought that was some­thing.

“I didn’t do it for a lit­tle while and thought I should try it again. I spoke to one of my men­tors, and he likes the idea of hav­ing a song in your head, it takes you in and out of your bub­ble when you face up.”

RUS­SELL GOULD

That’s another area of sig­nif­i­cant change Hand­scomb, 27, made dur­ing win­ter when he opted against a stint in English county cricket.

He’d seen a pre­sen­ta­tion from his for­mer team­mate and for­mer Test opener Chris Rogers, which piqued his in­ter­est.

It was ul­tra-tech­ni­cal, all about bat­ting align­ment, where you need to be when the bowler lets the ball go.

Hand­scomb has en­dured con­stant “noise” about his un­usual tech­nique, which he has learned to block out.

He was happy to back in what he knows, too.

But he saw an op­por­tu­nity to get bet­ter so headed to the na­tional cricket academy in Bris­bane, where Rogers is a coach, and the pair got to work.

“I went up two or three times for three-day pe­ri­ods. I trained with the academy kids, which was great,” Hand­scomb said.

“I got to work against them when they were bowl­ing, then I’d go and get Chris and we’d have another hour in the nets, work on the align­ment.

“He showed me the pre­sen­ta­tion he has on it a few months be­fore I went up and it made a lot of sense. That’s why I sought him out.

“I wanted to see what he was like as a coach, be­cause I re­mem­ber play­ing with him and he was amaz­ing to play with. I re­ally en­joyed it.”

The cricket nerd in Hand­scomb rev­elled in the de­tail of work­ing with Rogers. They recorded ev­ery ses­sion and went over them to­gether.

Hand­scomb even sent the videos to Aus­tralian coach Justin Langer for an “ex­tra set of eyes”.

For all the tech­ni­cal work how­ever, the aim was simple: to in­crease Hand­scomb’s con­fi­dence in a tech­nique which net­ted him piles of runs be­fore his Test de­but and one he has re­turned to, al­beit with a “tweak”, to earn a re­call to Langer’s squad.

Un­trou­bled is the word be­ing used to de­scribe Hand­scomb’s resur­gent bat­ting this sum­mer. He’s looked in­creas­ingly com­fort­able, though that’s not a word he likes to use.

“Com­fort­able is a weird word. Once you start feel­ing com­fort­able you start to get a lit­tle bit com­pla­cent. It’s a hard game and you never truly feel in. But at the mo­ment I do feel in a good space,” he said.

He’s been helped there by Vic­to­rian coach An­drew McDon­ald’s 95-5 phi­los­o­phy too — an ide­ol­ogy Hand­scomb has em­braced as a bats­man and cap­tain.

“That’s 95 per cent of all mes­sages and con­ver­sa­tions are pos­i­tive, and five per cent is neg­a­tive,” he said.

“If you go out and face 50 balls and you smacked 49 of them but on the 50th you get out, so many peo­ple used to just focus on that last ball and ‘Why did you get out there? What was go­ing on?’, rah, rah, rah, rather than think­ing, well I ac­tu­ally bat­ted well for 49 balls and I’ve made one mis­take. Or maybe the bowler just bowled a good ball.

“That has come from An­drew and I’ve tried to take that on board as much as pos­si­ble.”

Pos­i­tiv­ity has also been key to Hand­scomb’s per­for­mances so far this sea­son. There have been neg­a­tive mo­ments, like be­ing over­looked for the Test se­ries against Pak­istan in the UAE in Oc­to­ber.

“It sucks be­ing dropped and it al­ways will suck but we are so lucky with the game we play,” he said.

“There was no time to think about the neg­a­tive stuff. You just had to get on with it.

“And with each in­nings I have been get­ting more and more con­fi­dence back in my game. It all started the sec­ond game of the one-day com­pe­ti­tion.

“I got a lit­tle score but started to feel bet­ter. My old game started to feel a lot more nat­u­ral again, which is re­ally nice.”

So with his bat­ting song locked in, con­fi­dence high and a pos­i­tive at­ti­tude to boot, Hand­scomb is as ready as he could be to re­launch a Test ca­reer that could still be great.

“It’s al­ways hard to know if you are ready to go back in to it, or if you were ready in the first place,” he said. “If I do get another crack, which I hope I do, I am go­ing to en­joy it as much as pos­si­ble. En­joy­ment is the way for­ward.”

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