If you’ve ever liked the look of a young player, and watched their game develop over time to the point where, as far as you’re concerned, they’re the single best player on the face of the earth, then you might find parts of this column ring very familiar.
For me, the player in question is 24-year-old Victorian batsman-wicketkeeper Peter Handscomb.
And I had a bit of a moment the other night during the second leg of the Big Bash League Melbourne Derby, when halfway through yet another tweet espousing the clear and obvious brilliance of this kid, I realised that just maybe it was possible to go on about someone too much.
I’d already earlier in the game mentioned how well I thought he was keeping. I may have even remastered John Lennon’s famous line about Ringo Starr, and suggested that Matthew Wade wasn’t even the best keeper in Victoria, let alone Australia.
And Handscomb had kept very well; it wasn’t at all undeserved praise. He took two really good quality catches – the first one a full-length dive to his right, to catch Tom Cooper with one hand, in front of David Hussey at a very wide, almost second slip position – and his glovework throughout the game was really tidy.
But it goes back earlier this summer than that even. Tasmanian keeper Tom Triffitt played in the Melbourne Stars’ third game of the tournament, their five-wicket win over the Sydney Sixers at the SCG just after Christmas, and with Kevin Pietersen flying back home for Christmas and the birth of his second child, Handscomb played as a batsman.
It was out of necessity, but to me the Stars looked unbalanced and a bowler short, and I wrote only a few days later, “I can’t help but wonder if they might be shooting themselves in the foot by playing keeper Tom Triffitt, when perhaps they’d be better served by Handscomb keeping and picking another bowler?”
Triffitt was left out of the following game, the first Melbourne Derby, with Pietersen and all-rounder John Hastings returning and Handscomb resuming with the gloves. Indeed, he hasn’t played since and the Stars have now won three on the trot.
I reckon I first laid eyes on Handscomb four seasons ago. Quite probably in whatever the state one-day comp was called back then, but definitely in the BBL. With Wade in the Australian one-day set-up, Handscomb was the Stars’ second keeping option.
He didn’t do a whole lot with the bat – he didn’t have to bat a whole lot, with the Stars again one of the dominant sides in what was the second season of the BBL – but his keeping was really impressive.
Good, safe hands, and really tidy footwork. I remember thinking here was this young guy, not quite 21, with not a lot of state-level keeping experience, and he was easily as good a gloveman as his more fancied state teammate who was now regarded as the best white-ball keeper in the country.
He might have already surpassed Wade as a batsman back then, too, but then Wade’s batting – even if it was the main reason for his national selection – has always been a bit hit and miss.
Nevertheless, when discussion inevitably moved toward the naming of the first Australian one-day squad of the summer in recent weeks, there was healthy deliberation centering on who should be the wicket-keeper, with the natural assumption that whoever was selected would be in the box seat to go to the World Twenty20 in India in March and April.
Wade won the spot for the first three ODIs, starting this week. But how many of us are convinced he should be the gloveman for the T20 side, never mind whether he should go to India or not?
The form keeper-batsman of the BBL is probably Tim Paine, and it’s hard to disagree with Ronan O’Connell’s point on Monday that Paine should probably get the nod.
But if there’s been a weakness to Paine’s batting this summer, it’s been when facing the spinners. Paine has been undone by spin in four of his last five innings, and teams are now opening up with spin against Hobart, presumably for that very reason.
Wade’s tally hasn’t cracked 80 runs for the tournament in five innings as a top order bat, and you wouldn’t say he’s at home when facing the tweakers, either.
Handscomb, on the other hand, is one of the best young players of spin in the country.
This time last summer, when writing a magazine feature on Glenn Maxwell, I spoke to then-Victorian coach Greg Shipperd and mentioned that Maxwell, along with Steve Smith and Michael Clarke, was one of few players around the country who were prepared to use their feet properly to spin. Shipperd certainly agreed, and went on to liken Maxwell with Dean Jones, but very quickly got talking about another player.
“We’re blessed with two here in Victoria [who use their feet and the crease], ‘Maxy’ and the other one is Peter Handscomb,” Shipperd told me.
“Like Maxwell, Handscomb has the ability of playing that balanced game where he’s thinking offside, on-side, staying in his crease, moving down the wicket; he’s got all of those options at his disposal, and it’s just about the application of those options.
“Whereas guys like Cameron White and David Hussey will use width on their crease and their shot selection to play the shot that’s needed, Handscomb will come miles down the wicket. He’s a freak, he’s a wonderful player of spin.”
That’s certainly been on show in the BBL this summer, but his shot selection and ability to find gaps, in general, has been from the top draw. Pietersen got all the plaudits for the run chase in the second derby on Saturday night, but Handscomb being able to come in two wickets down and get himself ‘in’ so quickly allowed Pietersen to put the foot down in the 13th over and turn what might have been a tight chase into a pretty comfortable one.
And I’d say it’s worth nothing the praise Pietersen heaped on Handscomb, but the reality is ‘KP’ thinks all his Stars teammates should be in the Australian squad.
The big thing for me is that of all the keeper-batsmen or batting-keepers getting around in the BBL, none of them have the ability to really bat well down the order.
Paine’s been opening, so has Tim Ludemann, Jimmy Peirson and Ben Dunk (who hasn’t been keeping). Wade is the incumbent Twenty20 keeper, but he’s been largely ineffective batting down the order for Australia. Handscomb hasn’t batted above number four this season for the Stars.
We know spin is going to be a major factor for the WT20 in India, so surely it would make sense to pick the players best equipped to deal with what’s likely to be served up? What do they say about doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting different results?
Anyway, I’ve said enough about Handscomb over time. Watch him yourself and see what I’ve been going on about. Hopefully, the Australian selectors are seeing it too.