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.”
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.”