Handscomb keen to shake subcontinent specialist tag

Peter Handscomb works a ball through the legside Getty Images

Peter Handscomb is keen to not be pigeonholed as a subcontinent specialist and be a mainstay in Australia's Test middle-order in all conditions but understands he will have to bide his time and continue to push his case in the Sheffield Shield for Victoria.

Handscomb, 31, will start a new Shield campaign on Wednesday in Perth against back-to-back champions Western Australia slightly under the radar despite being one of the competition's most consistent performers in recent summers.

All eyes are on the next crop of openers around the country to see who can build a case to replace David Warner, either before or after Australia's next Test series against Pakistan. Handscomb's team-mate, and the leading candidate, Marcus Harris won't play for Victoria in Perth in order to remain home in Melbourne with his wife and newborn son.

Will Pucovski is also an eye-catching addition to Victoria's squad having been named to play in his first Shield game in nearly 12 months.

But Handscomb is the most recent Victoria batter to feature in Test cricket, having played all four Tests on the tour of India earlier this year where he was one of Australia's better performers. However, despite acquitting himself well in India, he was left out of the Ashes squad with the selectors still viewing him as a subcontinent specialist. Australia do not tour Asia again until a trip to Sri Lanka in February 2025 and the next Test tour of India is not until January 2027.

Barring injury, or unforeseen circumstances, Handscomb will be high on Australia's list of candidates for both of those tours but he would love to press his case to play in all conditions, given both his Test centuries have come on home soil against Pakistan.

"I'd like to play some home Tests," Handscomb said last week after scoring a half-century in his first Marsh Cup game of the summer. "I spend half the year playing cricket here batting at No. 3 and 4 for Victoria. I've done quite well over the last couple of years as well.

"The numbers are good. I've got to just try and keep backing that up and then see if you can get a crack but there's got to be spots available as well. The Test side is extremely powerful at the moment, especially in Australia. So it's hard to crack into that squad."

Handscomb was the Shield's leading runscorer in 2021-22 and was fourth last season despite only playing six games due to the India tour. In his last two seasons, he has piled up 1331 runs in just 25 innings, averaging 57.86 with four centuries.

Those numbers are bolstered by a massive 281 not out on a very flat pitch at the Junction Oval against WA last year but hidden in there are some excellent knocks in more challenging conditions. He made 90 and 95 on very tricky pitches at the MCG and Bellerive and 80 and 52 in consecutive Shield finals at the WACA, as well as an outstanding 148 not out to save a game at Adelaide Oval.

Handscomb's technique in Australia has always been a point of focus but he believes improvements in his mental game have been more important.

"The technique is always one that's spoken about and I've always tinkered with stuff and worked on a few things," he said. "I changed another thing when I went to England this year and I've come back to Australia changed again and it's sort of trying to adapt to conditions. But mentally it's just controlling the controllables, doing all that, and staying present out there. A lot of work with sports psychs and clinical psychs and that's really helped me out in the middle."

Despite being overlooked for the Ashes, Handscomb spent the winter in England and enjoyed a fruitful season with Leicestershire in the County Championship. He made 681 runs at 45.40 in 10 games while keeping wicket for the entire season. He scored 112 and 68 not out in a win over Yorkshire at Headingley and 55 and a match-saving 136 not out against Division Two winners Durham.

"The workloads were a bit higher than normal," Handscomb said of his dual role at Leicestershire. "But I come back feeling fit, feeling healthy. I've been able to manage the time nicely between family and cricket."

Handscomb won't have such a burden with Victoria having relinquished the Shield captaincy to Will Sutherland, while Sam Harper will keep wicket.

Victoria are thrilled to welcome back Pucovski, with coach Chris Rogers confident the 25-year-old is well placed to handle a full season of Shield cricket after a winter playing club cricket in England.

"To have someone like Will come into your side, it's exciting because you know how good he is," Rogers said last week. "It's been a stuttered few years. But he's been really, really positive. He had a really good time in England where he was playing non-stop. He's been working through his issues and he seems like he's ready to go. We know there's going to be some challenges along the way. We don't think it's going to be necessarily just smooth sailing, but we're really hopeful that from here on in it's going to be really positive."

Victoria will be missing Matt Short who remains with Australia's ODI World Cup squad as a travelling reserve.

Ashes tourists Scott Boland and Todd Murphy have been named to take on WA, as has Peter Siddle, who returns to the Victoria squad after three seasons with Tasmania.

Victoria Shield squad vs WA: Will Sutherland (capt), Peter Handscomb, Scott Boland, Travis Dean, Sam Harper, Campbell Kellaway, Jon Merlo, Todd Murphy, Fergus O'Neill, Mitch Perry, Will Pucovski, Tom Rogers, Peter Siddle