Alex Malcolm is an Associate Editor at ESPNcricinfo
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Hotel quarantine allows a lot of time to think. And Marcus Stoinis has been doing some thinking in Dubai, as he prepares for the return of the IPL with Delhi Capitals, his first cricket assignment in four and a half months (he opted out of Australia's limited-overs tours of West Indies and Bangladesh).
The rare downtime has given the 32-year-old a chance to reset some personal goals.
"My next phase, the way I see it, over the next three years I want to be not only the best finisher in Australia, I want to be the best finisher in the world," Stoinis says.
"So that's what I've spent my time thinking about and preparing myself for. It doesn't mean that I'm going to be able to do it for the Melbourne Stars as well. It might mean the role is going to change. But I've got a great opportunity to do it with Delhi under Punter [coach Ricky Ponting], and a great opportunity in this World Cup. Whether it's in this World Cup or the next World Cup, that's up to me."
Stoinis is no shrinking violet, and some may scoff at his ambition, particularly as he plays almost exclusively as an opener in the BBL for Melbourne Stars - with great success. But his numbers batting in positions five through seven for Australia in T20 internationals and Capitals in the IPL, suggest he's already a lot closer to his goal than many might realise. In fact, until last month, neither Stoinis nor Australia's selectors or coaching staff were aware of how highly he ranks among global T20 finishers over the past three years.
In T20I cricket, only Kieron Pollard and Mohammad Nabi have scored more runs with a better strike rate and boundary percentage over a three-year period in the lower middle order, putting Stoinis on par with India's Hardik Pandya (257 runs, 8.91 runs per over, 5.41 balls per boundary), and ahead of South Africa's David Miller and West Indies' Nicholas Pooran. In the IPL, Stoinis is squarely in the middle of the top ten on those two parameters.
Yet he is no guarantee to be inked in at No. 5 or 6 in Australia's opening T20 World Cup match against South Africa on October 23. He has been named in the 15-man squad but was deemed to have taken a selection risk by opting out of Australia's recent tours citing bubble fatigue after the postponement of the IPL and the subsequent difficulty that Australian players had in returning home.
Stoinis remained in Perth to train and spend time with family and friends, but it did not take long for him to realise how much he missed playing. "That was a big decision at the time," he says. "I wasn't used to watching the team play and not being involved, knowing that's what I want to do. And the first couple of weeks you're also second-guessing yourself as to whether you should have gone on the tour.
"It took me a good two months to just really chill out. But it became more and more clear that that was the right thing to do for me. I'm feeling good now, feeling ready to go. I didn't take much time off training. Because that's another thing you realise when you take a break - that you love the cricket. I love cricket, I love training."
While fun, fashion and frivolity can appear top priorities for Stoinis, the truth is, there is hardly anyone in Australian cricket who trains more meticulously or diligently. He spent his time off working with three different batting coaches, his long-time personal mentor Neil Holder; and Western Australia's head coach, Adam Voges, and their batting coach, Beau Casson.
Aside from the mechanics of his game, Stoinis is trying to go to the next level with his mental preparation and overall mindset. He works with two mental-performance coaches, Dave Diggle, who currently works with the Australia Rugby Union team, and David Reid, who is the mental performance coach for Essendon in the Australian Football League.
Hotel quarantine has provided the perfect sanctuary in which to re-engage with his mental processes. "It's been a good chance for me to sink my teeth into that mental side of my game," Stoinis says.
"You'd actually probably laugh. I shouldn't tell you this, because Zamps [Adam Zampa] will give me s**t. But I've got my pads, I've got everything out here [in the hotel room], because I do my visualisation with all the gear on.
"I think when I look back, I perform my best when I've sunk my teeth into my preparation and my visualisation."
He is also learning to detach himself from results. "Outside of your technique, I think that's the No. 1 thing, dedicating and controlling your mind towards that process and staying away from the outcome as much as you can," he says.
"But like everything, it's a lifetime's work, you never feel like you master it. It's super humbling because you find out pretty quickly when you've gone away from it because you're walking off and you're out.
"Even the other day I was thinking about it, and I was talking to myself about fear. We've all got a bit of fear in us. I feel like a fear of failure for me is hopefully starting to diminish - in that, to me, I'm only going to fail when I give up."
Fearlessness is one of the key traits of the best finishers in T20 cricket. Pollard hit his first two balls for sixes for Trinbago Knight Riders in a recent CPL game, on his way to a match-winning 51 from 22 balls.
This is one area Stoinis knows he needs to improve in if he is to achieve his lofty goal. Fearlessness will help him produce faster starts. On the list of cricketers who have made over 1000 T20 runs for the three years starting April 2018, Stoinis ranks 29th in terms of his strike rate in the first ten balls of innings - 137.07. The elite finishers are above 160 on this metric.
For Stoinis, it comes down to communication with his coaches and team-mates, to be able to have complete trust in himself in the middle. "You make your plan beforehand," he says. "You understand which bowlers you're going to target.
"On another day, Kieron Pollard might get out going for a second six. But he understands, and I'm sure the coach or whoever understands that, so then you're all on one page. And I think that helps to get rid of any sort of distraction and fear of failure. Because you've committed to the plan yourself. You committed to that with the team." It is part of the reason Stoinis has gelled so well with Ponting, who has made sure his communication is clear and concise.
"The more I got to know him, he's a very deep thinker, so I was then not wanting to feed him too much [information]," Ponting told SEN recently. "I'd feed him little bits but then wait for him to think about it and process it and come back to me and ask questions about what he needs to do next, or how he needs to get better.
"I've tried to make it pretty clear to him where I see him slotting in with the Delhi Capitals outfit and given him a certain role that he's going to play for us.
"He is a hard worker. There's no doubt about that. He likes to bat and bowl as much as anyone we've had at Delhi, so as long as I give some clear direction and he understands what he's doing and what his role is, then I just let him go about getting himself prepared."
"Ricky is a bloody genius," Stoinis says. "And a lot of his genius isn't always about the cricket. It's about how he communicates with people. He understands me quite well. So, he knows how to push my buttons. He knows when to challenge me. He knows when to pump me up.
"When it comes to game time, we've got a good relationship in that I'm sitting in the dugout, I'm asking him what he's thinking. I'm telling him what bowler I want to target, when to send me out, he's telling me to sort of sit down and relax.
"Usually we end up talking at the time-out about just the plan of attack for the last whatever it is - eight overs, nine overs, seven overs. And it's pretty clear, we both understand what we want to do and how we want the game to pan out from there."
Stoinis is also keen to play his part with the ball in the UAE. He has suffered some niggles in recent years and tweaked his back just prior to arriving in Dubai. But he says he has done more bowling in the last three months than he has in three years.
"Usually when the shoe is on the other foot and I'm bowling, I'm pretty aware that the batting team is going to look to target me," he said. "My skill is in understanding the game as a batsman, what the batsmen are trying to do.
"I think you've got to realise that you're only just trying to cause half a mistake. You don't need to always completely deceive the batsman.
"For me, it's just come with experience. It's come with talking to a lot of different guys, a lot of different bowling coaches and players, most of them actually through the IPL. And most of that stuff is subtle changes in your grip, in how hard you are gripping the ball."
Stoinis' immediate task is to help Capitals claim the title that eluded them in the UAE last year but then the focus will shift to playing an important part in Australia's tilt to win a maiden T20 World Cup.
"The key for us is going to this tournament having each other's back, looking to play like we've got nothing to lose because at the end of the day, we don't have anything to lose," he says.
"I think if we play with that freedom and that excitement, we're going to do something special. I think that's the way we've got to attack that. There's enough talent. There's so many good players in our team that there's no reason why we shouldn't."