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Peter Handscomb looks ahead to Metro Bank One-Day Cup semi-final

Peter Handscomb looks ahead to Metro Bank One-Day Cup semi-final
Peter Handscomb looks ahead to Metro Bank One-Day Cup semi-final

It is fair to say that 2023 has been the summer of the unexpected for Peter Handscomb.

The 32-year-old wicketkeeper-batsman, an Australian international across all three formats, arrived at Grace Road in April with flights home booked for the end of May.

Instead, as September beckons, he is gearing up for what he hopes will be a key role in taking Leicestershire Foxes into the final of the Metro Bank One-Day Cup.

“What started out as a seven-week stay has turned into five months,” Handscomb said after victory over Yorkshire last week meant the Foxes finished top of Group A in the 50-overs competition, avoiding the need to play a quarter-final eliminator to reach the last four.

As group winners, they go straight to a home semi-final next Tuesday (August 29), against the winners of Friday’s Gloucestershire v Lancashire quarter-final. It will be the Foxes’ first List A semi-final since they beat Lancashire to reach the final of the Cheltenham and Gloucester Trophy in 2001.

“So it’s been longer than I planned but it’s been great,” he said. “I would have had pre-season back home in the wet, cold Melbourne winter so when there was an opportunity to stay over here I was happy to take it.”

Yet even an English spring in Leicester had not been on Handscomb’s radar originally.

The county had lined up Abdullah Shafique, the Pakistan opener, to play the opening part of their season alongside Wiaan Mulder as one of their two overseas players, with India star Ajinkya Rahane due to arrive in June after his stint with Chennai Super Kings in the Indian Premier League.

Handscomb was signed only after the Shafique deal had to be cancelled, with an understanding that he would make way for Rahane after the first six LV= Insurance County Championship matches.

But then Rahane earned a Test recall at the age of 35, first for India’s World Test Championship final against Australia in England, followed by a tour to the West Indies, and subsequently decided he wanted to take August and September off to recharge his batteries.

“It suited me fine,” Handscomb said. “Ajinkya got called up for India, which was awesome for him, but it allowed me the opportunity to stay and keep pushing my own case over here in England.

Handscomb won his own recall early this year to play a four-Test series for Australia in India, and therefore had an outside chance of being drafted into their Ashes squad, although in the end he was not required.

He has ended up playing 10 Championship matches, scoring 681 runs including two centuries, as well as five appearances in the Vitality Blast and an ever-present run in Metro Bank Cup.

With 352, he is second only to Sol Budinger for runs for the county in the 50-over competition and his five half-centuries are as many as any batter has scored across all 18 counties, including one in each of his last three games.

Sadly for Foxes fans, they will not have a chance to see Handscomb in the final at Trent Bridge next month if the Foxes make it.

As captain of Victoria in Australian domestic cricket, he has a new home season to prepare for and is desperate first to spend some time with his wife, Sarah, and their one-year-old son Jack.

The possibility of extending his contract again was discussed, but Handscomb was adamant it really would be goodbye this time.

“I was lucky enough that my wife and son were able to come over during the middle period of the season, so we were able to get away from the game and have some nice quality time together,” he said.

“But by the time I go home I will not have seen them for seven weeks and that’s starting to feel like a bit too much. So I will play in the semi-final, but then I have to go home.

“Victoria start up in the Australian season on about September 24 or 25 so I’ll have about three weeks to get ready for that and away we go again.”

In any event, he feels the Foxes, who will still be without England’s Rehan Ahmed but will have Colin Ackermann and Callum Parkinson available again after the conclusion of The Hundred, will manage well enough without him.

“It has been a proper team effort over the last eight games,” he said. “It hasn’t just been one person standing up, it has been someone else each time, which is really impressive.

“To make finals and do well in tournaments it is always going to be a squad mentality. It is never about 11 guys who get the job done, it is about 15-16 guys.

“It is a really tight-knit group, we have had very clear instructions from our skipper, Lewis Hill, on how we want to play our cricket, what our roles are in the team, and what we need to do to win games.

“Each player knows that they are backed to the full in what they do and that is a really strong message from the captain that really energises the squad.

“From a personal point of view, I’m pretty happy with the way it has gone. As a batter you always strive to score more runs, you always want to be there at the end to finish the job, but it has been good to play a part in what have been some impressive performances by the team.

“Hopefully there is still time for a few more runs. It would be great to contribute to a win on Tuesday before I go home.”

Whatever happens, Handscomb is excited by what the future might hold for Leicestershire, who are hoping to sign another overseas batter for the last four rounds of the Championship, with promotion to Division One a realistic target.

“My time at Grace Road has been enough to show me there is something special happening here this year, whether there is a trophy or not.

“The way this group is coming together is really good looking to the future.”