Josh Hazlewood has effectively dared England to prepare green, seaming pitches for the remaining four Ashes Tests, arguing that the balance of the 2019 squad – featuring Pat Cummins, James Pattinson, Mitchell Starc, Peter Siddle, Michael Neser and himself – is far better than the combination chosen four years ago.
In 2015, Hazlewood was part of an Australian squad that toured England with a surfeit of fast men, featuring Mitchell Johnson, Starc and Cummins in addition to himself following the forced retirement of Ryan Harris. But the bombing raid approach only worked for one of the five Tests at Lord’s, as slower, seam and swing friendly surfaces did not suit the visiting attack elsewhere, leading finally to a belated recall for Siddle.
Having taken 3 for 34 against Worcestershire at New Road, Hazlewood indicated that the bowlers were both content to be used as a flexible squad and confident the right combinations would be found irrespective of what surfaces are prepared at Lord’s, Headingley, Old Trafford and The Oval. The success of Siddle, Cummins and Pattinson in Birmingham, on a pitch that started out seam-friendly but swiftly dried out into a haven for Nathan Lyon, will force England to look at other options for their pitches.
“We’ve got three guys with proper air speed and we’ve got three guys who seam and swing it a little bit, so I think that’s what they’ve got six quicks for to have all bases covered and I guess it’s just who’s bowling the best at that particular time and who gets the nod,” Hazlewood said when asked if the balance of bowlers meant England would not be able to prepare pitches unsuited to the Australian bowlers this time around. “I think every quick really feels the pressure of the other five or vice versa and it’s great competition to have within the squad.
“It depends on what the wicket dishes up. If it’s a dry wicket that reverse swing might come into play [on] or very flat then someone like Mitch Starc can come in to play. If it’s nice and green and seaming around then it’s myself and Sidds. It just depends on what conditions are to be honest. They’ve definitely gone a different way to 2015 and I think that’s because of how tight [together] the Tests are, that’s why we’ve got six here, and any one can do a different job on a different day. It’s getting that balance in the attack.
“I think there’ll be a little bit more in it [at Lord’s], but in saying that, probably their best exponent Jimmy’s not going to play. So that might weigh up different options, but I think there’ll be more in it, maybe just to try to get Smithy out. But him batting on those sort of tracks is very hard work. I think it suits us as much as them if there is more in the wicket, so we’ll weigh it up.”
At Edgbaston, Hazlewood and Starc had the unusual sensation of being left out of a Test match in which both would have been fit to play, something the former admitted he had not experienced since a combination of niggling injuries and declining performance saw him replaced by Siddle for the aforementioned Oval Test in 2015.
“Yeah it would be, especially for a Test match – probably last time here I think at The Oval, maybe four years ago. So a while ago,” Hazlewood said. “Coming back from a pretty serious back injury, back to back stress fractures, it can take a while to get back in the swing of things, and I feel I’m getting better and better each bowl and last night and today felt really good, so if I can keep improving there and keep putting my hand up every time I get the chance then that’s all you can do.
“Sidds has obviously been playing a lot of cricket and I think the other guys picked themselves. Jimmy [Pattinson] has been bowling fantastic for Nottinghamshire and on the Australia A tour and in Southampton as well bowled incredibly. So it’s pretty stiff competition at the moment, and we’ve got Mitch Starc and Michael Neser as well. It’s a great group of guys, we all want everyone else to do really well as a group, and try and win the Ashes as a group of six not just us and them playing.”
Lord’s four years ago was arguably Hazlewood’s best match of the series, as he found better control with the Dukes ball and claimed key wickets in each innings in concert with Starc, Johnson and Mitchell Marsh. He is understandably eager for a recall at the home of the game.
“I’ve just played the one Test there but thought I got used to the slope pretty quickly and felt pretty comfortable there,” he said. “I think the conditions have been quite bowler friendly there the last few Test matches, so I’d love an opportunity. Obviously I was quite young or inexperienced the first time I played there in a Test match, and it probably passed me by pretty quickly, but just playing at Lord’s in an Ashes Test it doesn’t get much better to be honest and I’m looking forward.”