One of the greatest adjustments a domestic cricketer must make in graduating to the highest level of the game is the nature of the way they are tested.
In stepping up from Sheffield Shield to the Test ranks, Cameron Bancroft has had to learn to cope with repeated questions from James Anderson, Stuart Broad and company over four Tests now. Previously, any difficulty against one bowler would only ever be faced twice a season or thrice, at most, if including the Shield final. The Ashes, however, is cricket’s longest duel in many more ways than one.
It is a challenge that was summed up by another thoughtful opening batsman, Ed Cowan, in an ESPNcricinfo column after his debut series against India in 2011-12. “It is this ongoing battle that makes Test cricket like no other examination – certainly drawn far enough out that the state of its participants’ minds and bodies must be exposed,” Cowan wrote. “Each game of the series is played on a different surface, with its individual character testing the technique and temperament of bat and ball.
“This variety provided the greatest thrill – knowing individual players held the cards of advantage in certain conditions, but seeing them have to simply make do in others. I knew Zaheer [Khan], with all his skill of wrist, would attempt to get me out lbw on the slower wickets of Sydney and Adelaide, having dragged me across my stumps before unleashing a wicked inswinger. I would be looking for any width. I knew in Perth that his natural late outswing into the wind would force him to try to take the outside edge. He knew I would be sweating on him getting too straight. Let the staring match begin, mano- -mano.
“Strangely, this intimate contest and laying bare of character took place between two people who have never spoken a word – probably never will – knew nothing about each other barring relative cricket prowess and not once recognised that the other may have succeeded. It was for others to decide the winner. A lengthy timescale in such psychological battles also allows for the pronouncement of “bunnies”. I now understand how the disintegration of Daryl Cullinan by Shane Warne took place. There was simply nowhere to hide.”
To date, Bancroft has fallen somewhat short of the expectations set by his outstanding displays in Shield matches at the start of the season. He put together a substantial second innings in Brisbane, then was unfortunate to have been run out due to a David Warner miscalculation on the first afternoon of the Adelaide day-night Test, but has otherwise been guilty of scrounging his way to starts without going on to major scores. In his last opportunity before the Test squad for South Africa is named, he knows he must go to the well once more to find a way through England’s seamers.
“It’s interesting isn’t it,” Bancroft said when asked about the long duel. “The teams, the longer you play against them, they obviously develop an understanding of what your game is about and you also develop an understanding of what they’re about as well and obviously trying to negate what they’re doing, but also at the same time looking to score runs and play with good positive intent as well. So that’s been really good to go through.
“They’re quality bowlers, they’re class bowlers, so they always challenge you, so I’d expect nothing less playing Test cricket and being exposed for the same bowlers five games in a row. It has been a great learning curve and I think I’ve been starting really well, it’s just trusting that and knowing that I’m good enough to go on and get a really big score.”
Bancroft said he was trying not to think too much about whether or not he was under pressure to keep his place after the Sydney Test, as the selectors weigh up who will be capable of standing up to the speed and skill of Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel, among others, in South Africa. “I think there are other people out there in the world who can do all that worrying for me,” he said. “Life is too short to worry about the ifs and buts, causes and effects and every time I go out to bat I’m looking to enjoy myself and enjoy batting and making runs.
“That’s the only thing that matters to me and regardless of what’s happened in the past, right here in this present moment this is what I want to do and do really well and I know if I can do that I’ll make a lot of runs and have a lot of fun doing it too. Playing at this level it’s all about confidence and all about belief. The only way you can do that is by action. Life rewards action and every day I wake up and come to training, come to Test matches to play, I’m learning more about Cameron Bancroft.
“I’m becoming a better player and becoming closer to the player I want to be and I think right now I’m very confident with what I’m doing. I’m doing a lot of good things and life is too short to sit back and worry about all the petty things and I’m certainly going to remain positive and look forward to what I can control.”
As for how deeply Bancroft had been drawn into the challenges of Test cricket, he offered something of an insight when recalling a conversation with his state and national teammate Ashton Agar earlier in the summer. “Ashton said to me the other day, he said, ‘how good was it to walk out to bat with Great Southern Land playing on the music on the way out’ and to be brutally honest, I didn’t even know it was playing,” he said.
“I think once you get out onto the middle all the distractions aside, they get put away pretty closely and you just enjoy the contest of playing a game of cricket. Definitely everything else is heightened big time. I never would have spoken to six reporters sitting around me right now and TV cameras following you around and soaking up the game. So that’s all part of it and that’s been so fantastic to be able to learn and witness so the game of cricket itself, it’s a game of cricket and it’s something we really enjoy.”