How Jhye Richardson's career sped up by slowing down
Ahead of the match that may define how quickly Jhye Richardson returns to the Australian Test side after an eye-catching first two matches against Sri Lanka last summer, he will have plenty of fond memories of Perth Stadium to help him when he takes the field for Australia A against the touring Pakistanis.
The multipurpose venue on the east bank of the Swan River was the scene of a startling return of 8 for 47 by Richardson for Western Australia against New South Wales in a Sheffield Shield match a little less than a year ago, the display that pushed him to the front of the queue of fast bowlers vying to supplement Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Starc.
But as important as that performance came to be, Richardson will also carry recollections of how he got into the headspace to pluck all those wickets in the first place. It was via a private chat with the Western Australia coach Adam Voges following the first Shield game of that season, against Queensland at Allan Border Field, where Voges sensed that 23-year-old Richardson was straining for effort in a bid to return to Australia's ODI team. The reward was 18 wickets in his next two matches, and saw him not only resuming ODI duty but adding a Test cap, too.
"The first Shield game back I was trying way too hard," Richardson told ESPNcricinfo. "I was trying to bowl way too fast, I was trying to get a wicket every ball, because I had had a little bit of a taste of ODI cricket for Australia and then went back to Western Australia and was trying everything possible to keep my selection.
"It was a lap around the oval with Adam Voges that kicked me in the right direction. He was like 'mate I can see that you're really passionate, I can see you really want to play for Australia again, just be assured that I've been in the same situation and it's not going to happen by trying everything you possibly can, it's going to happen by having fun, it's going to happen by enjoying playing for WA, being proud to play for WA and doing a job for the team and doing what they need from you at that moment'."If you're getting frustrated and emotionally attached to your bowling, the guys around the field are going to be like 'what's he doing here, he's letting the opposition know they're on top.'"
"It was that conversation that reminded me that there's bigger things than just trying hard to play for Australia. It reminded me the way I got there in the first place was putting performances on the board for WA and having fun doing that. The next week after that conversation I had the best game I'm going to have in a long time at the Stadium there. So it was definitely a good conversation to have, and that was a moment where I just needed someone to remind me of where I wanted to get to and how I was going to do that."
For a while it seemed as though Richardson would carry that attitude and subsequent performances all the way through England, only for him to suffer another moment's learning when he dived awkwardly in an ODI against Pakistan in the UAE and dislocated his shoulder badly enough to miss the World Cup and the Ashes. As an interruption to his plans and Australia's it was decidedly inconvenient, but Richardson consoled himself that he had been struck down in trying to give his all.
"I always said to myself that was always the way I wanted to play for Australia, I wanted to be able to put my body on the line and try and be something special in the field," he said. "Unfortunately I took a bit of a bad dive, but that was the way I wanted to play, I wanted to put my body on the line, wanted to do everything I possibly could for my country. While it is frustrating that it happened, looking back, that was the way I was telling myself I wanted to play.
"I made a decision to go for a ball that I probably in hindsight could have let go, but if I had stopped that and potentially got a run-out from it, then we're having different conversations. But it was just an unfortunate thing that happened, one thing I could have changed would be to dive a little bit better, but the decision definitely wouldn't have been to not dive at all."
Intelligent and articulate, although not beyond the occasional burst of anger as seen in his September limited-overs duel with Glenn Maxwell in Perth following his return from the shoulder injury, Richardson has shown the capacity to learn quickly. "There's days when you're going to have to bowl 25-30 overs in a day, and if you're thinking about trying to take a wicket every ball rather than staying patient and trying to beat the batsman by skill, you're going to have a long day and you're going to be mentally exhausted, because you're exhausting your capacity to stay patient and calm," he said.
"It is really important for the team as well, if you can stay calm out there for the team, then everyone's got a better chance of thriving off you. If you're getting frustrated and emotionally attached to your bowling, the guys around the field are going to be like 'well what's he doing here, he's getting frustrated, he's letting the opposition know they're on top'. So the longer you can stay calm for, the better definitely."
While still as quick as when he first emerged, Richardson has learned the value of dialling back his pace to use only at the times of most need by his captain and team, adding greater consistency in the process. His displays against Sri Lanka were reminiscent of a young Pat Cummins in terms of their maturity. "When I was a lot younger I used to think fast bowling was about being fast and that was it," Richardson said. "It quickly evolved when batsmen got on top of me very easily because I wasn't doing anything through the air, it was just pace and the better batsmen at the higher levels of cricket I played, the easier it was for them to score runs.
"It quickly evolved from just trying to bowl fast to being able to do something else, whether it's swinging it, get it to nip off the wicket, a few change-ups, slower balls, that sort of thing. And also it was about being comfortable not bowling 145kph every ball. in Shield cricket we've had radar guns that are mid 130s and that sort of thing and it's about me being comfortable bowling at that speed, doing something through the air, rather than trying to run in and bowl as fast as I can.
"There's been a couple of times this year already when the captain has come to me and said 'mate we need you to run in and bowl fast' and I'm okay with that, doing what the team needs, and there are times when it changes from swinging the new ball, trying to get the edge of the batsman's bat to coming around the wicket and bowling bouncers as fast as I can, it definitely does shift. I've just got to make sure I'm okay with that, because I know that I'm doing a job for the team."
Similarly, Richardson will likely join Starc, Cummins, Hazlewood, James Patinson and company in a growing appreciation that they will all enjoy far longer careers if they do not play every available Test match. "We've seen already a few guys being rested, it's definitely a long summer and nowadays we're playing 12 months of the year, so it is very important to give guys a break where you can, and it's good for guys like me coming through to hopefully get an opportunity at some point during the summer," he said.
"But the focus is not on relying on other people to get picked, I'm working really hard to try and get in there of my own accord. Having said that, guys can definitely get caught up in trying too hard. I am trying to get back into the squad, but it's going to be about more having fun, enjoying cricket and then letting the performances come after that as a bonus, because you can definitely get caught up in trying too hard, trying too many things and shifting your focus from playing for who you're playing at that very moment to trying to get back in the Australian team.
"If you're thinking about that, then you're probably not going to perform as well."
And when he looks down at his feet before tearing in at the Pakistani tourists this week, Richardson will find another set of simple messages that have aided him almost as much as the calming words of Voges a year ago. At the suggestion of Justin Langer when he was still WA coach, Richardson wrote the words "stand tall" and also "KISS" for "keep it simple, stupid" on his bowling boots. The recent discovery that Mitchell Starc had written "F*** it! Just bowl fast!" on tape on his wrist, has demonstrated that the trend is growing.
"I've written them on every pair of boots I've ever had. It's just about reiterating the fact we need to keep things simple and not trying too hard," Richardson said. "In light of keeping things simple, I haven't changed the messages on my shoes, they're still very simple.
"It's a good way to remind myself while I'm out there, the way I want to go about it, the way to keep calm, the way to perform at my best. It's just a reminder, and if you're getting in the heat of the battle, getting a little bit worked up or emotional, it's a good reminder to take a deep breath and bring it down to where you need to be."