Who has the highest Test batting average? It’s not Don Bradman (and it’s not yet Steven Smith). You won’t see it on many of the lists, but if you remove any qualification of matches played the honour currently stands with Kurtis Patterson.
He also holds a more dubious honour of having been dropped after scoring a Test century. Patterson scored 114 against Sri Lanka in Canberra in February but did not make the Ashes squad. And neither did his team-mate from that match, Joe Burns, who made 180.
A lot had changed by the time Australia’s Ashes squad was named at a Southampton hotel in late July, most notably the returns of David Warner and Steven Smith, which meant what happened five months previously didn’t count for much.
Patterson missed his chance to stake a claim during the Australia A tour and the inter-squad selection trial that was played at the Ageas Bowl. Across five red-ball innings on the tour he made 2, 32, 38, 2 and 0. The last two low scores came on a lively pitch (where Cameron Bancroft’s unbeaten 93 cemented his Ashes spot) but Patterson felt it was the two unconverted 30s against England Lions which were his big missed opportunity. When he was called in to meet national selector Trevor Hohns, he knew what was coming.
“To be honest, I kind of knew at the end of the third game,” he told ESPNcricinfo ahead of the new Sheffield Shield season. “I knew I wasn’t going to be in the squad, of course you always hold out a little bit of hope, but the logical person inside me knew I wasn’t going to get picked, which probably made it a little bit easier.”
That does not mean there wasn’t regret or disappointment having worked so hard to earn a debut against Sri Lanka in Brisbane and follow that with the cherished century.
“The selectors were after blokes who were in form and unfortunately I couldn’t put that together,” he said. “Of course that was frustrating, it always is when you feel like you are doing well – and I did feel like I was batting well but couldn’t quite convert – but at the end of the day that was a three-week period which, in the grand scheme of things, will happen in my career. For me it’s about trying to get better and improve on that for the next time.”
It is that balanced outlook that helped Patterson reach the pinnacle in the first place as he shed a tag of a batsman unable to convert starts with a prolific run in 2018-19 season, which included a Sheffield Shield hundred at the WACA in a game dominated by the bowlers and twin hundreds in the warm-up match against Sri Lankans that led to his hasty call-up and his Test century.
“I think over the last 12 months I’ve learned more about my game than at any time in my career,” he said. “There were some great positives, sorting out that conversion issue I had and making my Test debut, but as the game generally does it has a great way of levelling you out and it was a bit of a disappointing end to that UK tour. But still, it provided me with some really important learnings and I know I’ll be much better for it.”
He is not someone to dwell on what might have been, but if there’s one thing he may have done differently it was not pursuing a county deal before the Australia A tour, something that served Marnus Labuschagne so well. He is on the lookout for a contract next year.
“I just figured with there being so much cricket on that A tour leading into the Ashes that I’d get enough cricket. Obviously it didn’t work out well, if I had my time again I potentially would have done that differently. This upcoming year I’m certainly looking to get over there because I do enjoy England and would love to get that county experience under my belt, so that’s the goal going forward.”
Before all that there is a summer to focus on with at least one batting spot up for grabs in Australia’s middle order ahead of the Test series against Pakistan. It will make a fascinating first block of Sheffield Shield action, although Patterson’s start may be delayed after he picked up a quad injury in the opening weekend of grade cricket. However, when he’s on the park it’s as much about success for New South Wales as they look to go one better than than runner’s up to Victoria last season.
“The Australian stuff for every playing state cricketer is always there in the background, but my most important focus is with New South Wales,” he said. “I absolutely love playing for them, I still think it’s a privilege, so I want to do my best and get us into winning positions. I’m quite comfortable these days with letting whatever happens happen, as it’s kind of out of my control.”
If he reprises the form of last season, the selectors may just come calling again.