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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

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    The Crowd Says (127)

    • December 6th 2017 @ 5:46am
      danwain said | December 6th 2017 @ 5:46am | ! Report

      Great effort by England today to haul themselves back in this, feel it’s a bridge too far but they are close enough if they are good enough.
      Starc was disappointing last night, barely any swing or seam and gave away a few runs, think he has been ordinary in the first two tests. I’m not convinced by him as a test bowler yet.

      • December 6th 2017 @ 7:49am
        Trevor said | December 6th 2017 @ 7:49am | ! Report

        I think England are favourites at the moment. Put the house on ’em.

        • December 6th 2017 @ 9:01am
          Onside said | December 6th 2017 @ 9:01am | ! Report

          The out house

        • December 6th 2017 @ 9:49am
          Rosso said | December 6th 2017 @ 9:49am | ! Report

          I still think Aussies are favourites , it’s a tough ask chasing nearly 200 on a final day wicket with 6 wickets left

          • Roar Guru

            December 6th 2017 @ 10:58am
            jeznez said | December 6th 2017 @ 10:58am | ! Report

            Think that new ball in 18 overs is key. The Aussies will have to use it well though.

            The pitch itself doesn’t seem to have too many demons in it.

            • December 6th 2017 @ 11:15am
              rl said | December 6th 2017 @ 11:15am | ! Report

              agree Jez, if they don’t knock off Root with the new pill, the fat lady might need to start warming up.

        • December 6th 2017 @ 9:48pm
          Nick Potter said | December 6th 2017 @ 9:48pm | ! Report

          So can I have your house now?!

      • December 6th 2017 @ 8:55am
        jameswm said | December 6th 2017 @ 8:55am | ! Report

        It was an in between ball. Not new, but not old enough to reverse. Hopefully it reverses early this afternoon.

      • December 6th 2017 @ 9:45am
        Jeffrey Dun said | December 6th 2017 @ 9:45am | ! Report

        It was a great effort by England, but the less said about the poor cricket played by Australia on day 4 the better.

        I can’t believe how meekly we surrendered a dominant position to leave England with a chance of victory.

        The batting on day 4 was poor – no resolve to grind out a bigger score and bat England out of the game. They looked like they were playing a T20 game.

        Starc and Hazlewood were loose.with Hazlewood in particular posing little threat. Lyon and Cummins were the only players to emerge from day 4 with any credit.

        It defies belief how we have thrown away the momentum we built up on the last two days of Brisbane and the first 2 1/2 days here with such poor irresolute cricket.

        • December 6th 2017 @ 10:57am
          Albo said | December 6th 2017 @ 10:57am | ! Report

          Yep ! Whilst plenty want to blame Smith for not enforcing the follow on, the real problem was the pathetic application of both batsmen and bowlers on day 4 of a match that they should never have been a chance of losing. The batsmen never ground out the meagre couple of sessions at the crease, the obvious target required to take advantage of bowling against the poms under lights with a new ball. Then the ordinary opening spell by Starc & Hazelwood to give the poms a flyer full of confidence. Throw in the bungled DRS reviews and dropped chance and skipper Smith has gone from hero to hopeless inside a week. Whilst the day ahead now looks wide open for both teams, after the first 3 days , Australia should never have been in a position of possibly losing this Test match. As for Handscomb, his batting has progressively gotten worse from his debut series. He needs both a new batting coach and weekly session on the psychologist’s couch , which he should be able to fit in with his Sheffield Shield games from next week.

          • Roar Rookie

            December 6th 2017 @ 11:48am
            JamesH said | December 6th 2017 @ 11:48am | ! Report

            Spot on. I don’t understand why virtually every Australian batsman dismissed yesterday got out trying to force the pace. The goal should have been to get through as much of the day as possible and force England to face a new-ish ball under lights, still with a 350+ lead. England bowled well but we just handed them the best batting conditions.

            • Roar Guru

              December 6th 2017 @ 1:09pm
              jeznez said | December 6th 2017 @ 1:09pm | ! Report

              Absolutely, the aim was to bat out three sessions and have a crack at them with four sessions left in the match. A new ball for the night session on day four with whatever we had accumulated by then would have been incredibly difficult for them to deal with.

              Much better bowling by England but poor management of the batting line up by not using a nights watchman or two and by the batsmen themselves not just focussing on occupying the crease.

              • December 6th 2017 @ 1:18pm
                Worlds Biggest said | December 6th 2017 @ 1:18pm | ! Report

                Bang on Jez, there was no plan in place re the second dig batting, it was very amateur stuff. It was clear for all to see that occupying time was the priority and the runs would follow at whatever rate it didn’t matter. Just a very poor innings that could cost them the game.

    • Roar Rookie

      December 6th 2017 @ 6:01am
      DJ DJ said | December 6th 2017 @ 6:01am | ! Report

      The rookie season in many sports is a bit of a honeymoon which is well and truly tested in year two as the opposition works them out. Hopefully Handscomb gets through it as he seems a very good bloke from a far.

      • December 6th 2017 @ 6:33am
        qwetzen said | December 6th 2017 @ 6:33am | ! Report

        “Starc was disappointing last night, barely any swing or seam and gave away a few runs, think he has been ordinary in the first two tests. I’m not convinced by him as a test bowler yet.”

        Neither am I.

        Here’s something to ponder on: The Oz quicks aren’t as good as our media tells us they are.

        • December 6th 2017 @ 12:48pm
          Freddy from Bondi said | December 6th 2017 @ 12:48pm | ! Report

          Agree totally!

          Nor are they as fast as the commentators keep banging on about. All three are averaging around 140km/hr…whilst quick, it is by no means earth shattering!

          Why they bowlled so short at the tail with an old ball at the end of the first innings, I’ll never know. Those 40-50 extra runs would come in handy about now!

        • December 6th 2017 @ 1:39pm
          Bretto said | December 6th 2017 @ 1:39pm | ! Report

          Starc is very hot and cold. Remember MJ only had one amazing series, and was a laughing stock in England. Hazlewood not been at his best except for glimpses. If he’s not McGrath consistent he’ll get flayed. Cummins is the one that has come of age and looks a world class bowler. He should definitely be taking the next new ball.

    • December 6th 2017 @ 6:04am
      Mike Dugg said | December 6th 2017 @ 6:04am | ! Report

      He was going to get found out soon enough with that technique

    • December 6th 2017 @ 6:08am
      Mike Dugg said | December 6th 2017 @ 6:08am | ! Report

      The man for Australia who has to really turn up is Hazlewood. They keep saying he’s the next McGrath. Pfft. He’s not even as good as Stuart Clark atm. Seems he’s worrying too much about pace and not enough about consistency and accuracy.

      • Roar Guru

        December 6th 2017 @ 8:06am
        Chris Kettlewell said | December 6th 2017 @ 8:06am | ! Report

        Hazlewood has been quite disappointing in this series so far. He came back in his first Shield match and seemed to find good rhythm there, but haven’t seen it so far in the Ashes. He hasn’t been accurate, has regularly been expensive rather than tight. We do really need Hazlewood to step up. Starc hasn’t been too bad. This innings he’s been a bit expensive, though still picked up 2 wickets, but the rest of the series up to this point he’s been decent.

        Certainly the decision to not enforce the follow on is looking worse and worse. Not only handing England the best bowling conditions of the match, but it’s also meant that, while Australia still potentially 2 evening sessions at England, neither of them with a remotely new ball. So while Australia would still be favourites, England are definitely back in a match they should have been nowhere near.

        • December 6th 2017 @ 8:52am
          Paul Giles said | December 6th 2017 @ 8:52am | ! Report

          There was about 9 overs left I think when Smith came to the crease, maybe a couple of nightwatchman (Paine or Cummins) should have batted. Almost would have preferred to be 5 or 6 down with Smith to bat during day 4 afternoon. Don’t get why no 9 batsmen are protected by a nightwatchman. Handscomb should have batted no 4 with Cummins no 5. Cummins may have made a fifty instead of being stranded batting at 10 only for Lyon to throw his wicket away to start the rot on the early afternoon of day 4.

        • December 6th 2017 @ 8:56am
          jameswm said | December 6th 2017 @ 8:56am | ! Report

          Yeah it’s easy in hindsight. We coped with the night session on day 1, so Smith thought we would on day 3.

          • December 6th 2017 @ 10:30am
            Paul Giles said | December 6th 2017 @ 10:30am | ! Report

            There was no hindsight by the time Smith had joined the crease. He could already tell it was difficult and Lehmann should have stepped in and told Smith to protect himself for the next day.

            • Roar Guru

              December 6th 2017 @ 11:22am
              Chris Kettlewell said | December 6th 2017 @ 11:22am | ! Report

              That’s a long time for a Nightwatchman to bat. Generally they come in with only a 2-3 overs to go max. If you are talking more “sacrificial lambs” than nightwatchmen, I suppose that could make sense. Send in the tail to hopefully be able to get through the evening without getting to the remainder of the batsmen.

              Anyway, yes, it’s all wonderful in 20-20 hindsight. Smith probably thought that out of all the batsmen he was the best placed to be able to survive the rest of the session.

        • December 6th 2017 @ 12:11pm
          rtp said | December 6th 2017 @ 12:11pm | ! Report

          Starc never bowls well until he does. He is that sort of a bowler. He doesn’t take wickets from putting 30 balls in the right spot but by striking fear and then bowling a jaffa. He is doing what he always does in this series and is definitely not a cause for concern. Hazlewood is though. If he isn’t putting 30 balls in the right spot then what good is he?

      • December 6th 2017 @ 9:42am
        rock86 said | December 6th 2017 @ 9:42am | ! Report

        Hazelwood has definitely been disappointing this series so far.

        But let’s not use hyperbole, Hazelwood over the past few test seasons has consistently been our best bowler, sometimes bowlers lose form, I’d expect him to bounce back.

        • December 6th 2017 @ 9:51am
          Rosso said | December 6th 2017 @ 9:51am | ! Report

          I noticed that it was warm temperature at night when England swung the call whereas we had cold temperature on both nights for us, I think that might have a affect tooo

        • Roar Guru

          December 6th 2017 @ 11:23am
          Chris Kettlewell said | December 6th 2017 @ 11:23am | ! Report

          I don’t think anyone is suggesting he should be dropped, but yes, he’s been consistently good for the last couple of years and we really need him to get back to that.

        • December 6th 2017 @ 12:08pm
          Don Freo said | December 6th 2017 @ 12:08pm | ! Report

          I am quite happy with Hazel. Sometimes the opposition tries too.

          • December 6th 2017 @ 1:24pm
            spruce moose said | December 6th 2017 @ 1:24pm | ! Report

            Hear hear.

            Sometimes people just expect the opposition to roll over and capitulate in front of the mighty glorious hallowed pace attack of Australia.

      • December 6th 2017 @ 3:00pm
        Bob Sims said | December 6th 2017 @ 3:00pm | ! Report

        Might wanna rethink that after he’s now quickly disposed of Root and Woakes. Gotta love the way the class players keep putting in when we need them, and in so doing, tear our opinions to shreds (self included). Brilliant catch by Paine, by the way.

    • December 6th 2017 @ 6:50am
      qwetzen said | December 6th 2017 @ 6:50am | ! Report

      Regarding Handscomb: He’s gone. It’s just a question of whether the selectors give him a last chance in Perth, but even if they do it’s highly unlikely he’ll score runs there. The favourite to replace him is Maxwell, but given the short term memory problem our media have(1), it’d be much more entertaining if Marsh the Younger got The Nod…

      (1) Excluding when they get something right of course.

      • December 6th 2017 @ 7:57am
        Pedro the Maroon said | December 6th 2017 @ 7:57am | ! Report

        Joe Burns is averaging 64 this shield season. hit 202* yesterday. Would be a great test 5 or 6.

        • December 6th 2017 @ 1:14pm
          Perry Bridge said | December 6th 2017 @ 1:14pm | ! Report

          Joe Burns start to the FC season was pretty lame – 124 at 20.67 from the first 3 games – his last 3 hits have produced 81, 103 and 202* so that’s certainly pushed him (on form) back ahead of say a Renshaw. The not out helps inflate a tad but that’s fine – main thing is 396 runs in last 3 hits is very good form in any book.

          Someone like George Bailey is an option – he’s got 385 from 9 at about 43 but had only 60 from his first 4 hits and since then 325 at avg of 65 is very good form.

          I’d imagine that for #5/6 area – G.Maxwell as the hard done by former incumbent and given his FC season so far has 590 at a tick under 74, and he’s only had the one bad game (7 and 20 in the first shield outing) – since then, 563 at (inflated by the 278) avg of 94 but in that – he’s got 45*, 60, 64, 96 and the 278 very hard to argue that he wouldn’t be first reserve at present.

          • December 6th 2017 @ 1:22pm
            jameswm said | December 6th 2017 @ 1:22pm | ! Report

            Maxie would have to be first reserve.

      • Roar Guru

        December 6th 2017 @ 8:10am
        Chris Kettlewell said | December 6th 2017 @ 8:10am | ! Report

        Last season when Ronan put forward that article, I believe my comment is that there’s a lot of similarity to Ballance for England, and the question is whether he’s going to work out ways to counter the methods bowlers are going to have against him and continue to succeed, or have the same issues at international level that Ballance has. At the moment it’s looking more like he’s having the Ballance style struggles, and in looking to counter things his technique appears to be getting worse, not better. So yes, he may well be on the way out and the question becomes whether he gets another test or two of struggles or the selectors step in sooner. If it’s 2-0 going to Perth do the selectors just stick with the winning lineup?

        • December 6th 2017 @ 8:58am
          Larry1950 said | December 6th 2017 @ 8:58am | ! Report

          Shades of George Bailey’s unconventional technique changes in recent years although Hanscombe has started a bit early in his career. The result of this test will determine any changes, I think. Never been a Maxwell fan but he seems to have turned the corner mentally.. Only problem would be that Smith doesn’t rate his bowling so he’d be picked on batting form alone. With all the plaudits Bancroft has got since his selection, he needs to actually aim up more consistently. Good to see Joe Burns & Alex Carey in the runs, they’re in the picture down the track.

          • December 6th 2017 @ 10:29am
            Brian said | December 6th 2017 @ 10:29am | ! Report

            At 2-0 Handscomb gets another chance but at 1-1 he’s gone.
            Same goes for Stokes and Wood at 0-2 they will remain suspended and injured but at 1-1 they will both be in Perth by Saturday.

            • Columnist

              December 6th 2017 @ 11:52am
              Ronan O'Connell said | December 6th 2017 @ 11:52am | ! Report

              Chris, Handscomb is having exactly the same issue as Ballance – failing to get confidently forward even to extremely full deliveries.

              It’s one thing to bat from really deep in your crease, if you then get a good stride towards the ball when it is pitched up and drive confidently down the ground or through the covers.

              But Handscomb this series, and Ballance for a while now, very rarely get a good stride towards even rank half volleys.

              When rank half volleys are not being punished, this gives bowlers a huge margin of error on their length.

              Handscomb and Ballance are waiting for the bowler to pitch one at least 4/5m from the stumps so they can easily rock back and cut/slice square on the off side or nudge square on the leg side.

              But they won’t get many that length when the bowler knows they can bowl half volleys and not get punished.

      • December 6th 2017 @ 11:19am
        Bob Sims said | December 6th 2017 @ 11:19am | ! Report

        Marsh the younger? Gimme a break! I think Handscomb’s immediate future depends on whether Australia win this Test or not. If they win, he will likely be persevered with, but if they lose, the selectors may be tempted to go with Maxwell.

      • December 6th 2017 @ 12:10pm
        Don Freo said | December 6th 2017 @ 12:10pm | ! Report

        It would certainly be entertaining on The Roar, Q.

    • December 6th 2017 @ 6:56am
      Worlds Biggest said | December 6th 2017 @ 6:56am | ! Report

      Handscomb certainly under pressure from Maxy. Handscomb has a lot to say out on the field for someone so green, he would be better off just concentrating on his batting. England right in this game, Cummins and Lyon were great but the other two were ordinary. They need to bowl a lot tighter and not leak runs. This game is an each way bet.

      • December 6th 2017 @ 7:15am
        qwetzen said | December 6th 2017 @ 7:15am | ! Report

        “This game is an each way bet.”

        Not according to professional bookies.

        Betfair;

        Oz 1.34
        Eng 3.95
        Drw 130.0

        • Roar Guru

          December 6th 2017 @ 8:13am
          Chris Kettlewell said | December 6th 2017 @ 8:13am | ! Report

          I don’t know how many times I’ve seen situations like this where coming into day 5 the batting team looks like they are really in it, only for things to fall apart on day 5. England is definitely a shot. It’s possible they could win. But Australia should definitely still be favourites from this position. Just really hoping they can rip out a couple early and don’t let it get too close. I still need to get work done today! Don’t want to spend the whole day really tense!

          • December 6th 2017 @ 8:57am
            jameswm said | December 6th 2017 @ 8:57am | ! Report

            Yeah 3 wickets to take really. If Root goes in the first hour it’s all over. Ali can bat and score, but he’s loose.

          • Roar Guru

            December 6th 2017 @ 11:11am
            The Bush said | December 6th 2017 @ 11:11am | ! Report

            I feel like Australia was in this sort of position this year (perhaps in India?) and they caved in after about 20 over in the morning…

            • Roar Rookie

              December 6th 2017 @ 11:53am
              JamesH said | December 6th 2017 @ 11:53am | ! Report

              They definitely were in the first test vs Bangladesh. Got well within 100 runs of the target only 2-3 wickets down (from memory) and crumbled.

              • Roar Guru

                December 6th 2017 @ 1:16pm
                The Bush said | December 6th 2017 @ 1:16pm | ! Report

                Thanks James, I knew I remembered seeing us at one point about to comfortably score a very high fourth innings total for the win and then we just crumbled… Here’s to England doing it today.

          • December 6th 2017 @ 11:52am
            Worlds Biggest said | December 6th 2017 @ 11:52am | ! Report

            Chris, both Starc and Hazlewood are crucial in the first hour with there lines. If the continue to bowl pie then they gift soft runs and England will likely win. If they can bowl tight and put pressure on from the start, then hopefully wickets will come. Our guys have to bowl well as a unit, only 2 of our bowlers are doing the job at the moment, this won’t be enough.

        • Roar Guru

          December 6th 2017 @ 11:56am
          Rellum said | December 6th 2017 @ 11:56am | ! Report

          Even with a really bad last 4 sessions from Aus we are still probably going to win. England are a long shot.

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