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Opinion

Nic Maddinson and the curse of premature selection

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18th February, 2021
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If runs are the only currency of value in Australian cricket, Nic Maddinson should open his own mint.

A sparkling 77 off 80 balls against a Test-quality NSW attack on Thursday reaffirmed his position as the most consistent Sheffield Shield batsman in the country.

Since moving from NSW to Victoria ahead of the 2018-19 season, Maddinson’s transformation has been significant. After Thursday’s innings, he has now scored 1508 runs for the state at a more-than-healthy average of 79.4.

On the surface, he should be in the frame for every Australian Test squad discussion.

But in reality, he isn’t.

There could be several reasons for this: that no one really knows his best position (Maddinson can bat anywhere between 1-6), that younger prospects are ahead of him in the queue or that he is close, but not quite there.

These can all be true.

But what hurts him is being inside a certain bracket of players that have ‘already had their chance’ at Test level.

That opportunity, as a 24-year-old, came from nowhere in 2016 when he was the beneficiary of a mid-series top-six clean-out after Australia were routed in Hobart by a Kyle Abbott-led South Africa.

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Alongside Matt Renshaw and Peter Handscomb, Maddinson was thrust into the firing line in a pink-ball Test at the Adelaide Oval. Renshaw and Handscomb showed immediate promise, but Maddinson struggled and scored just 27 runs in three Tests.

In truth, he wasn’t ready for the highest level. The left-hander was propelled into the side via a perfect storm; selectors looking for scapegoats after the Bellerive debacle, plus a hundred in a Shield game just weeks prior.

Maddinson was a ‘prospect’ selection, in a similar vein to Renshaw and Handscomb.

Nic Maddinson of Victoria.

(Photo by Mark Evans/Getty Images)

And while the other two remained in the side for longer, it’s notable that none of the three have played a Test for over two years. Yet the Victorian opener is now well ahead in the pecking order, and he continues to rise.

Maddinson’s game is in a far better place to play Test cricket than when he last played in 2016 yet still, prior failures likely count against him.

The same could be said of Moises Henriques, who was also prematurely selected in the Australian Test side back in 2013. Despite a promising debut he then struggled in three subsequent subcontinent Tests, which put a mark through his name for some time.

Henriques is on the record as saying his game is far better placed now to play Test cricket, but is yet to be given another chance.

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For Maddinson, his talent has never been in question — that much was evident on Thursday when he pulled Mitchell Starc in front of square for six on just the second ball of the day — but his temperament was.

However, in the last three seasons he has more than proven himself, and despite dealing with significant setbacks since arriving in Victoria (including a broken arm and two mental health breaks), he continues to score runs in the longer format.

Once seen as a dasher, he now has a far better handle on which balls to attack and has admirably changed perceptions on the back of some big hundreds.

Maddinson’s attacking instinct, pleasingly, remains.

After both sides had batted on a tricky SCG wicket in recent days, none went at a strike rate higher than 50 except Maddinson, whose 77 off 80 was at a juicy 96.25. This, too, against an attack featuring Josh Hazlewood, Mitchell Starc and Nathan Lyon.

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It was the seventh time in his last 11 Shield innings that he has passed 50 — a stat that underlines just how consistent he has been.

Speaking last month during the Big Bash, Maddinson said the motivation to return to the Test side still burned.

Nic Maddinson of the Stars bats during the Big Bash League

(Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

“That (representing Australia again) is why I’m still playing,” he said.

“I’ve only just turned 29 so I feel age is on my side and hopefully I’ve got a lot of time left.”

While his first foray into the Test side didn’t work out, one gets the sense that when given a second go, he is in a far greater position to succeed.