“The answer is straight up ‘no’.”
That was Australia coach Justin Langer’s response to the Weekend Australian when asked a few weeks ago if he knew who the best six batsmen in Australia were.
“You take Smith who has got 79 hundreds, you take Warner who has got 88 hundreds — I am talking about all A-grade cricket — you take those out. You take [out] Cameron Bancroft who you could say had just started to find his feet, he was a bit of the heartbeat of the team…there are certainly some questions,” Langer had said.
That was a few days before the Australia A squad flew to India for a quadrangular one-day series, and about two weeks before Australia A’s four-dayers against India A. With just one batting innings left in the series for the Australians, Langer, perhaps, still doesn’t have too much clarity on who those best six are, with Australia’s tour of the UAE looming. So inseparable have been the performances from the Australians, that barring Khawaja’s grand performances on one extreme, and an underperforming Peter Handscomb’s on the other, the contest is neck-to-neck.
In that middling group is New South Wales’ Kurtis Patterson, who had been pushed up to open – what he calls the “best place to bat” in the subcontinent. He has looked the visitors’ best batsman so far, but hasn’t converted his starts into substantial scores.
“Yeah it is a bit frustrating,” Patterson said. “I feel like I’m batting nicely and having not opened that much in my career, I know that opening over here is probably one of the better places to bat. It starts turning later and skidding and playing tricks. So a little bit disappointed that I haven’t been able to push on.”
Patterson made 48 off 71 balls, including eight classy boundaries, before he was bowled through the gate by left-arm spinner Shahbaz Nadeem in Alur. Until the dismissal, it was an innings full of grace, and he was particularly fluent down the ground against spinners who were taking the ball away from him. In his batting were glimpses of why the 25-year-old left-hander is rated highly, but the premature exit marked something of a career trend.
Patterson began his first-class career in style, when he became New South Wales’ youngest centurion in Sheffield Shield cricket at the age of 18, on debut in 2011. Not long after that, Patterson turned down a Big Bash League contract in order to focus on a national Under-19s tournament and a NSW Second XIs appearance.
These were signs of a man leaning towards conventional growth as a batsman, but things haven’t gone along that trajectory. Patterson’s 157 on debut continues to be his highest score in first-class cricket, and he has since made four hundreds in 90 innings, with the last one coming in October 2016. Not ideal numbers for a top-order batsman over seven years, but his average still sits at 40-plus. The bigger concern is that since that debut innings, Patterson has faced more deliveries on only four occasions.
But Patterson downplayed it, and felt he wasn’t far away from a big score. More importantly, he said, he is now a better player than he had ever been. Patterson was the tenth-highest scorer in the Sheffield Shield in 2017-18, with 672 runs in 19 innings, and for the second season in a row, made more than 600 runs.
“I’m a lot better player than I was back then [during the debut].” Patterson said, “I had a lot of luck in that innings. It was one of those days that comes along once every now and then in your career, and I was just lucky that it was my first day when it happened.
“I feel like I’m a lot better player and cricketer, a lot more mature person than I was. To win a title with my state team, both one-day and Shield cricket and also a Big Bash title in there as well. It’s been a good six years and hopefully it continues in that trajectory.”
With Australia A captain Mitchell Marsh approaching a hundred in Alur, the battle for what could be the final few spots for the Pakistan series has ostensibly narrowed into that of one starter and one reserve batsman. Handscomb, Head, and Patterson would appear the frontrunners, with Queensland’s Marnus Labuschagne, who wasn’t picked for the four-dayers originally, a left-field choice.
“We’re all aware that there are some spots available, it doesn’t take a genius to know that,” Patterson said. “But I think the thing we’ve really done well is come over here and play as a team and put in two good performances. We obviously did that in game one, and we’re doing the exact same in game two.
“I think that’s the best way. When you’re winning, generally, a lot of players are picked. We all know as batters we’ve to try and get runs. Yes there’s a carrot there with the Test side, but I think what the leadership group has done really well is emphasie the importance of playing as a team and playing to win.”
At the moment, even with average numbers in India, Patterson comes in second in the aforementioned three-horse race. But in an Australian cricket year that’ll be long remembered for its tumult, and with a management focused on repair, there isn’t a better chance for Patterson to finally turn his potential into a baggy green. If only he can make that last innings count.