Could Peter Handscomb fix Australia’s wicketkeeping woes?

Ronan O'Connell Columnist

By Ronan O'Connell, Ronan O'Connell is a Roar Expert

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    In Peter Handscomb’s past five first-class matches as a wicketkeeper, he churned out 417 runs at an average of 60. Meanwhile, Australia’s Test keepers have averaged 18 with the bat in the past three years.

    The Australian line-up has badly lacked balance because of this paucity of runs from glovemen Matt Wade, Peter Nevill and Brad Haddin.

    It has left Australia’s lower order more vulnerable and made it hard to justify a batting all-rounder in the top seven.

    Haddin averaged just 15 in his final dozen matches, then Nevill replaced him and also underperformed, averaging 22 from 17 consecutive Tests. Wade was chosen to replace Nevill because of his perceived ability to boost Australia’s batting. Instead he’s looked ordinary with the blade over the past four Tests, making 50 runs at an average of 12.

    This minimal input from Australia’s keepers is particularly relevant ahead of their blockbuster Test series this year against India and England. Those teams have the two longest batting line-ups in Test cricket, getting a huge amount of runs from number seven down.

    Indian number eight Ravi Jadeja has three triple-centuries in first-class cricket, while their number nine, Jayant Yadav, just made 221 runs at 74 against England in three Tests.

    England have a frontline bowler in Chris Woakes who averages 36 with the blade in first-class cricket and a wicketkeeper in Jonny Bairstow who made 1470 runs at 59 in Tests just last year alone.

    Jonny Bairstow

    Australia, meanwhile, rely heavily on their top five. While this part of their team is in fine order thanks to the success of rookie batsmen Matt Renshaw and Peter Handscomb, numbers six and seven are huge holes.

    Australia already have used four different players at number six this summer – Mitchell Marsh, Callum Ferguson, Nic Maddinson and Hilton Cartwright – in an effort to address this problem. They still haven’t found a solution.

    Many fans will be wondering, however, whether Australia’s answer to their keeping issue may be looking them square in the grill.

    Handscomb took over behind the stumps yesterday when Wade was forced from the ground due to illness. During 52 overs with the gloves, Handscomb’s keeping was sharp, apart from a couple of misfired spin deliveries which sprayed way down the leg side for byes.

    It was, of course, a minute sample size from which to gauge the standard of Handscomb’s glovework at the highest level. With the SCG pitch offering true pace and bounce, conditions for keeping were far more elementary than Handscomb would encounter in Australia’s next series in India.

    Regardless, he looked comfortable, whether standing back to the quicks or up to the spinners. At the very least, it is heartening that Australia have a backup gloveman of his calibre in their XI in case of instances like Wade’s illness.

    The 25-year-old Victorian is familiar with the understudy role, having often filled in for Wade in Sheffield Shield cricket when the older keeper was injured or away on national duty. Wade’s presence in the Victorian set-up has limited Handscomb to just 14 first-class matches behind the stumps, out of a career haul of 66 matches.

    In those 14 matches, Handscomb has made 783 runs at 37, including eight half-centuries and one century. But eight of those 14 matches were very early in Handscomb’s career – during the 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons. It is only since the start of the 2014-15 season that we’ve seen Handscomb really flourish as a cricketer. That was when he began to pile up the stack of runs which eventually won him a place in the Test team as a batsman.

    There are obvious concerns that were Handscomb handed the gloves permanently at Test level his batting would suffer significantly. It is worth noting, however, that since his blossoming as a player in 2014 he’s had no problem juggling those responsibilities for Victoria in the Shield.

    In that time his scores while playing as a keeper have been 96, 10, 134, 98, 63, 16 and 0. That’s four half-centuries and a ton from just seven innings for a total of 416 runs at 60. Victoria have had such confidence in Handscomb’s ability to balance batting and keeping that they’ve regularly batted him in the top four, while he was playing as a gloveman.

    That’s also a strong indication of their faith in Handscomb’s fitness and durability. The real question though is whether Handscomb’s glovework is close to being Test standard and, if it’s not, whether he can improve upon it as England’s Bairstow has this past year.

    Like Handscomb, Bairstow was not even the first-choice gloveman for his domestic team. His valuable batting and potential with the gloves encouraged England to give him a decent run at the keeping position.

    The results were mixed early on. In England’s four-Test series in South Africa early last year, Bairstow was commanding with the blade, cracking 359 runs at 72. He undid a lot of that good work by missing an incredible seven chances behind the stumps.

    Yet England stuck with him and his glovework has improved steadily, with his solid efforts in their recent Test series in India unrecognisable to his shoddy work from a year ago.

    If Australia were to consider using Handscomb as their Test keeper, they would have to come to terms with the fact he would miss more chances in the short term than the likes of Nevill.

    If he were, however, able to grow into a steady Test keeper who averaged around 40 with the bat in Tests, Australia’s side would be far stronger and more flexible.

    For now, this is all just academic. I doubt Australia are about to burden their rookie batsman with the added task of keeping on the toughest tour there is in India. But if their keepers continue to flop, and Handscomb shines on in the middle order, the selectors may well give his role a serious re-think.

    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 (94)

    • January 6th 2017 @ 8:19am
      Internal Fixation said | January 6th 2017 @ 8:19am | ! Report

      Hi Ronan,

      It’s a great point and although in Australia we get away without a great keeper-bat often on the current flat decks if you look at the last Ashes victory in Australia runs from Haddin and even Mitch Johnson were essential.

      Any series win in India will be remarkable and take left field thinking.

      I think this is a great option and the Bairstow example is interesting.

      I’d keep Handscome at 5 and move S. Marsh into 6.

      Cartwright or even Maxwell at 7 with Starc at 8 and suddenly the batting looks a lot deeper.

      • January 6th 2017 @ 8:59am
        Redsback said | January 6th 2017 @ 8:59am | ! Report

        I agree that we need left-field thinking for India. I’m not sure if this is the solution, but it’s certainty an interesting prospect. It’s basically a toss up between having to create one or two more chances a game with an extra bowler or having to take everything with the best keeper. The problem is that Wade is clearly not the best keeper and he’s out of form with the bat. Either way, he cannot seriously go to India.

        As you point out, playibg him as keeper enables us to play 6 batsmen and an all-rounder. I tend to think for India, it needs to be between Agar and Maxwell. We need three spinner. If Smith is going to bowl himself a bit, we could go with a fast-bowling all-rounder like Mitch Marsh. A batsman who bowls some soft medium pace and does not have the confidence of his captain is not what we need.

    • January 6th 2017 @ 8:27am
      Baz said | January 6th 2017 @ 8:27am | ! Report

      even if nevill average 17. if a guy misses more chances than the difference in thier average its not worth it. its also a momentum killer for the bowling side. i think ppl discount the fight of nevill in perth and in srilanka when he batted with SOK who couldnt run no increase in average there.

      if a guy is averaging 72 pick him as a batsmen cause if they all average that then u will win test matches.

      remember how many times the poms grassed chances against india even dropped the guy who made 300.

      the key to winning is 20 wickets if you gotta make 22 or 23 chances a game then its harder

    • January 6th 2017 @ 8:33am
      Christo the Daddyo said | January 6th 2017 @ 8:33am | ! Report

      Isn’t this just over complicating things? Surely the way to go is to pick the best wicket-keeper in the country and back him.

      • January 6th 2017 @ 8:49am
        jameswm said | January 6th 2017 @ 8:49am | ! Report

        Yeah but if they’re a 25 average batsman, it makes our tail very, very long.

        • January 6th 2017 @ 9:25am
          Christo the Daddyo said | January 6th 2017 @ 9:25am | ! Report

          But aren’t we just covering up the failings of the top order? If the batsmen do their job then if the w/c averages in the mid 20s I don’t really see that as a big issue. And apart from Bird, the tail isn’t too bad really.

          • January 6th 2017 @ 9:35am
            jameswm said | January 6th 2017 @ 9:35am | ! Report

            The top order will wobble every now and then. Every top order does. You can’t simply say the top 5 have to score all the runs, and we won’t expect anything from 6 down.

            • January 6th 2017 @ 10:59am
              Christo the Daddyo said | January 6th 2017 @ 10:59am | ! Report

              Sure, but it’s not like the tail is full of bunnies from the wicket-keeper down. Just look at Starc’s effort in Melbourne last week…

              • January 6th 2017 @ 11:13am
                jameswm said | January 6th 2017 @ 11:13am | ! Report

                A one off with runs on the board. You expect him to do anything like that in India more than once – or even once?

                I’d rather rely on a good 6-7 than bowlers batting at 8-9 who can hit it a bit.

              • January 6th 2017 @ 12:31pm
                Christo the Daddyo said | January 6th 2017 @ 12:31pm | ! Report

                He’s already done it in India – got a 99 in Mohali.

          • Roar Rookie

            January 6th 2017 @ 9:42am
            Dogs Boddy said | January 6th 2017 @ 9:42am | ! Report

            Exactly.

            Pick the best wicketkeeper in the country period. Runs are a bonus. Neville can handle himself with the bat. Yes his average has been poor but then again nobody in the team was really performing during this period and following Mitch Marsh out to the middle couldn’t have done him any favours.

            If he isn’t a great bat then play him at 7. This still gives the bowlers a bit of cover, but far more importantly keeps the premier wicketkeeper in the side. Punishing the wicketkeeper because batsmen 1-6 are not able to do the job is a fools errand. The same could be said for leaving Jackson Bird out of the Hobart test because his batting is not up to speed. If you are relying on 7-11 to make you bulk runs the problem is with the top order. Not their ability to bat.

            Picking a wicketkeeper based purely on his batting is equally foolish. I point you to Matthew Wade and Wayne Phillips as two prime examples.

          • January 6th 2017 @ 11:10am
            Gav said | January 6th 2017 @ 11:10am | ! Report

            Strongly agree.
            Pick Neville and focus on finding ourselves another specialist bat, who can bat 6.
            Nevilles got more runs in him than what his shown so far in tests.

            Another thing that’s urking me is where are our young batsmen who can bowl handy part time overs?
            It seems the days of Greg Chappell, Doug Walters AB Kepler Wessels, the Waughs are gone.
            This is what effects the balance of our team and the perceived need for Joe Bloe allrounder.

      • Roar Guru

        January 6th 2017 @ 8:56am
        Rob McHugh said | January 6th 2017 @ 8:56am | ! Report

        Yeah hasn’t really been good enough to be the best WK since Adam Gilchrist. He changed the game for the wicketkeeper.

        • January 6th 2017 @ 10:04am
          Sideline said | January 6th 2017 @ 10:04am | ! Report

          Very rough on Brad Haddin. He was a great ‘keeper, but also a very good batsman in his time, before his eye went later in his career.

      • January 6th 2017 @ 12:57pm
        Mike Dugg said | January 6th 2017 @ 12:57pm | ! Report

        In this day and age you can’t get away with a keeper averaging in the 20s. Nevill had the worst average of all international keepers

        • Roar Guru

          January 6th 2017 @ 7:07pm
          JGK said | January 6th 2017 @ 7:07pm | ! Report

          Yes you can. It’s a shame we don’t keep stats for negative runs after a drop.

      • January 6th 2017 @ 4:06pm
        Felix said | January 6th 2017 @ 4:06pm | ! Report

        I agree, Hartley would be a massive boost, is adept at playing the spinners too.

    • January 6th 2017 @ 8:53am
      Celtic334 said | January 6th 2017 @ 8:53am | ! Report

      I am not for Handscomb to be the keeper, however selecting him as the wicket keeper would finally allow the selectors to live out their dreams by having a permanent all rounder in the team. Maybe even 3

      Renshaw
      Warner
      Khawaja
      Smith
      Handscomb
      Maxwell
      M Marsh
      Faulkner
      Starc
      Hazelwood
      Lyon

      • January 6th 2017 @ 8:56am
        James Jackson said | January 6th 2017 @ 8:56am | ! Report

        Would you have Handscomb at 5 if he’s also keeping?

        Put Cummins in over Faulkner and I might just need some smelling salts, dang it’s a juicy prospect (since Pat is almost an all-rounder now anyway).

        • January 6th 2017 @ 9:45am
          Celtic334 said | January 6th 2017 @ 9:45am | ! Report

          Personally id have Nevill, but if we were to play a batsman as a keeper id stack the team with alll rounders. Aka South Africa 1999-2003. Boje, Kluesner, Kallis, Pollock.

        • January 6th 2017 @ 4:33pm
          Armchair Expert said | January 6th 2017 @ 4:33pm | ! Report

          If Handsome keeps and Australia bats first, it would be an advantage for him to bat higher for that innings.

        • January 6th 2017 @ 9:17pm
          Geoff Foley said | January 6th 2017 @ 9:17pm | ! Report

          I think every cricket journo over the world will have a wet dream if Cummins, Starc and Haze can start a test together.

      • January 6th 2017 @ 9:32am
        matthew_gently said | January 6th 2017 @ 9:32am | ! Report

        What about Cartwright and Henriques in for Smith and Warner?

        • January 6th 2017 @ 9:46am
          Celtic334 said | January 6th 2017 @ 9:46am | ! Report

          That’d be right up the selectors alley. Surely a team with 11 all rounders is the way to go.

        • Roar Rookie

          January 6th 2017 @ 10:25am
          Lancey5times said | January 6th 2017 @ 10:25am | ! Report

          🙂

        • January 6th 2017 @ 11:44am
          Rob JM said | January 6th 2017 @ 11:44am | ! Report

          The “other talent” Australian squad
          Finch, best t20 player
          Bancroft, best short leg fielder
          Henriques (c) most balaced player
          Klinger best player with poor ave to miss out
          Maddinson, most amusing selection.
          Wade, best nice Gary,
          Mitch Marsh best potential
          Zampa, best fieldsman off face.
          Cummins, best rate of injury
          Mennie, best bowler who bats
          Pattinson, best impersonation of Italian sports car.
          12th man,
          Maxwell, too much talent to make any team.

          • January 6th 2017 @ 12:08pm
            TheCunningLinguistic said | January 6th 2017 @ 12:08pm | ! Report

            “Nice, Robby!” 🙂

          • January 6th 2017 @ 12:33pm
            Christo the Daddyo said | January 6th 2017 @ 12:33pm | ! Report

            Shame you couldn’t find room for…

            Shane Watson – best reviewer of decisions that should never be reviewed

          • January 7th 2017 @ 2:35am
            dan ced said | January 7th 2017 @ 2:35am | ! Report

            Klinger! should make the next Aus T20 team, yeahhhh!

      • January 6th 2017 @ 4:24pm
        Adrian said | January 6th 2017 @ 4:24pm | ! Report

        Mitchell Marsh isn’t in form, and Maxwell has lost form recently, so they can be cut, but Faulkner for sure. I also think you are missing Shaun Marsh, who should be back from injury in time for the India series.

    • January 6th 2017 @ 8:53am
      James Jackson said | January 6th 2017 @ 8:53am | ! Report

      The prospect of Handscomb keeping and playing as well as he currently is is incredibly seductive, but perhaps might be just a bit too much to lay on him in India. He’s going to need to be focused on making good runs first and foremost.

      Plus, Nevill will come good – he can play spin well and is our best ‘keeper for India. He hit that big double straight after being dropped – I think he’s hungry and would do better in his second stint than his first.

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

        Agreed not in India. But I would make it a focus after that to work on both skill sets.

        I’d take Hartley or Nevill to India. Both could handle it tough.

    • January 6th 2017 @ 8:54am
      jameswm said | January 6th 2017 @ 8:54am | ! Report

      The first thing is this – how deep would our batting look with a 45+ average guy at 7 (like Gilly)? Right now we’re not getting runs past 5.

      Next – how good is Handscomb’s keeping? I would wager it is better than Wade right now. And with focus and good training, it would get to Gilly’s level. Gilly was never a great gloveman (like Healy), but he didn’t miss too many chances.

      Most of our keepoing is done to quicks. I have no doubt Handscomb could handle that. As for spinners, he couldn’t be any worse than Wade. Can he be Nevill’s level?

      This would mean bringing say Lynn in to 5 (once he gets some red ball cricket under his belt), Cartwright (or in India Maxwell) at 6, SOK at 8, Starc at 9 – and suddenly we’re getting some depth. More if Cummins or Pattinson comes in as the 3rd seamer.

      • January 6th 2017 @ 9:17am
        Nordburg said | January 6th 2017 @ 9:17am | ! Report

        Whilst everybody is going crazy over Lynn,yes he’s smashing them at T20,he hasn’t scored a Shield hundred in 2 seasons.Injury has played a major part,but therein lies the problem.There are serious doubts about his future in the longer form of the game.His shoulder has degenerated to the point he can’t throw further than the length of the pitch with any substance.He can’t play back to back days at the moment because the shoulder won’t allow him to back up.T20 suits him because there is at least a few days to rest and get a cortisone injection

        • January 6th 2017 @ 9:37am
          jameswm said | January 6th 2017 @ 9:37am | ! Report

          Did you miss the part where I said “once he gets some red ball cricket under his belt”?

          He averages 44 in FC cricket.

          I can’t comment on the extent of his shoulder injury. However – he did seem to hit the ball reasonably well last night, don’t you think?

          • January 6th 2017 @ 10:33am
            Nordburg said | January 6th 2017 @ 10:33am | ! Report

            Yes I did read that,but that’s the issue.He is having serious doubts himself about whether he’ll play FC cricket in the foreseeable future.As I said,he can’t play back to back days.If the Heat were scheduled to play today,he’d be ruled out.

            • January 6th 2017 @ 11:15am
              jameswm said | January 6th 2017 @ 11:15am | ! Report

              He’s having doubts?

              When I saw him interviewed, he said aftet the Big Bash he wanted to get the rest of the Shield season under his belt. I didn’t hear any doubts.

        • Roar Guru

          January 6th 2017 @ 9:51am
          Michael Keeffe said | January 6th 2017 @ 9:51am | ! Report

          If he gets fit then pick Lynn. His f/c record is much superior to what David Warner’s was when they plucked him out of T20 cricket. I don’t think taking Lynn to India is an option, but if he plays the rest of the shield season, stays injury free and has a good start to the Shield season in October then he’d have to be on the radar for the Ashes home series.

          • January 6th 2017 @ 10:35am
            Nordburg said | January 6th 2017 @ 10:35am | ! Report

            I doubt anyone is questioning his talent to play Test cricket,but his shoulder is the issue.There is a distinct possibility that he’ll just tour the world playing T20’s making a motza

        • January 6th 2017 @ 4:25pm
          Adrian said | January 6th 2017 @ 4:25pm | ! Report

          Lynn is a minor risk, yes, but I think it is inevitable he will eventually play tests, and, with everyone failing at number 6, it wouldn’t be the worst choice in the world. For me it is a choice of Cartwright or Lynn for the backup batsman position, with Shaun Marsh obviously slotting in ahead of them both.

      • January 6th 2017 @ 10:04am
        Rob JM said | January 6th 2017 @ 10:04am | ! Report

        Lynn’s average is inflated by the large hundreds he scores. He only scores 50+ once every 3.8 innings. Patterson and maxwell are much better options as they are more consistent. Inconsistent batsmen give you regular batting colapses.

        • January 6th 2017 @ 10:12am
          James Jackson said | January 6th 2017 @ 10:12am | ! Report

          Lynn is enough of a talent that when he starts making first class runs Australia should try to include him, he can bat long and turn a match in the same manner as Warner. He’s proven himself to have a test temperament to go with being the cleanest hitter in world cricket with a compromised shoulder.

        • January 6th 2017 @ 11:32am
          Red Kev said | January 6th 2017 @ 11:32am | ! Report

          Haha you’re average can’t be “inflated” by scoring big runs! It’s an average! HAHA

          • January 6th 2017 @ 11:52am
            Rob JM said | January 6th 2017 @ 11:52am | ! Report

            You need two batsmen per innings to score runs to be competitive. If your batsmen dont score regularly enough, ie a 50 every 3 innings on average, then you will loose more games than you win. Scoring frequency times average is a much better method of detetmining who the best batsmen are. Yes average is average, but average does not equal ability to perform, as voges just demonstrated.

            • January 6th 2017 @ 12:29pm
              Red Kev said | January 6th 2017 @ 12:29pm | ! Report

              Yeah because Voges filled his boots playing battlers!

      • January 6th 2017 @ 12:16pm
        Brian said | January 6th 2017 @ 12:16pm | ! Report

        Even Gilly who batted 7 in a great side only managed 8 years of test cricket as a keeper batsman.

        • January 6th 2017 @ 4:11pm
          Matth said | January 6th 2017 @ 4:11pm | ! Report

          That was more to do with its starting late. Healey kept hm out of the test team for nearly five years after his ODI debut.

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