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Rocky road leads Duke to decisive moment

After doubts about his future, Australia's comeback kid is desperate to perform in a tournament tailor-made for his skills

There were times at the end of last year when John Hastings feared his international career was over.

The initial diagnosis from a serious knee injury suffered during a Sheffield Shield match in December was up to 10 months on the sidelines, which would have ruled him out of the ICC Champions Trophy, a tournament he was desperate to take part in.

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The injury came less than two weeks after the paceman had publicly expressed his disbelief at being overlooked for Australia's one-day series against New Zealand, despite being the equal-leading ODI wicket-taker in the world to that point in the year.

With Australia already boasting a pace attack featuring the names Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, Patrick Cummins and World Cup winner James Faulkner, and with James Pattinson poised to launch another comeback from injury, it was hard to see a way back in for the Sydney-born quick.

So it was no surprise that Hastings found himself "in a pretty flat spot" as he watched the rest of the summer from the sidelines, before an improved prognosis lifted his spirits and gave him renewed hope of an international return.

Hastings reflects on difficult period

"I think the early diagnosis for my injury was quite bad and I thought that could have been it, no doubt," Hastings said on Monday when asked if he thought his time in Australian colours could be over.

"But once they got in there and had a look, it wasn't so bad. (An absence of) 9-10 months came down to about four months so that Champions Trophy was well in my mind and I was glad to get through it.

"Having a good 12 months and then missing out on that New Zealand series was tough to take, no doubt. And then obviously I got injured and missed the rest of the summer.

"So I was in a pretty flat spot at times during the Big Bash. But once I had the operation and got into my rehab, I got out of that and I got focused on what I needed to do to get here."

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Fast forward four months from the moment he limped off Blundstone Arena in Hobart, his right knee and Champions Trophy hopes in tatters, Hastings was literally back on his feet again.

Having recovered in time for the start of the English county season in April, the right-armer was just two matches into his stint with Worcester before learning of his recall, alongside Australia's Big Four quicks, for the Champions Trophy.

Simply making it back into the squad, effectively in place of Faulkner, was a significant achievement. But now the tournament itself is just four days away, Hastings says the time for self-congratulation is over.

"I gave myself a little tiny pat on the back to get here," he says. "But now I really, really want to do well."

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The phone call confirming his recall came from selection chairman Trevor Hohns, the same man who had delivered the news of his axing in December.

The Victorian had aired his displeasure at that decision and the way the message had been delivered last year, saying he was "pretty shocked" and "very disappointed" to be overlooked having performed so strongly over the previous 12 months.

And a few weeks later, he suggested a fifth selector should be added to the panel to specifically focus on communication and man management of the playing group.

But on Monday, Hastings could not have spoken more highly of Hohns, even if the phone call delivering the news of his recall had not been entirely positive.

"I thought he might be ringing for one of two things," Hastings said with a smile. "Either to tell me I don't have a Cricket Australia contract or to tell me I was in (the Champions Trophy squad).

"And it was both in one. So it wasn't too bad. It was bittersweet.

"(Hohns) has been brilliant. (There's been) very good communication over those six months, working towards this tournament to try and be ready for it. He's been really good."

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While the focus has been on Australia's Big Four heading into this tournament, the fact Hastings was rested alongside Starc and skipper Steve Smith for their warm-up match last Friday indicates he's in line to play their tournament opener against New Zealand on Friday.

And his vast experience playing for Worcester and Durham, as well as his match-winning, series-clinching haul of 3-21 against England at Old Trafford in 2015, gives him belief that a one-day tournament in English conditions is tailored perfectly to his bowling.

"I think that's probably one of the main reasons I'm in the squad, because I've played in these conditions over the last three-and-a-half years," he said after he'd been denied one final warm-up match due to persistent rain in Birmingham on Monday.

"Every chance I get, I love playing for Australia and it will be no different in these three round games and hopefully the semis and the final.

"I've been over here playing for Worcester and I've had (seven) one-day games leading up to this tournament. I had a centre-wicket hit-out the other day so as far as game practice and all that sort of stuff and knowing English conditions, I’m as ... prepared as anyone.

"I'm 31 years old now and like to think I have enough experience to know what's needed to get over these next couple of days at training (and) to hit the ground running on Friday."

The fact Hastings will even be at Edgbaston on Friday, back in Australian colours, is a significant achievement in itself.


Champions Trophy 2017 Guide


Squads: Every Champions Trophy squad named so far

Group A: Australia, New Zealand, England, Bangladesh.

Group B: India, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Pakistan.


Schedule


Warm-up matches


26 May – Australia v Sri Lanka, The Oval

27 May – Bangladesh v Pakistan, Edgbaston

28 May – India v New Zealand, The Oval

29 May – Australia v Pakistan, Edgbaston

30 May – New Zealand v Sri Lanka, Edgbaston

30 May – Bangladesh vs India, The Oval


Tournament


1 June – England v Bangladesh, The Oval (Day)

2 June – Australia v New Zealand, Edgbaston (D)

3 June – Sri Lanka v South Africa, The Oval (D)

4 June – India v Pakistan, Edgbaston (D)

5 June – Australia v Bangladesh, The Oval (D/N)

6 June – England v New Zealand, Cardiff (D)

7 June – Pakistan v South Africa, Edgbaston (D/N)

8 June – India v Sri Lanka, The Oval (D)

9 June – New Zealand v Bangladesh, Cardiff (D)

10 June – England v Australia, Edgbaston (D)

11 June – India v South Africa, The Oval (D)

12 June – Sri Lanka v Pakistan, Cardiff (D)

14 June – First semi-final (A1 v B2), Cardiff (D)

15 June – Second semi-final (A2 v B1), Edgbaston (D)

18 June – Final, The Oval (D)


19 June – Reserve day (D)


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