'Quality humans' put Nevill back on track

NSW gloveman focused on improvement after the most difficult summer of his cricket career

Having endured the most difficult summer of his cricket career, Peter Nevill is back on track thanks to a couple of quality humans and tweak in his batting technique.

Nevill started the 2016-17 season as Australia’s preferred Test gloveman, but after a lean patch with the bat and his team suffering a fifth straight loss, the ‘keeper was dropped in favour of Victoria captain Matthew Wade.

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The axing put a hold on Nevill’s Test career after playing 17 consecutive matches in the Baggy Green since his debut at Lord’s in 2015, where he took over the gloves from veteran Brad Haddin.

But matters got worse for the 31-year-old when a freak accident threatened to end his season.

Representing the Melbourne Renegades in January, Nevill was struck in the jaw by the bat of Brad Hodge, which had slipped from the grasp of the Adelaide Strikers captain.

Fortunately there was no break, only a burst blood vessel, and Nevill was able to resume the Sheffield Shield season with the Blues, where he scored his second first-class century of the summer against Tasmania last week.

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Nevill says it was a pair of his NSW teammates that helped him through the tough trot, two players who have been in a similar position to the classy gloveman.

"In cricket circles, Moises Henriques and Steve O’Keefe,” Nevill told The Unplayable Podcast when asked about who he confided in during the tough stages of the summer.

"They’re two guys that have had some international experience and tasted the highs and lows of what it can be playing international cricket for Australia.

"They’ve both got a very pragmatic view on cricket as well and are both quality humans and two of my favourites.

"I leant on them a little bit but I was pretty quickly focused on what I needed to do start moving forward and getting better."

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Australia’s five consecutive losses (three against Sri Lanka, two against South Africa) saw a seismic upheaval of the Test team, with five players dropped from the side that suffered an innings defeat at the hands of the Proteas in Hobart.

Nevill was one of the quintet of outcasts, having averaged only 15.89 in his last 10 Test match innings despite holding his own behind the stumps.

"It was extremely disappointing," Nevill said. "You put your heart and soul into playing for your country and that’s unfortunately what happens when you’re not delivering.

"It was a very difficult time but I certainly didn’t dwell on it for too long.

"I picked myself up and focused on moving forward and getting better.

"That’s the main thing, I’ve got to improve as a cricketer.

"All my focus has been on doing that, the whole way through my career, but even more so now."

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While accepting he was dropped was undoubtedly hard to take, Nevill said he knew his place in the team was up for grabs with the team losing and without a big score on the board.

"You certainly can’t be losing Test matches and expect your spot is safe," he said.

"Coming into that summer I knew after Sri Lanka I’d be under pressure to make runs and if you’re not performing you don’t stay in the side for very long.

"The scrutiny definitely goes to another level when the team’s losing.

"There’s a lot of public discussion about what needs to be done with the team and that’s to be expected, that’s par for the course, the life and times of a professional cricketer."

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Nevill’s replacement, Wade, was chosen on the back of his ability with the bat, which had yielded two centuries in his previous 12 Test appearance.

But Wade’s niggly, aggressive behaviour behind the stumps was also pointed to when he leapfrogged Nevill as the premier Test ‘keeper in the country.

Wade can at times be confrontational and doesn’t mind having the odd discussion with the facing batsman – be it friendly advice, encouragement for the bowler (see: Niiiiice Gary) or some playful ‘banter’ as it’s now known – while Nevill is more introverted and tends to keep the banter to a minimum.

But Nevill says team and individual performance, in the form of wins, runs, catches and stumpings, speak louder than words behind the pegs.

"There’s so much public discussion about what the team needs because when you’re not winning there’s going to be a lot of that kind of discussion," Nevill said on whether Wade’s vocal approach played a part in his return to the Test XI.

"It’s without merit.

"If you’re performing well and making lots of runs and keeping well and the team’s winning, I don’t think anybody would be concerned if you were whistling Justin Bieber tunes.

"Essentially it’s about performance and winning, and if the team’s winning not only the public but a lot of other people will also be much more relaxed about the way things are going."

Nevill returned to Shield cricket in the aftermath of his Test omission and let his performances do the talking, scoring an unbeaten 179 against Tasmania in Hobart while the third Test played out in Adelaide. 

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"I’ve continued to work very hard on my game and improve as much as I can and it was great going back to New South Wales," Nevill said.

"(Former Blues batsman) Dom Thornely picked up a couple of key points for me that have helped with my batting as well, just a little thing with the stillness of my head and the little tinkering with the back lift.

"Those thing have held me in good stead and everything feels very organised at the moment."

The right-hander picked up right where he left off to begin the second half of the Shield season with another century, this time at the MCG, and says the playing for the Blues is now all that matters.

"I love playing cricket for Australia," he said.

"Pulling your Baggy Green on and playing for your country is incredible.

"But the focus for me now is performing well for NSW.

"We don’t sit there worrying about the Test team.

"We sit there worrying about winning the Shield, hopefully making more runs and helping NSW win a few more games."