Not much fazes Joe Burns.
He’s not worried about Test selection. Nor is he concerned about his health after battling post-viral fatigue last season.
So what is Joe Burns concerned about on the eve of the new Sheffield Shield season? Missing a great NBA game on television.
“It’s a great season to be an NBA fan,” Burns told ESPNcricinfo. “I was getting pumped for the pre-season games yesterday. I’m a little bit worried if there’s a blockbuster game on at 10am and we’ve got a Shield game on.”
Burns’ uncluttered mind may well be his biggest asset coming into a season where he will once again be in the spotlight as far as Test selection is concerned.
It’s hard to believe given the current state of Australian batting, that a man with four Test centuries in 16 Tests and an average of 40.10, who has also scored more Sheffield Shield runs than any other player since 2010, is not only outside the Test team, but will likely need more runs over the first four Shield rounds to prove his worth once more.
But that is the case for Burns, and an all too familiar one given he’s been dropped from the Test team five times including after scoring 180 in his last Test match.
However, there is not a hint of frustration or resentment from the 30-year-old about his plight.
“I think you learn over your professional career that there are things that you can’t control and the sooner you focus on the things you can control and give them 100% effort then the better you’re going to be,” Burns said.
“You see a lot of young guys coming out and saying as soon as they started worrying about selection the game became tougher. Darren Lehmann said to me in my first year, ‘it’s a bloody hard game already so don’t make it harder than it needs to be’. It’s kind of rung true for me for how I view the game week to week.
“I’m not one to go into a season looking at trying to score a certain amount of runs. For me, it’s all about my preparation. I just know if I’m the most prepared as possible, that will give me the best chance to equate it to runs. There are no guarantees in this game. But if I’m prepared from week to week, I feel like the most important part of the week is the days leading into games, trying to fine-tune the skills I want to use going into the games.
“I did my medical and realised that physically I wasn’t going too well with a few of my vital organs. Once I saw a specialist it all made sense”
Joe Burns on his diagnosis
“Everyone talks about trying to play with freedom. I think you get that freedom from knowing you’ve done the work and that you’re ready to go and you can almost go into autopilot.”
While Burns is philosophical, others are frustrated for him, including his Queensland coach Wade Seccombe.
“Joe’s incredibly resilient,” Seccombe told ESPNcricinfo. “For a guy with four Test hundreds out of 16 Tests, and he’s been dropped five times, he’s been incredibly resilient particularly when you see some of the selections that are happening before him. His effort around the group to help everyone else is an area that’s really grown, so he’s come back in really good spirit, really resilient and we know he’s going to score runs at Shield level and we know he’s in the top couple of batters in Australia.”
There was some confusion during the winter surrounding Burns’ health, not least of which was initially for Burns himself. He suffered a virus in 2018, which turned out to be glandular fever, but struggled with ongoing fatigue in the aftermath throughout last summer although a formal diagnosis of post-viral fatigue didn’t come until May.
Post-viral or chronic fatigue is widely misunderstood. The feeling of severe fatigue or exhaustion is common for elite athletes and routinely ignored for the sake of pushing through. But when glandular fever has been the root cause, such an attitude can have serious ramifications, as former Western Australia cricketer Rob Baker can attest.
Burns knew he had a problem when arrived in Lancashire for his county stint.
“I remember going onto the field the morning of day two of the first game [for Lancashire] and I was absolutely cooked,” Burns said. “It felt like I’d already played an entire season. I actually didn’t do my medical until after that first game. I did my medical and realised that physically I wasn’t going too well with a few of my vital organs. Once I saw a specialist it all made sense.”
The official diagnosis and some enforced rest at home in Australia was a mental relief as much as a physical one. Simply having a clear understanding of why his body had failed provided confidence.
“More than anything you just have better education about why my body was feeling like that as opposed to just ignoring it and trying to push through,” Burns said. “Now I can manage myself really well and I’m really confident now in saying I’m 100%. It’s been a bit of a process but I’m glad we got there. At the time the situation was that my body needed a few months to get my immune system back on track.
“The immune system was basically operating like it was sick and after a few months of operating at such a high level, your vital organs start to struggle. I was really thankful to Cricket Australia during that time and by the time I got back on the Australia A tour in July I was feeling a massive difference in the way I felt.”
He was grateful to the selectors for giving him the opportunity to return to England with Australia A, after not originally being selected in that squad, and repaid them with a century straight off the plane against Sussex.
“I felt as good as good as I felt in over a year by the time I got around to playing on that A tour,” Burns said. “It was a nice feeling to get out there and also to wake up the day after playing and not feel terrible and feel ready to go again and being able to back up. I think that’s the main thing. You can will yourself through a day or two but it’s the ability to back up. Once your body starts struggling it becomes really tough. By the time the A series rolled around, I felt really good.”
“I was ready to go for the Ashes if they needed me. I think they know that. I know that. It was just a decision based on what they wanted I guess”
Joe Burns on being dropped
In that context Burns’ non-selection for the Ashes squad seems even more puzzling from the outside. National selector Trevor Hohns did say publicly at the time of the squad announcement that Burns’ illness had been a factor in his omission. However, Burns said he is comfortable with his private conversations with Hohns and Justin Langer and he had no confusion as to where he stood.
“My preparation was as good, if not better than most of the other guys that were selected,” Burns said. “I don’t think having that break in May would have had any impact on selection. When it came to selection that didn’t come up. There were conversations with the selectors about how to show I was available and we came to the decision that the A tour was going to be suitable from there. I’ve played enough cricket in England. I was ready to go for the Ashes if they needed me. I think they know that. I know that. It was just a decision based on what they wanted I guess.”
His attention now turns to Queensland. He started beautifully in the Marsh Cup with back-to-back unbeaten half-centuries as Queensland won their first three games. They open their Shield campaign against New South Wales on Thursday at the Gabba, with Steve Smith, David Warner and Mitchell Starc all set to be in the opposition.
Queensland were stung by last season’s lacklustre performance after winning the Sheffield Shield in 2017-18 and there is a burning desire to atone.
“As a collective group and probably as an organisation as well, we’re disappointed with how we went last year,” Burns said. “We probably just didn’t give a great account of ourselves for the talent we’ve got in the team.
“Obviously this week against New South Wales is going to be a challenge. If we play to our potential we’re probably going to be right in every game we play. It probably comes down to guys just taking responsibility. If you have the chance to go and win the game, go and do it. We [only had one century] in the Shield last year which was disappointing. A focus of ours is actually showing a little bit more toughness when the game is on the line and coming through and getting some wins as an individual as well.
“It’s a pretty open comp. Kind of like the NBA.”