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How Kurtis Patterson made hundreds a habit

Kurtis Patterson completes his maiden Test hundred Getty Images

Comedies, action movies, The Shawshank Redemption. Sportsmen have traditionally tended to swim very much between these flags when it comes to cinematic pursuits, so it says something about Kurtis Patterson that one of his more recent watches was actually the HBO documentary Becoming Warren Buffett.

"He's a fascinating guy isn't he," Patterson told ESPNcricinfo. "His career speaks for itself but I just love his demeanour and the way he presents, I find him fascinating to be honest.

"I do enjoy how unemotional he is, incredibly unemotional when it comes to his work, trying to find companies, and he talks about how the more emotional you are in investing, chances are the less successful you're going to be. I have enjoyed that aspect of him."

As Patterson pointed out, one of the maxims shared by Buffett in the 2017 story of how he became the world's best known and most successful investors was that "if you're emotional about investing it's not going to end well". It's a lesson that Patterson himself had to learn while tackling the biggest obstacle to his advancement as batsman - working out how to stay at the crease long enough to score more hundreds.

Entering the winter of 2018, Patterson knew that opportunities were sure to flow from 12-month bans for Steven Smith and David Warner, but that he needed to improve his knack for big scores to do so. At the time the new Australia coach, Justin Langer, was speaking constantly about batsmen needing to score more hundreds. Patterson, who had debuted in a starburst of shots as a teenager with a big century against Western Australia in 2011, had made only six more in all forms of the game since that sunny November day.

"At the beginning of pre-season I worked with Beau [Casson, then the NSW batting coach] on a couple of technical aspects," Patterson said. "One of the main ones was trying to work on getting my hands in a slightly better position than they were last year. Essentially that involved getting them more towards my back hip, rather than down near my thighs and my knees, which they were previous years. Then on that Aussie A trip to India, you have your footage when you're training and whatnot of my technique, but it wasn't until I got into those Australia A games and watched the footage back, and I thought 'okay my hands are in perfect position now, so I can tick that off'."

"It was a blessing in disguise that I wasn't in the Test squad leading into the CA game because I was able to just go out there, play against whatever Sri Lanka were dishing out"

But the technical work, something Patterson had thought was the key to lasting longer in the middle, resulted only in a further quartet of frustrating starts - 31, 13, 48 and 4 when opening the batting - for Australia A in India. On the journey home, knowing he had missed selection for the Test tour of the UAE to face Pakistan, Patterson looked deeper.

"I just thought to myself there were a couple times on that tour where I'd got out for 30 and 40 in the two games and had a bit of a moment of frustration because I was batting well," he said. "I knew that was a great opportunity going into that UAE series, so I just had a really good moment on the trip back, and the first couple days back home, of self-reflection and essentially trying to work out what it was I could change to convert some of these scores, because it was getting a little bit silly."

Out of these in-flight thoughts arose a new way of training, where fewer, long batting sessions replaced the more typical length of time in the nets. "I essentially came back and one of the core ingredients was to hit balls on less days but the days on which I do hit, make sure they're bigger days," Patterson said. "Instead of hitting for an hour for four days a week let's hit for over three hours once or twice a week, particularly once you start playing Shield games you have to manage your time a bit more.

"I found it very simple but it actually helps, you practice batting for long periods of time and every now and then that'll help you in the middle.I noticed I'd probably been getting out a lot around that 100 minute mark of an innings. I looked back at my training and realised 'I'm probably batting for 90 to 100 minutes at most at every training session. So that was a big change we made."

At the same time, Patterson worked openly with the NSW team psychologist, Gerard Faure Brac, about concentration. Something that Patterson came to realise in this time was something that Buffett also espoused - not departing from what has made you successful in mid-innings.

"I know with my batting previously you've probably had those questions of yourself in the middle of an innings, do I accelerate here, do I hold, do I decelerate, whatever it is," he said. "I think in previous years it almost came into the forefront of my mind at the wrong times. Those little lapses in concentration probably cost me my wicket, whereas this year they're still there but nowhere near the front of my mind. We try and talk about how the most important thing is the next ball and that's it, that's all it is. If you can tick that off and leave it behind and move on to the next one, it's a technique a lot of coaches and batters use in first-class cricket.

"At least during that purple patch I was very focused on watching the ball and that was it. In between balls every now and again the questions come up, but I was able to accept those without any judgment, quickly get rid of them or answer them and when it was time just get back to watching the ball, which is something I wasn't able to do in previous years."

The "purple patch" of which Patterson speaks took place in January, when he scored hundreds in consecutive innings of a tour match against the Sri Lankans in Hobart to force the national selectors to go back on their original decision to leave him out of the Test squad. When he was called in, Patterson made a patient 30 batting with the tail in Brisbane, before striding to a first Test hundred in Canberra the following match. Looking back, he's certain that being initially left out of the Test squad helped clear his mind.

"It was a blessing in disguise that I wasn't in the Test squad leading into the CA game because I was able to just go out there, play against whatever Sri Lanka were dishing out, regardless of what was happening the next week or the week after," he said. "That probably wouldn't have happened if I had been picked in the Test squad and knew that I had to get ready for a debut next week. I think my focus probably would have been elsewhere."

Going away with Australia A ahead of a tour on which the Ashes squad will be chosen, Patterson is aware there will be other mental blocks ahead. But he travels with a mindset far stronger for the searching of the past 12 months, and a rapidly improving tally of centuries to prove it.

And in a twist on what Patterson has learned from Buffett, it should be noted that the theory of the great investor about staying within your "circle of competence" emanated not from the world of finance, but that of baseball. In The Science of Hitting, it was Ted Williams who alerted Buffett by writing "You, the hitter, are the greatest variable in this game because to know yourself takes dedication."