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AUSTRALIA V PAKISTAN TESTS

Handscomb's solace for struggling Maddinson

16 December 2016
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Handscomb backs down-on-confidence teammate to put disappointing start to Test career behind him

About the Writer:
 @ARamseyCricket

Andrew Ramsey is the senior writer for cricket.com.au. He previously wrote for the Guardian, The Australian, The Times, The Telegraph, The Hindu and Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack and the author of The Wrong Line.

Among the enduring truisms of international cricket is that earning selection accounts for less than half the battle.

The sterner test, especially in the format that bears the same title, is grasping an opportunity when it is dangled to thereby transform a noteworthy moment into a substantial career.

And there might be no more compelling illustration of how the contrasting threads of that narrative can play out than the disparate, unfolding stories of Peter Handscomb and Nic Maddinson.

Quick single: Pakistan crumble in Gabba spotlight

Handscomb ended his sixth day as a working Test cricketer on an exalted high, a maiden century freshly minted alongside his name and comfortable that his place in Australia’s starting XI is secure for the remainder of the current home summer.

And quite likely into the subsequent tour to India and beyond, if his returns continue to keep step with the quiet surety he’s shown since being handed his Baggy Green Cap in Adelaide last month.

Peter Perfect breaks through for debut century

Despite a quirky technique that has him poised deeper in his crease than are punters in the newly installed Gabba swimming pool, Handscomb now stands among the top three per cent of batters to have put together a couple of Tests.

With an average of 80, and the prospect of pushing it higher before this match concludes if he revisits the form that carried him from 91 to a Test hundred with a pair of authoritative blows this afternoon.

"I’d been toying with the idea of trying to hit Yasir (Shah, Pakistan’s star leg spinner) over the top for most of the day, most of the game to be fair,” Handscomb said at the close of a day thoroughly dominated by Australia who reduced the tourists to 8-97 having scored 429.

"And they brought the field up to try and keep me off strike, so I was like ‘well there’s a chance if he tosses it up, I’ll give it a crack and see what happens’.

"That was only meant to go two bounces and trickle over the rope, but I was lucky enough that it went the full distance (for six) and I was able to capitalise on a wide one next over."

Maddinson's rocky road in Test career continues

That boundary through point from a "wide one" not only carried Handscomb into esteemed company and short-term Test job security, but it ended something of a drought in Australian cricket ranks.

Prior to that moment the most recent Victorian-born batsman to score a Test century for Australia was Marcus North, in India more than six years ago.

But North spent most of his cricket life, and played all of his senior cricket, in the west and is only ever regarded as a Victorian when birth certificates are the sole criterion.

Quick single: Handscomb hundred passes the test

So the last born and raised Victorian to achieve the feat was Brad Hodge against South Africa at the WACA Ground in 2005, which means the 41-year-old might finally be able to shuffle off into retirement now that the baton having formally been passed.

And the prospect that Handscomb he might become the first Victorian to install himself as a fixture in Australia’s middle-order since Dean Jones.

At the demonstrably shallower end of that scale flounders Maddinson, in the bottom three per cent of players to have batted more than once at Test level and with a current career average of a half.

Collapse! Watch the eight day-two Pakistan wickets

And the uncomfortable prospect of being marooned on that fraction if he is not retained in the squad for the back-to-back Tests in Melbourne and Sydney over the holiday season which is expected to be unveiled at the end of this match.

The left-hander will be restlessly hoping that this Test, unlike his debut match in Adelaide last month in defiance of the current state of the game in Brisbane, affords him a second innings and a chance to show his wares at the elite level.

Because as things stand, the left-hander is staring hard at an unwanted place in his nation’s cricket records.

Quick single: Australia's number six problem

Alongside Victorian spinner John Holland – who made his Test debut in Sri Lanka earlier this year – as the only Australians to have played a pair of Test matches for an aggregate return of a solitary run.

Although in fairness to Holland, he was selected as a specialist bowler and number 11 batter who remained 0 not out in three of his four innings and therefore boasts a superior average (1.00) to Maddinson’s current mark of 0.5.

The danger for Maddinson is that fellow left-hander Shaun Marsh, who has missed the past three Test matches with a fractured finger, is expected to be fit for the second Commonwealth Bank Test against Pakistan starting at the MCG on Boxing Day.

Watch all 10 of Australia's first-innings wickets

Marsh has played much of his stop-start international career as a middle-order batter, turned opener in more recent times.

And while the impending KFC Big Bash League season means that Marsh will not have an opportunity to show he has regained red ball form after his enforced lay-off, neither will Maddinson have that chance to re-state his credentials once the current match is finished.

On his maiden Test outing, the 24-year-old New South Welshman can fairly claim that fortune was not his friend.

Quick single: Stick with Maddinson, urges Hussey

The fast, late-swinging yorker unleashed by South Africa’s Kagiso Rabada at Adelaide Oval would have done for many a batter with previous experiences in Test cricket upon which to call.

Perhaps even against a pink ball, under the surreal glare of artificial light.

But he can tender no such mitigation in his second appearance, which was even shorter – in both balls faced and minutes at the crease – than his inaugural effort.

Handscomb in a hurry through the nineties

It could easily have yielded the same lack of runs had Pakistan’s slipshod fielding been a little less so, with Azhar Ali’s dropped chance from the luckless Yasir Shah ranking as one of the more straightforward opportunities if that can term can apply to reflex catches at short leg.

That was the third ball of Maddinson’s innings, the 15th faced in his Test career, and he was forced to anxiously wait another pair of deliveries before he nudged Yasir around the corner to get himself on the Test match scoreboard.

His next anxious moments will come if Australia somehow bats a second time in this Test and require the services of their number six, or more likely when the selectors convene to nominate their squad for the Boxing Day even in a week’s time.

Quick single: In a nutshell: Australia's day at the Gabba

Though if he was looking for reassurance, it came from a teammate who knows what it’s like to be a couple of games into a Test career.

Even if a paucity of runs are not his pressing issue.

"No real advice for him,” Handscomb said immediately after day two when asked if he had some tips he might pass on to his down-on-confidence teammate.

"He’s been looking pretty good in the nets, he knows his game.

"He’s pretty comfortable with his set-up and his plans going into it.

"He got a great ball from Rabada (in Adelaide) and he made one judgement error in the first innings of this Test.

"So I wouldn’t be too worried about it.

"I think he’ll come out and if he gets the opportunity in the next innings he’ll make some runs."

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