Former Test quick Jason Gillespie believes Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood will one day be regarded as the greatest fast bowling combination Australia has ever produced.
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The performances of Starc and Hazlewood were a rare bright spot for Australia in their series defeat to South Africa, the pair finishing the series as the first- and third-highest wicket-takers (Hazlewood 17 wickets at 22, Starc 14 wickets at 30).
The NSW pair have now played 17 Tests together since Hazlewood's debut two years ago and have taken 161 wickets alongside each other.
And with both still relatively young (Starc is 26, Hazlewood 25), Gillespie is in no doubt that the pair will surpass the great fast bowling duos of Australian cricket.
"Starc and Hazlewood, without doubt, will be the best fast bowling combination Australia has ever produced," Gillespie told cricket.com.au. "I’ve got no doubt about that.
"They’ll stay fit, they’ll stay healthy, they’re learning their trade all the time, they complement each other very well.
"Starc (is a) really fast, aggressive, nose-and-toes attacking option who can swing the ball late at pace.
"And then you’ve got Hazlewood who is an aggressive bowler but in a different way. He’s aggressive with his relentless line and length, he’s very disciplined.
"A big, tall strapping lad who can bowl long, penetrating spells, hits a really good spot on the wicket. It’s like he hits a shoebox; just puts it on a length and he’s just relentless with that.
"He gets the batsman a bit unsure about whether to go forward or go back. They fend at the ball and if you can get a little bit of movement in the air or off the pitch, he brings his wicketkeeper and slips into play.
"I think they’re both fine bowlers. In many years’ time when we’re reflecting on great Australian cricketers, those two will be right up there."
For Gillespie's prediction to come to fruition, Starc and Hazlewood would have to surpass some of the greats of Australian cricket, including himself.
Gillespie and long-time teammate Glenn McGrath are Australia's most prolific fast bowling combination having taken 484 wickets in 58 Tests alongside each other across a 10-year period in the 1990s and 2000s.
Their fearsome pairing was ably supported by another legendary quick, Brett Lee, who took 78 wickets in 22 Tests alongside his more senior bowling partners.
McGrath, to whom Hazlewood has long been compared, also praised the right-armer for the way he's responded to a disappointing Ashes campaign in England last year.
"I’m a big fan of the way he’s started his career," McGrath told Optus Sport.
"(There was a) little bit of a hiccup there in the Ashes series, but since then he’s just gone from strength to strength and he’s going to lead the Australian attack for a long, long time.
"He’s definitely his own man. There’s a few similarities there; he’s tall, he’s strong, bowls good areas, gets that bounce, he's very consistent with where he bowls and he’s been doing exceptionally well.
"If you want to be the number one team in the world you have to have a quality bowling attack.
"The fact we’ve got Mitchell Starc who can bowl 150kph-plus, swinging the new ball, he’s such a dangerous bowler ... Australia’s in good hands there."
While Starc and Hazlewood will seemingly be certain selections in Australia's Test XI over the coming years, fitness permitting, the third fast bowling spot is not so clear-cut.
Peter Siddle, Joe Mennie and Jackson Bird all filled the role during the series against the Proteas, while uncapped seamer Chadd Sayers was named 12th man for the third Test in Adelaide.
"Obviously there’s that third seamer position that’s still up for grabs, but there’s some options," McGrath said.
"You’d like to see (James) Pattinson and (Pat) Cummins come back.
"There’s still some quality young bowlers around the place and some not so young. We’ve got Chris Tremain, Dougie Bollinger, who’s not that young but always runs in 100 per cent, and guys like Jason Behrendorff.
"Chadd Sayers is probably next cab off the rank if they make a change, so there’s still some options."
Australia's greatest fast bowling duos (Minimum 200 wickets & 20 Tests together)
- Glenn McGrath & Jason Gillespie - 484 wickets in 58 Tests
- Ray Lindwall & Keith Miller - 345 wickets in 51 Tests
- Mitchell Johnson & Peter Siddle - 295 wickets in 38 Tests
- Merv Hughes & Craig McDermott - 241 wickets in 29 Tests
- Dennis Lillee & Jeff Thomson - 217 wickets in 26 Tests
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