Every summer it seems to be a different player. A member of the Australian team having his technique or leadership dissected in detail from commentary and press boxes around the country.
The pattern has repeated for so long it is difficult to know exactly who it started with, though the end of the World Series Cricket split in 1979 brought greater focus than previously through the zooming cameras of Channel Nine. No-one has ever endured an ordeal quite so intense as Kim Hughes before his tearful resignation speech in 1984, in which he pointed out that "constant speculation, criticism and innuendo, by former players and sections of the media, have finally taken their toll..."
More recent victims of what one News Corp correspondent memorably called "the blowtorch of introspection" have included Damien Martyn, Marcus North, Shaun Marsh and Ricky Ponting - Michael Hussey and Mark Taylor were two to survive it and return to full productivity. All take it slightly differently. Martyn chose to offer his middle finger to cameras in 2003-04, while Taylor was unfailingly frank and open in addressing his slump and his critics. For Ponting, the combination of speculation and self-imposed pressure created self-doubt he had never previously experienced. Retirement swiftly followed.
Last summer, Joe Burns and Adam Voges were among numerous players in the firing line as Australia staggered through early season defeat to South Africa. In their places came Matt Renshaw and Peter Handscomb, the former being dropped even before this Ashes series began, and the latter now hanging in as part of the Test squad but no longer, as of Perth, a member of the XI.
"It's funny that. I was doing exactly the same thing last year but I was making runs, so my technique was ok then."Peter Handscomb
An amiable, grinning figure, Handscomb by his own admission carried a stressed visage through the Brisbane and Adelaide Tests, as his technical unorthodoxy ran headlong into the accurate examinations of James Anderson in particular. Spelled for Mitchell Marsh at the WACA Ground, he spent much of the week grooving his game in the nets against throw-downs, and also Jackson Bird, and has found questions over his method - going back where many move forward - to be multiplying.
He noted, too, that the captain Steven Smith has done a pretty good job of making an unusual technique work for him, and most now look for keys to batting greatness where once they spied for weaknesses. "It's funny that," Handscomb said. "I was doing exactly the same thing last year but I was making runs, so my technique was ok then.
"This year I'm doing the same thing but haven't made the runs so all of a sudden my technique's not good enough. It's just funny how that can happen. Steve's technique is not something you teach but it works for him, so I'm not worried about how my technique's going, I just need to keep backing it in and I'm pretty confident I'll make runs if selected. Up in Brisbane I was seeing them well and unfortunately just missed a ball on the stumps and then in Adelaide I was batting in two difficult periods, both at night, and the ball was doing plenty there.
"So I'm not too worried about how my technique's going or anything like that, but in terms of the selectors' decision it was purely because Mitch can bowl a few overs, and he did and he did it well. It's amazing what can come out when you have one bad Test, albeit in tough conditions as well. I'm not really that worried about my game at the moment, I know how well I can play and I know how tough Test cricket is, so if I come back in at any stage, I'm pretty confident I'll be able to make runs."
Nothing underlines Australian cricket's current scheduling like the fact that Handscomb is now part of the squad as a spare batsman but not expected to play in Melbourne. Rather than send him to the Big Bash League where he would look to go on the attack for the Melbourne Stars, the selectors have deigned to keep Handscomb in "red-ball" mode, ready to step in should he be required. Past experience - Shaun Marsh in 2011-12 most infamously - counsel against pulling players directly from the BBL to play Tests.
"You need to be there ready to go with your long format, your Test skills ready to go rather than going back and trying to slog the white ball around and potentially changing a few things in your game," Handscomb, also an eminently capable substitute fielder, said. "It's good to stay around the squad and make sure I'm ready to go if called upon. We've got the facilities for myself to keep practicing red-ball cricket and if I have to go back into T20s to play then that's not an issue either.
"I managed to get a hit in every day [in Perth], we've got a great support staff team there and they were willing to throw balls and whang balls for as long as I wanted. Jackson Bird was there as well having a bowl so I got to face a quality bowler as well. It was a slightly more relaxing week than usual, playing Test cricket can be quite stressful and just to have a week of training and making sure my batting's up to scratch was nice, but I would've rather been stressed and playing the Test match than relaxed and not playing."
"You can understand it, it's part of the game, but yeah it sucks having to sit on the sidelines"Peter Handscomb on the possibility of missing a Boxing Day Test at his homeground
Handscomb's next opportunity to play a game, should he not be thrust back into the Australian XI on Boxing Day, would be a Stars fixture in Perth on the same day. Whether or not he takes part in that match remains to be seen, but either way the BBL means that he has only the chance to play only one Sheffield Shield match before a four-Test series in South Africa in February.
Bird is the other reserve player in the squad, but every image of Mitchell Starc on crutches seems to edge the Tasmanian closer and closer to a first Test appearance since Boxing Day against Pakistan a year ago. While his inclusion would mean a significant drop in speed relative to Starc's 150kph bullets, Handscomb noted that what Bird lost in velocity he gained in accuracy, bounce and subtle movement either way.
"In the nets he was bowling really well over in Perth, swinging it, seaming and hitting his line and length, so if he does come in for this Test I've got no issues there, knowing he'll come in and do what's required. He's just relentless on his mark. He'll hit the top of off and he's still got a very good bouncer in him as well. So if he comes in his skills are right up there and he's shown that in Shield cricket."
As for the prospect of watching his home Test match while wearing a drinks runner's bib rather than a batsman's helmet, Handscomb retained his equanimity and honesty. "You can understand it, it's part of the game, but yeah it sucks having to sit on the sidelines," he said. "Still awesome to be part of the squad and moving into the Boxing Day Test is going to be good fun. It was a dream growing up to be a part of it, especially an Ashes one as well."
One advantage of being scrutinised like Handscomb at the relatively youthful age of 26 is there is plenty of time for him to return to the team and to his batting best, like Smith once did. In that way, at least, the "blowtorch of introspection" can shape as well as destroy.