Handscomb confident of handling Ashes heat
Ashes novice Peter Handscomb has declared he is ready technically to adjust to the challenge that will come from England’s pace spearheads in this month’s series opener.
James Anderson and Stuart Broad will again be the key to the tourists’ Ashes hopes, and for good reason – they are England’s all-time leading wicket-takers with a combined 894 scalps.
Handscomb has enjoyed a fine year since his elevation to the Test side last summer, thumping 743 runs at 53.07 with his home-spun technique.
The Victorian captain has gradually found form through the opening rounds of the Sheffield Shield, scratching out nine and 34 in the loss to the Bulls in Queensland before rebounding with 43 and 58 in the draw with South .
Heading into the final round of Shield action before the Ashes squad is announced next Friday, Handscomb said he was keen for a long innings, with the Bushrangers to host Tasmania from Monday, but declared he had adjusted to the local conditions after a year largely spent on the subcontinent.
“I want a big score every time I go out to bat,” Handscomb said on Friday.
“It would be good to have that bit more time out in the middle, get used to scoring big runs again … but everything is feeling right, balance feels good and my feet are moving, which is the main thing.
“I had to make the transition there back from subcontinent, back to white ball and back to red ball in . I tinkered with a few things and made sure I got back to my technique and started doing what I need.”
Handscomb has little experience with Anderson and Broad, which could work in his favour for the tourists may have to adjust on the hop if ‘s No.5 takes control early in his innings.
“I faced Broad in a one-dayer over in England county cricket and I faced five balls from Anderson in a county game and he tore his groin. I haven’t had much against them but am looking forward to the challenge,” he said.
“I am trying not to worry too much about it, to be perfectly honest. I think they are two more bowlers.
“Obviously, they are very, very good but we are in our home conditions and we feel pretty good over here.
“If you just back your own game plan, go out there and give it a good crack, I think we will be OK.”
However, the English pair will believe they can find a crack in Handscomb’s technique, which has him hold his bat above his shoulders and often stand as deep in the crease as possible to the quicks to give him more time to pick up their line and length.
“But also I have found by doing that, they try and drag me forward and by doing that they have to try and pitch the ball up there and sometimes it comes out a little bit floated,” Handscomb said last summer.
He has always insisted he can shift his weight between his front and back foots, so he doesn’t find himself trapped in front of the stumps.
Fellow Victorian Glenn Maxwell and Tasmania captain Matthew Wade will also hope for an extensive innings from Monday.
Both are fighting for Test inclusion, with Wade under pressure to remain as gloveman, having failed four times with the bat through two Shield matches, making one and six against Western , and nine and 17 against Queensland.
Wade, who returned home to Tasmania this season after almost a decade with Victoria, has passed 50 only once in 16 Test innings since he was recalled last summer.
Handscomb said he had been surprised by the lack of Shield runs from his good friend who is fighting Peter Nevill and Alex Carey – each of whom scored more than 590 Shield runs last summer – for an Ashes berth.
“I have been surprised with Matty because I know how well he can bat,” Handscomb said.
“Obviously, he is under the microscope a little bit so every little thing he seems to do wrong gets intensified a bit which is a bit of a shame because he does do so much right as well.
“Hopefully, for his sake, he can focus on that a little bit and try and get away from the negatives.”
It hasn’t been lost on players that form in previous years may not count for much, with selectors – and the media – eying those who have made early runs this season.
However, Hilton Cartwright, the second-leading Shield run-scorer last summer, is firmly in the frame for Ashes selection, while Jake Lehmann, ninth last summer, has put himself into the conversation with a century and 93 against the Bushrangers this week.
Jake Lehmann has delivered massive recent scores in Shield cricket. Photo: AAP
“Jake is obviously a very, very good player so in the critical games or where they [selectors] are asking people to stand up, there is that bit of pressure and he basically went out there and made two hundreds,” Handscomb said.
“That’s a positive sign. But there have been guys who have been scoring runs for three or four years. Ultimately, you want someone who is going consistently and if they are only going to be judged on these three games as opposed to what they have done through their career that can be tough.”
Former Test batsmen Ed Cowan and George Bailey, who recorded the most and third-most Shield runs last summer respectively, are no longer in the Test frame.