Nathan Lyon annoints Australia teammate as the greatest Test fast bowler on the planet
Hazlewood the best in the world: Lyon
Nathan Lyon has declared his Australia and New South Wales teammate Josh Hazlewood to be the best fast bowler in Test cricket today, and is happy to see his bold assessment screaming back at him from website and newspaper headlines.
Even though Hazlewood is currently listed at number six on the ICC Test bowler rankings – headed by England's spearhead James Anderson – Lyon believes the seamer's repertoire and control make him the most potent in Australia's three-pronged pace attack.
And rather than equivocate as to the 26-year-old's place within the global pecking order, Lyon went a step further by claiming the understated quick is not simply atop the list, he is the benchmark among Test fast bowlers "by a long way".
Hazlewood's fellow seamers Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins have dominated debate ahead of the first Magellan Ashes Test starting on the Gabba on Thursday for entirely understandable reasons.
Starc cut a swathe through opposition batting in his first two JLT Sheffield Shield matches having recovered from a foot fracture earlier in the year, and claimed a career-best 8-73 with pink ball in hand against South Australia and then dual hat-tricks in his next outing against Western Australia.
Cummins has also remained in the spotlight as he prepares for his maiden Test match on Australia soil, six years after he announced himself as Australia's best fast bowling prospect of recent times with a player-of-the-match performance in his maiden Test at Johannesburg.
But while Hazlewood has slipped quietly back into his work, needing just one Shield match to find form and rhythm after suffering a side strain during Australia's most recent Test assignment in Bangladesh last August, Lyon has taken it upon himself to hype up the right-armer.
"I think Josh Hazlewood, in my book, is the best fast bowler in the world and by a long way," Lyon told reporters in Brisbane before Australia's first major pre-Test training session at the Gabba.
"He can do anything.
"He's quick, he can bowl bumpers, he can control the new ball, he can swing it in and out, he can reverse it.
"I haven't seen a bowler who's got that control in a long time.
"I'm happy for you to put it in the headline - he's the best fast bowler in the world."
Despite playing just one Shield game prior to heading to Brisbane last week for some specialised training at the Bupa National Cricket Centre with Starc, Cummins and Tasmania seamer Jackson Bird (also a member of the Test squad), Hazlewood believes he has sufficient competitive bowling under his belt.
"I'm fairly happy," he said today.
"If I showed any sort of rustiness in Hurstville (where NSW played WA earlier this month) I definitely would have played the game up here, the third Shield game (against Queensland in Brisbane).
"But I hit the ground running and I was really surprised with how well I felt.
"The rhythm and the ball coming out really nicely (so) I ticked all the boxes in that game."
Since the start of the previous Australia Test summer last November, Hazlewood has claimed 41 wickets from 11 Tests (having missed the second match of the Bangladesh tour through injury) at an average of 24.54, which underscores his value to Australia.
In that time, only Lyon (58 wickets at 28.33) has proved more successful with his off-spin traditionally suited to the dry, slow pitches of the sub-continent where Australia has played half of their 12 Tests.
However, there remains a handful of fellow quicks who have been even more productive than Hazlewood throughout that period, most notably South Africa's Kagiso Rabada who has captured 73 wickets at 22.03 from 14 Tests and currently sits third on the ICC rankings.
Anderson, who this year became the first England bowler to pass 500 Test wickets, is the next best-performed seamer since the start of November 2016 with 43 wickets at a miserly 17.77, while South Africa's Vernon Philander recorded the same number of victims as Hazlewood but at a marginally lower average (23.61).
But Lyon has placed England on notice, claiming that the attack that Australia is expected to take into the first Test on Thursday is superior to any they have fielded since in years.
Perhaps since Mitchell Johnson, Ryan Harris, Peter Siddle and Lyon bowled Australia to a five-nil series win in the 2013-14 Ashes series, and then helped wrest the number one world Test ranking for their team shortly afterwards in South Africa.
"I think our bowling squad is actually quite strong, and it's probably the strongest attack we've had in a couple of years if I'm being brutally honest," Lyon said.
"To have these guys all up and firing together, it's exciting.
"I'm very confident that our bowling squad can take 20 wickets.
"There's also some cracks underneath the surface with the (England) fellows who've come out here (in 2013-14).
"Alastair Cook, he faced Mitchell Johnson out here.
"Joe Root (current England captain) got dropped last time he was out here.
"So there are some cracks under the surface that we can hopefully … crack them right open again and put them under pressure."
2017-18 International Fixtures:
Magellan Ashes Series
First Test Gabba, November 23-27. Buy tickets
Second Test Adelaide Oval, December 2-6 (Day-Night). Buy tickets
Third Test WACA Ground, December 14-18. Buy tickets
Fourth Test MCG, December 26-30. Buy tickets
Fifth Test SCG, January 4-8 (Pink Test). Buy tickets
Gillette ODI Series v England
First ODI MCG, January 14. Buy tickets
Second ODI Gabba, January 19. Buy tickets
Third ODI SCG, January 21. Buy tickets
Fourth ODI Adelaide Oval, January 26. Buy tickets
Fifth ODI Perth TBC, January 28. Join the ACF
Prime Minister's XI
PM's XI v England Manuka Oval, February 2. Buy tickets
Gillette T20 INTL Series
First T20I Australia v NZ, SCG, February 3. Buy tickets
Second T20I – Australia v England, Blundstone Arena, February 7. Buy tickets
Third T20I – Australia v England, MCG, February 10. Buy tickets
Fourth T20I – NZ v England, Wellington, February 13
Fifth T20I – NZ v Australia, Eden Park, February 16
Sixth T20I – NZ v England, Seddon Park, February 18
Final – TBC, Eden Park, February 21