Cricket

‘Cherry ripe’ Josh Hazlewood brings peak precision

For years, “fit to play” the key phrase for a fast bowler, or any cricketer for that matter, who pulled on the baggy green cap. Ricky Ponting used to talk about wanting Australia’s players to be able to look him in the eye and tell him, niggles or injuries or not, that they were fit to play. Famously, Nathan Hauritz missed the 2009 Oval Test on a tinder dry pitch because he could not.

Plenty of days passed where pacemen in particular showed visible discomfort on the field, only to have the public assured that they were “fit to play”. Only later, at the end of a match or series, would the truer picture emerge, of injuries carried, ailments ignored, surgeries deferred.

In 2019, about eight years after Cricket Australia entered the conversation about being a little more nuanced when it comes to managing fast bowlers, a different phrase is being used a lot: cherry ripe. Australia wanted James Pattinson to be “cherry ripe” for Edgbaston, and he was spelled from Lord’s to ensure he would be “cherry ripe” for Leeds.

In the meantime, the tourists had the luxury of recalling a “cherry ripe” Josh Hazlewood for the second Test, and after Tim Paine sent England in to bat, he aptly demonstrated the advantage of upgrading the team’s expectation of him from “fit to play”. The opening spells delivered by Hazlewood and Pat Cummins, later to be augmented by a sustained, brutal burst of short stuff from the latter, underlined the value of having bowlers who are not only of high quality, but also carefully managed to be in peak physical condition for the battle at hand.

Four years ago, there was plenty of variety to the Australian pace battery’s angle of attack to England. Partly this was because plans changed as the pitches did, but it was also to do with the fact that the bowlers were both physically and mentally geared for knockout victories rather than more subtle approaches.

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Hazlewood summed this up most of all, leaving him with a bit of thinking to do about his bowling in England once he was left out of the team for the final Test at the Oval. He had bowled full and tried to swing the ball in that series, occasionally getting it right but also struggling at times to control the swing. He would also float the ball up into the driving zones of the England batsmen, easing any pressure that he had been trying to build up.

This time around, Hazlewood has made no secret he is concentrating on bowling a good length, not too full, and working the seam of the ball rather than trying to swing it. It’s a method he demonstrated in Southampton during the internal trial match and then at Worcester between Tests. Against England batsmen wanting to feel the bat on the ball, it is an ideal blueprint, as his Lord’s opening spell figures of 2 for 5 from six overs amply demonstrated.

He was helped, much as Pattinson and Nathan Lyon had been in Birmingham, by the fact that Jason Roy simply cannot resist either feeling for the ball outside his eye line or trying to assert himself with a tone setting shot or two early. He did both in the space of Hazlewood’s first three balls of the Test, swishing at his first ball, beaten by his second and wretchedly edging his third. This not only provided Hazlewood with a triumphal return to Tests, but also rather backed up his pre-series assertion that Roy was, if the experiences of Aaron Finch last summer were anything to go by, pushing the proverbial excrement up hill in trying to become a Test opener from a white-ball foundation.

Joe Root, too, gave Hazlewood some help by continuing his recent trend of becoming an lbw candidate. Running a few balls away from Root down the Lord’s slope then nipping one back would have been very close to the top of Hazlewood’s plans for the England captain, and he achieved it much more quickly than Root would have preferred.

When he took his cap from the umpire at the end of his sixth over, Hazlewood had cause to feel a little happier about all the waiting he had been made to do throughout the World Cup and then the first Ashes Test, for his physical and mental states were such that he had been able to land the ball on something like a sixpence throughout. How he had wished to do that in 2015.

If the wickets did not fall quite as quickly thereafter, the Australian attack still combined artfully in a variety of spells that showed how the Dukes ball could be utilised at various stages of its age. For not only are Australia’s three pacemen all offering variations in height, line and trajectory, they can also bowl contrasting spells that end up proving complementary.

After lunch, with the ball starting to swing more than it had done in the morning session, Hazlewood and Peter Siddle delivered spells from the Pavilion End that gained appreciable away movement, drawing the batsmen forward and reaping the wicket of Joe Denly then a dropped chance from Paine off Rory Burns’ outside edge.

At the other end, Cummins delivered a brutish, bang it in spell that forced the batsmen back where Hazlewood and Siddle brought them forward. The mixing up of footwork this created was to be rewarded when Burns jumped back to fend off a ball rearing up towards his hip and armpit, wonderfully held by Cameron Bancroft at short leg. Siddle’s reward came when he found Jos Buttler’s outside edge, and after Ben Stokes had been done on the sweep by Lyon, Cummins bent his back once again to winkle out Chris Woakes.

There was not much friendly about this line of attack, short and sharp with a fine leg, deep square leg, square leg, leg gully and short leg – going as close to a Bodyline field as it is possible to do under the game’s present laws – but nor was it low energy. Bouncers take extra effort, and fatigued fast men undoubtedly push themselves closer to the limit of injury when asked to bowl heaps of them. But if Cummins had more bowling at Edgbaston than Hazlewood, he was still fresh enough to bang it in for Woakes, Jofra Archer and Stuart Broad.

A final England tally of 258 was more a reflection of three dropped catches from the Australians than it was of the quality of much of the bowling, which was lifted by the aspiration for the touring pacemen to be “cherry ripe” rather than merely “fit to play”. A six-pack of fast men, rotated through a series to ensure their best or near it is consistently on offer, may very well be something for Australia and their opponents to get used to.

Article source: http://www.espncricinfo.com/ci/content/story/1197675.html?CMP=OTC-RSS

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