Peter Handscomb’s skittish technique puts his Ashes spot at risk

Ronan O'Connell Columnist

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    Peter Handscomb’s Test spot could be under threat after he played a torturous innings yesterday, as England fought back on Day 4 of the second Ashes Test.

    It’s customary for cricket pundits and fans, and sometimes even selectors, to make hasty calls on players after they begin a high-profile series with a few failures.

    In Handscomb’s case, his returns haven’t been diabolical – he’s made 61 runs at an average of 21 in this series and has an impressive Test record, with 805 runs at 47.

    Rather, the manner in which his technique has been picked apart by the England quicks is of concern.

    This moment always seemed likely to arrive – after just his third Test innings, a year ago, I dedicated an article to my misgivings about Handscomb’s technique.

    At that stage, he had made a barnstorming start to his Test career but I predicted that his tendency to play from extremely deep in the crease would eventually be tested by skilful quicks.

    England’s opening bowlers, James Anderson and Stuart Broad, exploited this idiosyncrasy during Handscomb’s first two innings in this series as he twice was trapped LBW. These dismissals seemed to scramble Handscomb’s mind based on his bizarre innings yesterday.

    In one of the strangest knocks played by an Australian batsman in recent memory, Handscomb wandered all over his crease as if he was lost. While Handscomb knew where he was – in the middle of Adelaide Oval – he appeared to have no idea what he was doing there.

    He started by playing even deeper in his crease than usual, almost treading on his stumps in his stance, and then looking to push forward aggressively at anything full. When he was beaten several times on the outside edge, Handscomb began shuffling way across his stumps, at times ending up with both feet as much as 15 centimetres outside the off stump.

    From this odd position, one even Steve Smith rarely adopts, Handscomb was trying to shovel the ball to the leg side against the direction of the swing. It was an approach you would expect only to see in low-level grade cricket, one which contradicted batting logic.

    Peter Handscomb

    AAP Image/David Crosling

    After a sequence of ugly, failed attempts to strike through the legside, Handscomb swiftly went to Plan C. This strategy saw him do the very opposite – staying leg side of the ball, with all three stumps clearly exposed, to try to target the offside.

    He played and missed several times, just as he had while employing his first two tactics.

    Then his horrendous innings ended as he lunged at a length delivery outside off and edged to third slip. In the commentary box for English broadcaster BT, Australian legend Ricky Ponting was gobsmacked by the innings and scathing of the skittish knock.

    Now, it must be said that England bowled exceptionally well to the Victorian, particularly Anderson, who produced a sensational spell of swing and seam.

    After being hugely disappointing during England’s first three innings in the field this series, first change paceman Chris Woakes also made the most of the favourable bowling conditions. Broad went wicketless, yet looked very threatening.

    In rolling Australia for just 138, England limited the hosts lead to 353, a chase which looked difficult but not impossible.

    England made an unexpectedly swift start to their chase, cruising to 0-43 after 13 overs due to some aggressive batting by Mark Stoneman and loose offerings from the Australian opening bowlers. Neither Mitchell Starc nor Josh Hazlewood was able to match the precision displayed earlier by Anderson, Woakes and Broad.

    Not for the first time this series, it was first-change bowlers Pat Cummins and Nathan Lyon who were most impressive. Lyon tied both Stoneman and Cook in knots, before eventually dismissing the latter LBW. When Stoneman sliced a loose drive to Usman Khawaja at gully, and James Vince edged to Handscomb at slip, England were 3-91 and at danger of collapsing.

    Instead, the tourists slowly turned the pressure back on to Australia via a plucky stand between captain Joe Root and Dawid Malan. While both Root and Malan were streaky – neither batsman looked secure at the crease – their 78-run stand frustrated the Aussies. It took a wonderful delivery from Cummins to slice Malan in half and end this resistance.

    Australia remain overwhelming favourites to win this Test, with England needing a further 178 runs and the second new ball due in 12 overs’ time.

    But England showed enough heart to suggest Australia may have to toil hard for the win.

    Ronan O
    Ronan O'Connell

    Ronan O'Connell has been a journalist for well over 13 years, including nine at daily newspapers in WA. He now traverses the world as a travel photojournalist, contributing words and photography to more than 30 magazines and newspapers including CNN, BBC, The Toronto Star, The Guardian, The South China Morning Post, The Irish Examiner and The Australian Financial Review. Check out his work and follow him on Twitter @ronanoco