Under the SKanner: Peter Handscomb
When Australia disposed of Adam Voges, a man possessing Bradman-esque averages at one point in time, they needed a stable and dependable option in the lower middle-order. Mitchell Marsh and Glenn Maxwell's all-round hopes hadn't quite materialised and Australia had to turn to Victorian batsman, Peter Handscomb, before the day-night Test at Adelaide.
Not many knew at the time that Handscomb had English parents, was a part-time wicket-keeper and had a pretty good record with the pink ball for Victoria. Not since Brad Hodge had a Victorian played Test cricket for Australia, but with Handscomb it was inevitable.
He made his mark in his debut Test, with a half-century against a strong Proteas attack before compiling his maiden Test century against the visiting Pakistanis in Brisbane later that year. Now, after 10 Tests, very few even remember the name Voges, with Handscomb fitting perfectly into Australia's scheme of things in the longer format. With an average of 53.07, two hundreds and the ability to negotiate spin with decisive footwork, the 26-year-old has established himself in the Test line-up.
Here, we take a look at his strengths and weaknesses.
Against pace bowlers
#1 Strong on the cut and pull
Handscomb has an awkward batting technique. His hands, before the ball is bowled, rest above his belly which means that the bat rarely touches the ground. Batsmen generally tend to tap the bat on the crease as the bowler runs in - an age old technique which Greg Chappell advocates for vehemently - but Handscomb is content to have his blade in the air.
This enables him to fend off short balls easily and even hook and pull. The cut shot also comes naturally to the right-handed Victorian. Handscomb has quick hands and sensational hand-eye coordination which aid his stroke making.
#2 Sound judgment outside the off-stump
What Mitchell Marsh and Glenn Maxwell lacked was the aptitude for Test cricket. To battle it out against the best in the world in the most challenging format of the game requires cricketers with strong defences and patience. Handscomb provides just that. He can put bad balls away day-in, day-out but anything too wide he leaves alone. He has a strong sense of his off-stump and doesn't get tempted by deliveries bowled on the fifth stump line, a quality that is necessary to survive against relentless pace bowlers.
#1 Dancing feet
One thing that strikes viewers immediately while watching Handscomb bat is his technique against spinners. He reaches the pitch of the ball with his exemplary footwork and negates the spin.
“When you watched him train indoors, it was just the purity of his work against spin and his footwork … he knows the game well,” his Victorian coach Shipperd had told RSN Radio. Shipperd strongly believes that Handscomb is Australia's second best player of spin after Steven Smith.
#2 The sweep
Handscomb's primary action against spinners was to get to the pitch of the ball. But during the IPL with Rising Pune Supergiant, his teammate Ajinkya Rahane helped him add another dimension to his batting - the sweep shot. Handscomb not only learned the conventional sweep but also the paddle, reverse, reverse paddle and slog sweep. He also improved his abi8lity to read spin by working closely with former Sri Lankan player, Thilan Samaraweera, who was an assistant coach at Victoria.
#1 Full and straight balls
Playing with high hands has its own set of problems. The bat being in the air when the bowler runs in means Handscomb takes an extra second to bring his bat down, leaving him vulnerable to full and straight balls. Kagiso Rabada and later Ravindra Jadeja exploited this weakness.
Handscomb tends to push at deliveries whilst standing absolutely still at the crease which means, more often than not, if the ball thuds into his pads, he is a sitting duck. LBWs have proven to be a nuisance for the right-hander ever since he made his Test debut.
#2 The backfoot technique
One of the most scrutinised aspects of Handscomb's batting has been his tendency to go on the back foot most of the time. While some players are by nature back-foot players, Handscomb goes back to even really full balls which puts him in a spot of bother against extreme pace.
He spent a lot of time working with former Australian opener, Chris Rogers, in the MCG nets and this only increased his tendency to go on the back-foot, with Rogers concentrating on teaching him how to fend-off deliveries
The tendency to play from the crease, remain still till meeting the ball and go on the back-foot, in reality, give him more time to watch the ball and even enhance his timing. But with his weird bat position he is a clear LBW candidate and needs to work on that over the next few years to grow into the batsman Australia need him to be.