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Matt Renshaw on resilience and focusing on what you can control

Matthew Renshaw was the first Australian batsman to reach 500 Test runs before turning 21. Staying resilient through setbacks, always enjoying the game, and controlling what you can control are some key focuses for Matt. In this interview, Matt chats about the influence his father had on his cricket journey, and how that relationship has shaped his own outlook on cricket coaching. He delves into the secrets behind his mental fortitude and offers advice to aspiring cricketers seeking to thrive in the face of adversity.

We’ll start off in the early days. You were born in Middlesbrough, England. You then moved to New Zealand and then to Australia. Can you tell us about moving to Australia and what age did you start playing cricket?

I moved around a bit when I was younger, thanks to Dad getting some work around the world, which I think was amazing for us as kids to be able to move around the world. I moved to Australia when I was 10 and started cricket at a young age. I probably started in the backyard when I was four or five and then I first played club cricket when I was seven when I moved to New Zealand.

You’ve spoken before about your dad and the influence that he’s had on your development. Can you talk about his role as an early coach and mentor when you were first starting off in cricket and then later developing into a test player?

Dad’s a university lecturer by trade, but a cricket nuffy by love. He absolutely loves cricket. He played a bit when he was younger and he played when I was growing up as well. He’s one of those guys who just studies the game. He’s done his PhD on the effectiveness of bowling machines. But for me, it was just having someone who could throw balls to me as much as I wanted growing up, and then just being a sounding board for me when I started getting a lot more coaching throughout pathways and senior cricket.

Read more about Matt’s relationship with his father

You coach cricket yourself with PlayBook, can you talk about any methods or pages out of your dad’s book that you now use in your own coaching when you’re working with a cricket player?

When I coach cricket, I just try and make it as fun as possible and play as many games as I can. That’s something that Dad did a lot, whether it would be, how many times you can leave a ball between two different stumps? How many times can you hit the ball in different places? That was something that he was doing a lot with me, just having those games. I think for me, with coaching, it’s trying to get the people in the family involved, whether that’s a dad, a mom, or a sibline, to be able to help them and coach them in that way as well.

Matt Shares his 3 tips to build a cricket innings:

You talk about families coming along to the sessions because we hear a lot of parents at PlayBook say they’re trying to coach their kids, but the kids just won’t listen or they can’t really connect when trying to coach them. Can you talk about why your relationship with your father as a coach and a mentor has been so effective and do you have some advice for parents looking to coach their kids?

It’s a tough one because I went through that stage with my Dad. I think everyone does. When I was 14, or 15 I went through that stage where I didn’t think anything he said had any point to it, but I think growing from that, that built our relationship a lot. It’s something that unfortunately teenage kids always go through, not listening to their parents. I’m not looking forward to that in the future, but definitely from that I’ve been able to grow that relationship and understand that he’s not trying to tell me what to do, he’s just trying to help me. And that was the big learning curve for me. He didn’t have to do what he did, he never had to coach me, he could have just let me go and do whatever, but he wanted to try and help and be involved and that was nice to look back on.

Is he still someone that you call now for advice when you’re playing overseas in a test match or in a different format.

Definitely, he’s someone I just try and speak to and get his sounding board. He’s known my career the whole time, he knows my techniques, he knows my mindset so he’s a big one for me just to call and just get his view of things. I can say, well, what do you think of this? How did that look? Because I know how it felt, but having someone pretty neutral and away from the high-performance side of things is something I really value.

I think that’s important for all athletes, whether that’s someone coming through the system or someone playing at the top level. In 2016, you made your Test debut for Australia. Can you talk about that and what that meant for you?

That was a pretty special moment. It’s something you dream of when you start playing cricket to be playing international cricket and to be able to do it so young was pretty surprising. Looking back, I don’t think I would have gone, oh, yeah, I’d have made my debut at 20. But I think that’s cricket. It is sometimes just luck in sports, luck with selection. It was a whirlwind time for me. I didn’t really know what was going on. Looking back, I probably could have handled it better and could have handled it worse. But a 20-year-old in that environment was a pretty strange one.

Cricket is one of those isolating sports where it’s a team sport, but when you’re out in the middle, you’ve just got your partner on the other end. Can you talk about your nerves and how you handled your nerves facing your first couple of balls on debut?

It was a freezing day-night test and South Africa declared just as it turned dark. I don’t really remember too much, I just remember being in the moment and watching the ball. It’s a nervous feeling. You just want to get that first run. You don’t want anyone to take the first run away from you. I remember I tried to flick one off my pads and it hit my thigh pad and went for four leg byes. The whole crowd was cheering because they thought it was my first run. And I was like, no, I know it’s the leg bye. But that first run was pretty special and having Usman Khawaja at the other end was someone familiar to me at the time. I didn’t know him very well. I’d only played a few times with him, but even that comfort of having someone that I knew at the other end was pretty special.

When you’re seeing a fast bowler steaming in, what are you telling yourself or what would you recommend a young cricketer is telling themselves to settle in and handle those nerves?

I think nerves are a good thing because it shows you care, but I think just trying to enjoy the moment. It’s not every day you get to challenge yourself and that’s the big one that I’ve developed over the last couple years. Embracing that challenge.

You get to challenge yourself against the best, whether that’s your age group, whether that’s in the world, either way, it’s an enjoyment to try and challenge yourself. That’s the big one that I’ve taken from it.

You mentioned Usman Khawaja before. Obviously you’ve played a bit of cricket with him now, but as a young player in the Test side were there any key coaches or key players that helped you develop or guide you when you needed some assistance?

Everyone was pretty good to me at the time. Obviously, he was a bit closer to me, being from Queensland, but I think everyone knows that it’s pretty brutal and tough at times, especially overseas. I got to go to India and Bangladesh, two of my first three tours. They’re pretty tough environments. Having those guys, knowing how hard it is, I think they helped me as much as they could to be comfortable within myself.

You started your career really well, scoring 71 and 184 in your first four Test matches, and then had a little bit of a form slump and you weren’t selected in the 2017 Ashes Series. As a young player, how did you manage that disappointment and build the motivation to go hit the nets and put your hand up for selection next time?

As a youngster, you always get dropped. It happens, you’ve got to be able to accept that. But it was the first time I’d been dropped and I’d really struggled with it mentally. I probably got myself dropped out of that situation. I don’t think that anyone else took my place. From a mental point of view, I cost myself that spot. I think it only hit me a couple years later and that was when I took a step back and wondered why I wanted to play cricket, and it wasn’t to play for Australia.

Obviously, those are really good moments when you do get to play for Australia, but for me I just took a back step and went, okay I just want to have fun, I want to challenge myself, and I want to be able to perform. Those are the big ones. Rather than thinking every game I play, I need to play Test cricket, I need to play for Queensland, I need to play for Toombul, it was just whatever game I’m playing, I want to have fun and spend a decent day with my mates because otherwise it can be a very long cricket season and you can just be waiting for the offseason and that’s never a good spot to be in mentally.

You took a bit of time off your cricket. What sparked your love of the game again?

Just coming back to it and going, how do I make myself better? That’s always a good one to work out, having a look at footage and going, this is what I was doing when I was doing well, this is what I was doing when I wasn’t doing well. It was always about trying to get myself better and enjoy those challenges. Because when I was starting out, I probably wasn’t the greatest cricketer. I think I’m a better cricketer now than when I played Test cricket for the first time. So, it was always about the mindset. I was in my best mindset back then because I had nothing to lose. I’m playing Test cricket, I’m 20, this is a pretty awesome experience. Looking back at that, it was just all about enjoying myself.

A challenge for the young cricketers, and this relates to all sports, is trying to find their position in a team and adapting to different positions. I know you’ve got experience opening the batting and also down the order. How do you view the importance of being adaptable and doing what’s necessary from a team point of view to reach success?

That’s been a big part of my career, being able to be adaptable and that movement from opening to number five in Shield Cricket, it was a little bit scary at the start. Initially, it was a bit of, oh I’m not used to batting in the middle of the order, I don’t know what I’m going to do, but I just try to treat it as a different challenge. Instead of facing a brand new ball, I didn’t know when I was going to bat, I didn’t know who I was going to be facing at the start, and that was another challenge in itself. Some days I went in in the fifth over, and then there was a game at the Gabba where I went in in the 105th over. It’s just that uncertainty of not knowing what’s going on in the game scenario that is probably the biggest challenge in that middle order.

For the young people, when you do get an opportunity to do something different just try and embrace it because you never know that could be your calling. Whether that’s playing in the forwards in rugby or defence in soccer it was something I always liked doing when I was a kid, just trying different positions because it’s just a different challenge and enjoyment.

We talk about adapting to different spots in the batting order, how about adapting to different formats? Obviously, we’ve got the Big Bash League coming up, how does your preparation change leading into a test compared to leading into the Big Bash season?

That’s one of the challenges of being a cricketer. Being able to just adapt probably takes me one or two net sessions to get my head in a different format. The great part is we’ve got time to prepare and just be able to adjust. You get a lot of time in the off-season to practice different things. You’re always on the go thinking about different formats, but when it comes to it, you just get in the right mindset and the game takes care of itself.

We speak about mindset, I know you recently engaged the services of a mindset improvement coach. Can you talk about how this has helped you improve your game and boost your resilience?

It comes back to that part with my dad, having someone away from the high-performance nature of Queensland cricket or Cricket Australia. Someone that I can go and talk to, work on things about my cricket, about my personal life, just be myself and not feel like I have to hide anything. Sometimes you don’t feel comfortable talking about what you’re feeling around selection with a head coach. Whereas, you can talk about anything with this, with the guys I speak to, and I recommend that highly. It’s something that has changed my cricket and my life in the last year. It’s something that I really recommend if you feel like you need to talk to someone away from any institution that you’re a part of. It’s really helped my cricket and my life.

I heard David Warner recently endorsed you as the next Australian opener, which must mean a lot coming from a bloke with so much success in the game. How do you personally deal with that endorsement and stay grounded and still put in the work so when the time comes around for selection you know that you’ve done all you can to reach that position?

In the past, It’s whenever I’ve felt like I’m close to playing test cricket again, or feel like I need to score runs to do that, I struggle. It’s about not thinking too far ahead. At the moment it’s all up to the selectors and you never know what will happen with selection.

You can’t predict anything in cricket, you can’t predict anything in life. I’m just going about my business, doing what I feel like I need to do to be in the best position if an opportunity comes in the future, whether that’s six months’ time, whether that’s six years’ time, you never know.

You look at someone like Usman Khawaja, who was out of the Test team for three or four years. He got an opportunity and took it and now he’s one of the best batters in the world. He’s undroppable and he’s at the peak of his powers at an age where a lot of people think that you can’t play cricket. You look at his story and go, well, anything can happen in cricket. Your career’s never over until you retire. That’s something that I always try and think about. For now, just enjoying my career with Queensland and the Brisbane Heat. Those are two things that I can control: enjoying that cricket and not worrying about whatever is to come.

Do you have a piece of advice that you’d like to pass on to a young batter who’s looking to kill it this pre-season and put some runs on the board next year?

Just enjoy yourself and don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Cricket is a unique sport that a lot of the time can come down to statistics, but sometimes you can be batting really well and not getting any runs. Something that I was trying to focus on is knowing that a score is coming around the corner. You even look at guys like Steve Smith, he’s averaging 60 in test cricket and if he fails, he fails. That’s unfortunately cricket, but he knows that he’s got a score around the corner. When you do get a chance to make a big score, it’s going big and making sure it counts.

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