Peter Handscomb leans against the brick wall at the side of the tiny grandstand at Hurstville Oval, a well-earned stubby in hand. He’s just peeled off an effortless century in the JLT Cup, picking up where he left off for in the Test arena last summer.
After a first year abroad with the national side that has taken him to India, Bangladesh and back to India, and in between a stint alongside England captain Joe Root at Yorkshire, he admits it’s good to be home, or close enough to it.
It was up the M5 at the SCG last November where he and Nic Maddinson were told by national selector Mark Waugh they would be making their Test debuts and promptly handed Cricket polo shirts to appear before the television cameras in front of the Ladies Stand. Handscomb had just scored a double century against a full-strength NSW, exquisitely timed in all senses with in meltdown after a disastrous defeat to South Africa in Hobart and searching for reinforcements.
Nine months after the breakout first international summer that followed he is a fixture in Smith’s top five, his emergence well documented. We’ve all heard about his past as a top junior tennis player, his English parents and British passport, and we’ve seen that so-called homespun technique.
Handscomb himself is intent on adding more memorable performances to the profile. There’s been a few already. After he charged through the nervous 90s to his maiden Test hundred against Pakistan at the Gabba we then got to see him dig in courageously in Ranchi, saving a Test in India alongside Shaun Marsh to ensure a live series finale.
Now, further emboldened after spending his travels playing with and against the world’s best, he feels ready for whatever England has in store for him in the Ashes.
“I was lucky enough to play with Root, I played against [Virat]Kohli, I played against [Kane] Williamson, I played with Smith,” Handscomb says.
“There’s the top four batters in the world. You can pick up little things from each of them. If you try and emulate them then you’re on the right path I reckon.
“It’s great to see that those four all bat completely differently, which is a nice feeling because it just means there is no such thing as the ‘right’ technique anymore. It’s the right technique for yourself and as long as you find that and back that then you can go a long way.”
If Smith has done just that with remarkable success, Handscomb is on the way.
He’s well aware, though, that he enters the marquee series against England viewed somewhat differently from the newcomer who was welcomed to a new-look side in Adelaide last year. Averaging almost 100 in your first Test summer will do that. Having introduced himself as the trustworthy buffer between Smith and the middle and lower order, the bar has naturally been set higher.
“I was quite lucky last year … I was coming in off the back of big change in n cricket and it was almost as if even if I did fail it wasn’t going to be that bad. I was going to be given that opportunity,” Handscomb says.
“So mentally that can help your game. This year I’ve got my own expectations in terms of what I want to do and how I want to take the Ashes. But ultimately I can’t think about that too much.”
The newly installed Victoria captain comes off as unaffected by the pace of his rise in the last year. He approaches the game meticulously and with the wisdom of a player older than his 26 years and with more experience than his 10 Tests. Were Smith not only two years older and with the best part of a decade potentially in front of him you would almost say Handscomb has future n captain written all over him. For now and the foreseeable future, though, selectors simply want him to make runs.
“I think I’ve definitely grown again as a player,” he says. “That comes with just playing more cricket with better guys and against better guys.
“I had expectation when I went to Yorkshire as well. You’re the overseas pro so you’ve got to make runs. You put that pressure onto yourself and hopefully grow as a player.
“You get used to really tough swinging and seaming conditions in England and then you get really spinning conditions in India. So to come here, I’ve got my base structure for fast and bouncy wickets. If it starts seaming I’ve now got a plan; if it starts spinning I’ve got another plan.”
A key part of ‘s plans for the Ashes, Handscomb can’t wait for the first Test at the Gabba in the last week of November but is determined not to get too wound up in the hype of it all. For him the build-up began months ago with banter between a couple of looming England opponents. Root and Jonny Bairstow were among his teammates in the County Championship and the odd friendly barb was exchanged.
That was well before Ben Stokes went berserk in a Bristol street, of course. Lately, Ashes talk has become no laughing matter for England. The plan is for it to stay that way.
“I can’t wait for the Ashes,” Handscomb says. “I think it’s going to be awesome fun. I’m just excited for it. I’m not too worried about performances. I think once you start worrying about all that you can get stuck in your head a little bit.
“As long as I can go out there with a clear mind and understand my game plan and all that I’ll just try and enjoy the experience for what it is. It’s Ashes cricket … it’s pretty bloody good.”