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AUSTRALIA A V SOUTH AFRICA A

Bancroft finds his mental edge

27 July 2016

Cameron Bancroft - finding new ways to hone his powers of concentration // Getty

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Young WA batsman finding novel ways of dealing with the stresses and pressures of elite sport

About the Writer:
 @AdamBurnett09

Adam Burnett previously wrote for and edited at Inside Cricket magazine and The Sydney Morning Herald in Australia and The Telegraph and the Guardian in the UK.

Greg Chappell once proclaimed the art of batting is 90 per cent mental and 10 per cent physical.

Others through cricket's storied history have shared the sentiment, with the common acceptance being that the toughest battles waged at the crease are those played out between the ears.

As well as being a subscriber to that theory, Cameron Bancroft is diligently working on a means of reflecting that balance in order to maximise his capabilities as a batsman.

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Bancroft, presently in Brisbane ahead of Australia A's series opener against South Africa A at Allan Border Field on Saturday, is the first to admit there have been times – particularly in the past 12 months – that he has become lost in his mind; a victim of his own cluttered thoughts and the pressure he was relentlessly heaping upon his shoulders.

Following Australia's withdrawal from the proposed two-Test tour of Bangladesh last October, the West Australian opener was left frustrated and upset.

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The previous summer, he'd been the best young batsman in the Sheffield Shield, and Bangladesh – with David Warner injured and before the second comings of Usman Khawaja and Joe Burns – loomed as the golden ticket that ultimately never was.

When Bancroft got another opportunity to impress outside his state system – this time with Gloucestershire in the County Championship in April and May this year – he simply wanted it too much.

The end product was 192 runs at 24 in five matches, with a top score of 70; well below the standard he had set at WA.

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"The biggest pressure I felt when I was over there was expectation that I put on myself to do really well," Bancroft explained to cricket.com.au. "I knew it was going to be different over there. I knew there were going to be some challenges.

"But I wanted it so badly. I wanted to do so well, it probably consumed me a little bit in my own mind.

"I recognised that. And that's OK; the biggest thing I learnt was that sometimes you need to let go of control to have ultimate control."

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It's the sort of self-aware statement one would more likely hear from the Dalai Lama than a 23-year-old cricketer.

But under the tutelage of Cricket Australia sports psychologist Michael Lloyd, Bancroft has been developing a mental approach to cricket – and life – that he believes will set him upon a path to success.

No more pressure. No more cluttered thinking. In their stead, mindfulness, achieved through meditation and a change in outlook.

Mindfulness, defined by Lloyd as "a mental skill and discipline involving training your attention to be present focused. It's a conscious, non-judgemental state of self-awareness."

Bancroft adds his view: "Being mindful is something you can control in every day of your life. The little things like just when you're sitting down and eating, it's amazing how often you'll be on your phone or reading the newspaper. But sometimes being able to just appreciate what you've got, switch off, is a really important skill to have. When your mind is so occupied, so busy and really cluttered, I think you lose that clarity and that ability to have control of yourself."

And mindfulness meditation, which Lloyd explains as "one of the most effective ways of teaching players to focus their attention on the present moment".

Again, Bancroft offers his take: "(Mindfulness meditation) is something that I can be aware of at any point of the day; being able to sit there, be comfortable, mull over thoughts and let go of things in your own mind is, I think, a really good skill to learn."

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Lloyd agrees, explaining that such exercises of the mind have been shown to reap considerable benefits to those well-versed in the practice.

"There is a growing body of evidence indicating that regular mindfulness training can result in significant physical, mental health, and performance related benefits," he told cricket.com.au. "A few years ago Cricket Australia partnered with Smiling Mind to develop a cricket-specific mindfulness program, to provide players with a practical tool to help develop these skills."

The concepts have clearly struck a chord with Bancroft, who quickly became renowned for his powers of concentration at the crease with a number of impressive feats of mental endurance, including a 13-hour marathon against the Blues back in the 2014-15 Sheffield Shield season.

"Cameron has always had a keen interest in the mental side of the game," Lloyd added. "He has worked hard on developing these skills, and is obviously experiencing the related benefits.

"Generally speaking, if you have the ability to calm and focus your mind, stay composed, maintain perspective, and attend to what is important to you – either on or off the field – you are going to experience significant benefits."

As the events of the past 12 months underscore, the development of these arts are still very much a work in progress for Bancroft, however they provide a telling insight into the mind-set he – and many others, such as Australia's world number one golfer Jason Day – takes into professional sport.

"It's something I've developed and got better at over time – it develops your ability to have a clear mind, and if you've got a clear mind you can bring that balance into your life," Bancroft said. 

"It's amazing how little things can impact you, build up on you, and affect all the different components of your life – work related, personal life.

"That's the really big thing I've been able to learn about myself over the last 12 months and I want to keep developing that.

"Everyone goes through hardships – I certainly have done over the past 6-12 months – but I think the skills I've been learning slowly over the last few years, I'm starting to get better at them and it's a really good sign."

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Critical also to Bancroft's new way of thinking has been perspective. And context. Where cricket sits in the broader scheme.

County cricket was a chance to impress Australia's National Selection Panel – who are all too aware of what in 2019 will be an 18-year overseas Ashes drought – in the type of conditions the Test team will be facing in three years' time.

His relative failure could have triggered another downturn of anger and frustration. Instead, he chose to take the positives from the experience.

"From a personal point of view I didn't have a fantastic time with the bat, but I learnt so much about my game, being able to play in different conditions and the little adjustments that you need to make," he said.

"It's certainly very different to playing in Australia, and I'm really grateful I went through that experience – I think I'll be a better player for it.

"Apart from the personal aspirations of playing for your country, playing county cricket was something I'd always wanted to do.

"Whether or not that dream of playing in an Ashes series happens, that's out of my control.

"That's something I'm pretty content with; for me it's just about enjoying playing.

"Being able to play good-quality cricket for nearly 12 months of the year, it's something I'm so grateful to do. I get to wake up every day and play cricket, which is pretty good."

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Which brings us full circle. To Saturday's clash with a South Africa A side set to feature the likes of Vernon Philander and Wayne Parnell.

"It's a great opportunity for me," Bancroft acknowledged. "This is a big stepping stone for me getting closer to the player I want to be.

"South Africa have got some really good players who have played a bit of Test cricket, so it's another chance for me to keep improving, and scoring runs, which is what I love doing."

Every match of the Australia A winter series will be live streamed on cricket.com.au and the Cricket Australia Live App.

Full Australia A series details

Australia A squad to face South Africa A: Peter Handscomb (c), Cameron Bancroft, Scott Boland, Jon Holland, Jake Lehmann, Joe Mennie, Kurtis Patterson, Matt Renshaw, Marcus Stoinis, Mitchell Swepson, Chris Tremain, Sam Whiteman, Dan Worrall.

Full Australia A squad: Cameron Bancroft, Scott Boland, Cameron Boyce, Travis Dean, Peter Handscomb, Sam Heazlett, Jake Lehmann, Chris Lynn, Joe Mennie, Kurtis Patterson, Joel Paris, Matt Renshaw, Kane Richardson, Alex Ross, Chadd Sayers, Marcus Stoinis, Mitchell Swepson, Chris Tremain, Dan Worrall, Sam Whiteman.

National Performance Squad: Sean Abbott (NSW), Hilton Cartwright (WA), Kyle Gardiner (WA), David Grant (SA), Sam Grimwade (Vic), Sam Harper (Vic), Sam Heazlett (Qld), Clint Hinchliffe (WA), Josh Inglis (WA), Caleb Jewell (Tas), David Moody (WA), Arjun Nair (NSW), Tom O'Donnell (Vic), Matthew Renshaw (Qld), Matthew Short (Vic), Mitchell Swepson (Qld).

South Africa A four-day squad: Stephen Cook (c), Qaasim Adams, Temba Bavuma, Dean Elgar, Heino Kuhn, Sisanda Magala, Keshav Maharaj, Duanne Olivier, Wayne Parnell, Andile Phehlukwayo, Vernon Philander, Dane Piedt, Omphile Ramela, Stiaan van Zyl, Dane Vilas, Hardus Viljoen 

South Africa A one-day squad: Wayne Parnell (c), Qaasim Adams, Marchant de Lange, Reeza Hendricks, Heino Kuhn, Eddie Leie, Sisanda Magala, Aaron Phangiso, Andile Phehlukwayo, Dwaine Pretorius, Rilee Rossouw, Malusi Siboto, Khaya Zondo, David Miller, Dane Vilas 

India A squad: Naman Ojha (capt), Faiz Fazal, Akhil Herwadkar, Shreyas Iyer, Karun Nair, Manish Pandey, Kedar Jadhav, Vijay Shankar, Axar Patel, Jayant Yadav, Varun Aaron, Dhawal Kulkarni, Jaydev Unadkat, Barinder Sran, Shahbaz Nadeem, Sanju Samson.


Fixtures


Four-day matches 

30 July – 2 August, Australia A v South Africa A, Allan Border Field, Brisbane
6 August – 9 August, Australia A v South Africa A, Tony Ireland Stadium, Townsville

One-day Series

13 August, South Africa A v NPS, Tony Ireland Stadium, Townsville
14 August, Australia A v India A, Tony Ireland Stadium, Townsville
16 August, Australia A v NPS, Tony Ireland Stadium, Townsville
17 August, South Africa A v India A, Tony Ireland Stadium, Townsville
20 August, Australia A v South Africa A, Tony Ireland Stadium, Townsville
21 August, India A v NPS, Tony Ireland Stadium, Townsville
24 August, NPS v Australia A, Harrup Park, Mackay
25 August, South Africa A v India A, Harrup Park, Mackay
27 August, NPS v India A, Harrup Park, Mackay
28 August, Australia A v South Africa A, Harrup Park, Mackay
30 August, Australia A v India A, Harrup Park, Mackay
31 August, South Africa A v NPS, Harrup Park, Mackay
3 September; Final 3 v 4, Harrup Park, Mackay
4 September, Final 1 v 2, Harrup Park, Mackay

Four-day matches

8-11 September, Australia A v India A, Allan Border Field, Brisbane
15-18 September, Australia A v India A, Allan Border Field, Brisbane

Meg Lanning Steve Smith

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