Dunk gets out of 'terrible habits'
Ben Dunk's success in the Big Bash League for the Hobart Hurricanes and subsequent IPL deal with the Mumbai Indians is one of this season's feelgood stories in Australian cricket. But it is also a cautionary tale for before this summer Dunk had achieved, by his own admission, "nowhere near" what he wanted to in cricket. At 26, he was being swallowed by the professional system. He had got into the bad habit of letting others do the thinking.
Dunk knew that something had to change and that came with the opportunity to play league cricket for the Royton Cricket Club in Lancashire during the 2013 winter. Away from the myriad off-field staff that are now part of state cricket teams, Dunk suddenly found himself having to solve his own issues. He believes that period in England was the catalyst for his resurgence this summer, first a solid start to Tasmania's Sheffield Shield campaign and then his BBL exploits.
"I had to figure things out for myself," Dunk told ESPNcricinfo of his time with Royton. "If I wasn't driving the ball well, I couldn't go to whoever the coach was and say 'this isn't working, what do you think?' You had to do it yourself. I think that allowed me to grow up a lot as a player and if anything it actually simplified the game for me. It made me realise what was important and what's not.
"I think as a player I'd probably lost that. I'd been in the professional setup for close to five years and you just get into the habit of people around you finding the answer for you all the time. It's a terrible habit to get in to. I think that's going to be a problem in the future. There will be guys who are 25 and have been on contract for eight years and they're not going to be able to figure things out for themselves."
That a player like Dunk got into such bad habits is revealing, for by any measure he is an intelligent cricketer. He captained Queensland at 23. He is completing a business degree with a major in management. He is well spoken and thoughtful about the game. For him, the season in Lancashire was about going back to basics, uncomplicating the batting process once again.
"It was just to get away and realise that it's not necessarily about where your feet are moving to, or where your hands are," he said. "For me it was just about watching the ball as hard as I could and everything else has now taken care of itself."
Things have fallen into place so effectively for Dunk that he was named the Player of the Tournament in the BBL and also voted by his peers as the Australian Cricketers' Association's Player of the Month for January. To cap it all off, he was bought by the Mumbai Indians at the IPL auction and will join such international luminaries as Michael Hussey and Lasith Malinga in the squad, which seemed an unattainable goal when Dunk was not picked for any BBL games last season.
"I was on the Hurricanes' books but when Ricky Ponting was a late addition I think I got shuffled back significantly," Dunk said of the 2012-13 campaign. "What can you do? I didn't mind mixing Gatorade for one of the greats. But it was great to get an opportunity this year. In a tournament format if you can get off to a bit of a start as a player, the tournament just rolls on for you. It gives you confidence and you're not really chasing your tail as much.
"I'd always wanted to be part of the IPL, but wanting something and actually thinking that it's achievable are two different things. I probably didn't think it would happen, I thought those opportunities had passed me by. But it's amazing what a bit of confidence and backing from the backroom and the coaching staff can do for a player. Dan Marsh and Damien Wright this year have been unbelievable."
Although Dunk struggled to adjust back to the red ball in his first Sheffield Shield match after the BBL, he had started the season well with 445 runs at 40.45 from the first six games. Combined with his 395 at 43.88 and a strike-rate of 145.75 in the BBL, it has all made the move to Tasmania in 2012 - Dunk is originally from Innisfail in far north Queensland, where his family ran a banana farm - worthwhile.
"At the time I felt deep down I hadn't achieved what I wanted to in cricket," Dunk said. "I'd got nowhere near it. My record was pretty ordinary apart from some one-day cricket that I'd done well in. I really had something to prove to myself. Tassie gave me the opportunity to do it and I'm pretty thankful for it. This year Dan Marsh has really helped me along. Every time I try to get back to any sort of technical thoughts he grabs me and pushes me back in the right direction."
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here