In the eyes of the ICC’s pundits Josh Hazlewood is an emerging player – the best of the past year, according to the annual awards announced this week.
But inside Cricket NSW and Cricket Australia he has been subject to huge raps for close to a decade, that he would be the next big thing in fast-bowling in Australia – and he is now justifying that reputation.
While peers Mitch Starc, James Pattinson and Pat Cummins were ushered into Test cricket ahead of schedule Hazlewood, who made his international debut more than a year ahead of all of them, had to wait four and a half years between getting his one-day cap and his baggy green last summer.
In the tall fast-bowler’s first year he has taken 60 wickets at an average of 22.65. Only India spinner R. Ashwin (69 at 20.35) has taken more in Tests in the same period.
Arguably the finest aspect of that debut year has come in his past two Tests, in the absence of both pacemen who were above him in the pecking order in the winter Ashes series: Mitch Johnson and Mitch Starc.
Since Starc was injured in Adelaide, during the first innings against New Zealand, the right-armer has taken 15 wickets at an average of 6.87, while only conceding 1.79 runs per over.
“When you say it like that I’m pretty happy,” he said on Thursday, after Australia’s main training session before the Boxing Day Test. “I don’t look back too often – you’re always looking forward to the next game and preparing for that – but I’m pretty happy with the past 12 months. There’s been a few ups and downs but more ups than actual downs, so I’m pretty happy with how I’ve gone.”
Hazlewood, 24, is quietly spoken by nature, but nevertheless said he had thrived on the requirement to step up when Starc limped out of the Adelaide Test, and with it the home summer, due to injury.
“Seeing Mitch go down has probably put a bit more responsibility on the other quicks. I definitely felt that in the second innings in Adelaide,” he said
“I guess you do get the ball in your hand a little but more, being the leading bowler. I seem to thrive on that extra responsibility I think. ‘Smithy’ [captain Steve Smith] turns to me when we need a wicket and need to break a partnership. I’m enjoying it at the moment.”
Starc and Pattinson both debuted at the start of the 2011-12 home summer. Left-armer Starc had played only 14 shield matches, and had a bowling average of 33.22, while Pattinson had played half that and had an average of 30.43. Pat Cummins had debuted in thr preceding Test, in South Africa, with only three shield matches behind him, with an average of 46.33.
Hazlewood had had comparable injury problems to Starc and Pattinson, yet it did not get the same attention because he had yet to play a Test. By the time he finally debuted in the second Test of last summer he had a solid grounding of 24 matches over five years, in which he took 79 wickets at 27.33. He reckoned that had been a good grounding for him, and had aided his generally positive start to his Test career.
“I think I just played a little bit more Shield cricket – not as much as I would’ve liked, with injuries and things like that,” he said.
“I watched Mitch Starc and get given that Test match, as Jimmy (Pattinson) as well, quite early on. They probably weren’t quite ready, but I think that extra couple of years in shield cricket got me ready for Test cricket. I probably knew my body a little bit better injury-wise, and what I could bowl with. I think that played a little part in that.”
Hazlewood said in the past two Tests he had been more comfortable that at any stage of his career. In those Tests he has regained the consistency, of line and length, that briefly deserted him in England and saw him miss the last Test.
That consistency has allowed Hazlewood to take over Starc’s role as the key wicket-taker without sacrificing his economy.
While Hazlewood’s ability to play every Test has been in doubt since Brisbane, due to concerns about his workload, he is increasingly confidently about achieving that.
“We’re always monitoring [the workloads of] everyone, quicks in particular, but with the Test going only three days in Hobart it helped us to have that extra-long break and get some strength back in and recovery as well,” he said.
“All the quicks are good to go.
“I’m feeling good. These two Tests are back-to-back, but we’ll play it by ear and see how I go after this Test.”
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