Hilton Cartwright’s batting form has fallen off a cliff since he made his Test and ODI debuts in 2017. (ABC News: Tom Wildie)
Two years ago, Hilton Cartwright was playing for Australia and could have been forgiven for thinking he had the cricket world at his feet.
Now, the 27-year-old batsman isn’t even in Western Australia’s Sheffield Shield side and has played just a single game of the domestic one day competition this season.
“I definitely read articles about the summer that’s coming up and a few times journalists will touch on the players who’ve been in recent form,” he said.
“It’s disheartening to know you’ve been in those articles and now you’re nowhere to be seen.
“I guess in a small sense you know [you’re not one of the players in the frame]. It’s just reading it is the hard part, knowing that you’re not in the scope of things anymore.”
It’s a long way from the heights of 2017, when Cartwright was a Test incumbent and in the form of his life.
Cartwright (right) hit 37 against Pakistan at the SCG in his first Test match for Australia. (AAP: Paul Miller)
He had scored freely at domestic level for two seasons, posting 1,270 runs at an average of more than 57.
The 2016-17 season was his breakout year. Only Ed Cowan made more runs in the Shield competition, while Cartwright bagged two centuries and five half-centuries, with the sheer weight of runs earning his Test call-up.
Confidence shattered by ‘a big whirlwind’
Cartwright made his debut against Pakistan in January at the SCG, scoring 37 runs in his only innings as Australia cruised to a 220-run victory.
The Zimbabwe-born batsman would have to wait eight months for his next Test appearance, selected to play on tour against Bangladesh, where he made 18 as Australia again won easily.
Cartwright says he proved to himself he was a “really good player” before he lost form. (AAP: Julian Smith)
“My last Test match was in completely different conditions in Bangladesh,” he recalled.
“You walk out to bat, you know your game plan, you don’t question anything and you feel like whatever comes at you, you’re prepared and capable to counter that and make runs.
“I just knew if I did what I needed to do whilst I was batting, I would become a better player than who I was coming up against.
“I felt like I could dominate every bowler that came at me.”
Cartwright played two one-day international (ODI) matches later that same month. He hasn’t played for Australia since.
Two ODIs against India in late 2017 were Cartwright’s last appearances for his country. (AP: Bikas Das)
In the space of three months, his form had fallen off a cliff.
“I felt like I was in a big whirlwind where I knew that I was struggling for form, but I didn’t feel as though I was doing anything different to what I had done in the previous 18 months,” he said.
Change in technique, change in fortunes
In his first 10 Shield innings of the 2017–18 season, Cartwright returned just 216 runs at an average of 21.6, with only one half-century against three ducks.
“I didn’t think anything had changed in my preparation, in my lead-up for games,” he said.
“The biggest difference was that because I had made such a big technical change to my batting, I didn’t allow for that to take.”
In two full Shield seasons since his last Test, Cartwright has averaged just 28.89 runs and made one century. (AAP: Richard Wainwright)
Despite his breakout season with the bat, Cartwright had decided to change the way he stood at the crease to get his hands higher while waiting for the bowler — not dissimilar to how former Australian captain Steve Smith stands.
“A lot of people asked me why I would want to change. If your hands are low, you’re making runs, you’re playing for Australia, why change it?” he said.
“I had a constant gremlin in the back of my mind, saying you need to get your hands up.”
The changes didn’t yield immediate results and as the season wore on, Cartwright started to doubt if he should continue trying to change his technique.
Cartwright’s form slide saw him left out of the WA team for the first Shield match of this year.
(ABC News: Tom Wildie)
“I knew what I was capable of. I knew I was a really good player and I had proven that to myself the summer before,” he said.
“I’d be going into games with a great mindset, knowing that my game was good enough. And it was disheartening to go into a game, not necessarily succeed in a game and [then] walk away wondering how and why it’s not working.
“I was on top of the world one summer, and the following summer I felt like I was so far from it.”
Cartwright’s batting figures illustrate his drop in performance.
In the two full Shield seasons since his last Test, he has scored 1,040 runs at just 28.89 in 39 innings, with just one century.
Searching for a chance to repay the faith
Cartwright was omitted from the WA side for the opening Shield match of this season as a result of his underwhelming form over the past two years.
When the opportunity to return to the side does come along, he said he was confident he had sorted out his technique and could begin repaying the faith shown in him by his coaches, including now-Australia coach Justin Langer, over the last 24 months.
As he looks to return to the field for WA, Cartwright admits he is facing pressure. (ABC News: Tom Wildie)
“Looking back on it, he put quite a lot time and energy through that season to get me back,” he said.
“A lot of extra net sessions. Training would finish at three, four o’clock and he’d be throwing balls to me for another 45 minutes, to try and knuckle down what I was trying to achieve.
“The time I’ve had, I’ve flunked it, in my personal opinion.
“I know I am a better player than how I’ve performed, but you’re only as good as the stats say you are.
“The pressure’s a lot more on me if I do get my opportunity [at state level] because of the last 24 months.”