Josh Philippe has followed the lead of his idol Steven Smith and is reaping the rewards for hitting "thousands" of balls over the last few weeks, as he battled a mid-tournament dip in form which he has turned around with the Sydney Sixers preparing for the Big Bash finals
The Sixers' route may yet be tougher if the Adelaide Strikers take second place, and the double chance at qualifying for the final, but they are comfortably in the mix. Three wins on the bounce to finish the group stage has been an impressive way to overcome a stretch where they suffered at the hands of Marcus Stoinis' 147* and were on the wrong end of some rain.
Philippe has made half-centuries in the last two of those outings against the Brisbane Heat and the Melbourne Renegades which came after a run of five matches where he managed 8, 6, 7, 1 and 10 following his unbeaten 83 against the Strikers in Coffs Harbour. He is the Sixers' highest run-scorer from the regular season with 401 runs at 36.45, and a strike-rate of 126.10.
"To be honest I've hit thousands and thousands of balls, I've hit so many balls in the last few weeks. The thing with T20 cricket is when you miss out a few times it feels like it all happens so quickly," Philippe told ESPNcricinfo. "We've had so many games close together, just the last few weeks where I didn't get too many it felt like it all happened at once and I just kept backing myself, hitting a lot of balls, and hoping it would work out which it kind of did, which is nice.
"In the last couple of games I've just taken a few more balls to get myself in then starting to go, but sometimes you are chasing massive scores and don't have time to do that. It's all about reading the game, reading the situation, and the more you play the better you get at that."
Hitting masses of deliveries at training is something associated with Smith, and the pair have had the chance to bat together for the first time in their careers in the last two games. Smith was instrumental in getting Philippe to sign for the Sixers in 2018 and is never shy of saying how far he believes the younger man can go.
"Geez, he was striking some balls very cleanly again," Smith said after his unbeaten 66 completed the chase against the Renegades. "I've said it so much that kid has got some serious talent and he showed that again today. He just let me get into my innings before I could start getting a bit more expansive. That really helped."
When asked about direct comparisons, Smith joked before lauding his striking: "He's got a tiny head like me, so the boys give him a bit of stick about that. He's got a pretty unique swing, the way he hits so clean, that six he hit to the on side early on against [Dan Christian] was an amazing shot, the way he check-drove it and gained so much power just shows the talent he's got. He'll enjoy playing in those pressure situations, he'll learn. He's so young, he's got so much time on his hands."
What is it like to hear Smith so often praise your game? "It's amazing, really nice to hear so sorts of things. He's a massive idol of mine and I look up to him," Philippe said. "I'd love to one day get half as many runs as he's got at the next level. It's really cool to have that, and fingers crossed, I can keep making runs."
And if someone had told Philippe a few years ago that he would be batting alongside Smith he wouldn't have believed them. "I would have said 'you're dreaming' but it's pretty amazing. I'm stoked to be here and be in a really cool set-up with the Sixers. It's such a bonus that we get Smith, [Josh] Hazlewood and [Nathan] Lyon back playing and it's really cool to mix with those guys."
As Philippe noted, the Sixers have their Australia players back and there remains some hope that Sean Abbott may yet be able to return from the side injury that ruled him out of the ODI squad to tour India. That would be a boost because the one issue the Sixers have to ponder is how to fill to the hole left by their leading wicket-taker Tom Curran, who departs for England duty now the regular season has finished, having claimed 22 wickets capped off with 3 for 27 against the Renegades.
"[He has] some great skills, he has been magnificent with the ball and under pressure with the bat," Smith said. "Watching on TV that game that got to the Super Over [against Sydney Thunder] that was one of the best knocks I've seen at this Big Bash. He'll be a big loss. He's done his job as an overseas player, helped get us to the finals, now it's our job to get it done for him."