How Kurtis Patterson revived his stalled T20 career
From being full of self doubt, the 28-year old has transitioned to being a gun batter for the Scorchers
During the dregs of last year's off-season, as he pondered deficiencies in his batting amid a stalled T20 career, Kurtis Patterson watched classic footage of Australia legend Matthew Hayden for inspiration.
Both tall and left-handed, the similarities were obvious but Patterson was struck by Hayden's set up before he repeatedly thrashed beleaguered bowlers.
"He used to keep his hands quite low, pick up his bat as the bowler released and wouldn't really have a trigger movement with his feet," Patterson said to ESPNcricinfo about Hayden, who hit 30 tons in 103 Tests.
He also closely observed Glenn Maxwell. "He has such a nice bat swing and bat flow, especially to the spinners," Patterson said of the Melbourne Stars skipper. "They were a couple of guys that did things well that I wanted to bring into my game."
As he watched highlights of those master blasters, Patterson - who hadn't cracked a half-century in 30 BBL matches before this season - could probably not have envisioned that he would soon replicate them. During his breakout BBL season, the 28-year-old has top-scored for all-conquering Perth Scorchers with 390 runs at 143.91 strike rate ahead of Friday's final at Marvel Stadium.
"The overarching feeling was that I didn't know whether I was good enough."Patterson on his frame of mind 12 months ago
Such has been his destructiveness that Patterson has now been labelled as the BBL's "most improved player" by former Australia quick Damien Fleming amongst others. "Those that have seen me bat over the years, know that when I get my eye in I hit the ball hard," said Patterson, who has smashed 18 sixes in 12 innings this season.
He had emphasised a focus on power hitting during the off-season in 2020 but then couldn't squeeze into Scorchers' powerful line-up and sat on the bench for all bar one match of BBL 10. It meant Patterson had played just four matches in two seasons for Scorchers after crossing over from Sydney Thunder.
"I felt ready for an opportunity," said Patterson, who admitted to being a "frustrated T20 cricketer" 12 months ago. "The overarching feeling was that I didn't know whether I was good enough."
Ahead of a pivotal BBL season, the last on his three-year contract with Scorchers, Patterson needed to ignite his T20 career and he sought to improve his batting overall having been somewhat forgotten since playing two Tests for Australia in early 2019.
Backed by the trusted expertise of his NSW coaches Chandika Hathurusingha and Anthony Clark - and left inspired by the destructive deeds of vintage Hayden and Maxwell - he decided to take the bold step of tinkering with his technique knowing his somewhat limited range had been exposed in the accelerated T20 format.
"What I lacked was accessing and hitting boundaries in different areas of the ground," Patterson said. "Previously I hadn't been able to access the leg side as I would have liked. And I needed bowlers to give me width to hit through point and cover.
"I wanted to try something new."
Starting pre-season training a month earlier than usual, Patterson went about changing his batting set up in a bid for his "hands to relax".
"My hands were getting stuck around my belly button and sternum," he said. "If your hands are stuck in that position there's not much room to move and not much power to generate with any sort of bat swing.
"It was about getting into a position where I could get my hands behind my back hip to be able to flow through the ball. Keeping my hands a bit lower seemed to help."
So too did discarding trigger movements and reverting back to Hayden's playbook. "I realised I was telling myself a lie so I stopped going back and across with my feet because I was uncomfortable," he said.
"I've always known I'm best when I keep really still at the bowler's point of release. That has allowed me to stay balanced and pick up length better than in previous years."
Patterson's newfound approach started slowly against underarm bowling but after a month he had a litmus test against NSW's bowlers returning from their off-season.
"You may feel awkward and late on the ball," advised Hathurusingha, who Patterson described as a "tactical genius for batting". "That's completely normal. There is no need to panic and change things."
But there was no reason to fret with everything "instantly clicking" for a relieved Patterson. "I knew from that point I did the right thing and it was about sticking with it," he said.
Patterson entered this BBL season confident having scored a century as captain for NSW against Victoria in the Sheffield Shield, but he was no certainty to be part of Scorchers' season opener against Brisbane Heat at Optus Stadium.
Even though Scorchers no longer had the services of big-hitters Liam Livingstone and Jason Roy, Patterson's hopes rested on whether Mitchell Marsh and Josh Inglis would play for Australia A against England Lions.
"Cam Bancroft finished last season really well and (Scorchers coach Adam) Voges said he was going to start with him," Patterson said. But with Marsh and Inglis unavailable, Patterson made the most of his opportunity at No. 3 with a brutal 55 off 30 balls against Heat that seemed to catch everyone by surprise except himself.
"I treated it as a free swing. See ball, hit ball attitude," Patterson said of an innings he rated his "best" in a season yielding four half-centuries. "It certainly helped prove me right (about the technical changes). It was a nice feeling."
Being a key cog in Scorchers' title push has helped Patterson re-enter the limelight for a talented batter who still holds a Test average of 144 after an unbeaten ton against Sri Lanka in Canberra.
"I have desire to get back there," Patterson said about Test cricket. "In previous years I've gone down rabbit holes of trying to prove people wrong. But it adds pressure and I'm now focusing on what I can control. It's why I love captaining NSW because it forces me to focus on getting the best out of the team instead of thinking of representative needs."
Set to be a coveted BBL free agent, Patterson won't be chasing IPL glory with the upcoming birth of his son ensuring he has a hectic schedule ahead. But, right now, he's hoping to cap off a momentous season with Scorchers, who have been on the road for seven weeks due to Western Australia's unmovable hard border.
"Would be a remarkable achievement to win the title," he said. "No one has whinged, everyone has been focused. It's been nice to play a part and showcase my skills."
Tristan Lavalette is a journalist based in Perth