Once-in-a-lifetime: Pattinson completes unrivalled attack
Firebrand returns to be part of statistically one of the most accomplished bowling attacks Australia has picked for an Ashes tour in a generation
Andrew Ramsey in Southampton
27 July 2019, 02:00 PM AEST
Given the number of harrowing surgical procedures he's undergone in recent years, James Pattinson could have been forgiven for recoiling when told months ago he was to play a central part in 'Operation Ashes'.
The planning mission, designed to bring together the most potent bowling strike force assembled in an Australia Ashes assault for more than a decade, was launched with a phone call from selection chair Trevor Hohns last April.
That was when, in the immediate aftermath of Victoria's thumping win in the JLT Sheffield Shield final against New South Wales, Hohns telephoned Pattinson to lay bare his strategy.
"I remember Cracker (Hohns) ringing me after the Shield final this year asking 'what are your plans? We want you fit for the Ashes '," Pattinson recalled today after earning a call-up to an Australia Test squad for the first time in more than three years.
"That's when I knew I was a chance of getting back into the Australian set-up and since then, we've kept in constant communication about being managed."
A fortnight later, Pattinson was included among the 20 men's players awarded Cricket Australia contracts after which he sat down for his first meeting with Hohns and men's team coach Justin Langer.
Pattinson had already committed to returning to Nottingham where he has become a regular on the English county circuit, and a plot to have him use that experience to ready him for Tests against England was carefully hatched.
"They said if I'm fit and bowling well, then I'd be every chance of being in the Ashes," Pattinson said today.
"There was constant communication between myself and my county team and Cricket Australia about bowling loads, because I knew how much this was a really important series so I didn't want to burn myself out.
"I knew if I was fit and bowling half-decently, I'd be a chance to be in the squad.
"That was always the goal, coming over here playing county cricket, giving myself the best chance to be available - not just to be picked in the team, but to be at the top of my game and ready to perform if given the chance."
That chance has now arrived, and Pattinson believes the Ashes bowling battery of which he is an integral part is perhaps the most potent group to have been assembled against England in recent times.
Not since the epic 2005 Ashes campaign spearheaded by Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath has an Australia squad arrived in the UK boasting so many bowlers each with 150 Test wickets or more on their career records.
But even then, seamers Jason Gillespie and Michael Kasprowicz were approaching the autumn of their international tenures – both would play their final Tests within a year – and leg spinner Stuart MacGill was not called into the starting XI throughout the entire five-match Ashes series.
And while Brett Lee also reached the 150-wicket milestone during that northern summer, he had not played a Test for 18 months heading into the 2005 opening Test at Lord's.
Fourteen years later, and still chasing the Ashes campaign win that has eluded them on British soil since 2001, Australia boasts not only four bowlers with 150-plus wickets, but also two of the most feared quicks surging through the wicket-taking ranks.
That roll-call is led by off-spinner Nathan Lyon (343 wickets), followed by pacemen Peter Siddle (214), Mitchell Starc (211) and Josh Hazlewood (164).
Aussie #Ashes squad: Tim Paine (c), Cameron Bancroft, Pat Cummins, Marcus Harris, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Marsh, Michael Neser, James Pattinson, Peter Siddle, Steven Smith, Mitchell Starc, Matthew Wade, David Warner. pic.twitter.com/gz6XspryKG— cricket.com.au (@cricketcomau) July 26, 2019
But perhaps the most exciting element of the pace complement is the pair of rehabilitated quicks who are eyeing their first full Ashes series in England – vice-captain Pat Cummins (94 Test wickets) and Pattinson (70).
The pair, who have both endured lengthy stints out of cricket due to a series of serious injuries, can lay claim to being among the most ruthless wicket-takers to have donned the Baggy Green Cap since Test cricket was born in 1870.
Of all bowlers to have captured 70 wickets or more in Tests for Australia, only Fred 'The Demon' Spofforth (averaging a wicket every 44.52 deliveries) and early 1900s left-armer Jack Saunders (45.13) can claim superior Test strike rates to Cummins (46.82) and Pattinson (46.84).
With Siddle (34) and Lyon (31) the only members of that quintet to be aged above 30, it's not difficult to share Pattinson's view this current group is the most exciting, explosive bowling cartel of which he's been a part.
"I think it's something a lot of people have been waiting for," Pattinson said of the high-calibre Ashes bowling group that also includes uncapped Queensland seamer Michael Neser and allrounder Mitchell Marsh.
"Especially Cricket Australia, who invested a lot into us as young fellas.
"It's exciting that I can look around and see mates who I have grown up with playing junior cricket with, and we're about embark on an important Ashes series.
"We were all playing pretty much the same age group together coming through, and they've always wanted to have a lot of these bowlers up and running at the same time.
"They've got that now, so it gives them a great choice of variety of bowlers.
"It also gives them the option of resting players.
"It (the Qantas Ashes Tour) is five Tests with two tour games in six weeks, then straight into an Australian summer."
In his younger, brasher days, Pattinson would have baulked at the idea of carefully managing himself through a Test series and beyond at a time when he was fully fit and desperate to play every game he possible.
It was that sort of bullet-proof mindset that saw him break down with a back injury during his only previous Ashes campaign in England (in 2013), then once more upon his return to Test cricket in Australia in 2015 and again several months after that in New Zealand.
That most recent injury led to radical back surgery that kept the 29-year-old out of top-level cricket for two years, but now that he is once again fit and firing he wants to extend his international career for a further half-dozen years, or more.
To that end, if he's asked to sit out a Test or two during the upcoming Ashes in the interests of extending his time on the park, he will happily do so in the knowledge there are others among the current bowling group who can immediately take up the cudgels.
"Realistically, if you have a big workload and with my history with my back, backing up has been one of the hardest things I've had to do especially after bowling 50 or 40 overs," Pattinson said.
"I've been working closely with (Victoria coach) Andrew McDonald … and one his messages to me was 'I want to try and get you to 35 and not 30' (and still playing cricket).
"That's something that really hit home with me, that I want to try and be around for the next six years and not one year.
"I've been through all this surgery to try and do that.
"As big as an Ashes series is, you have to think of it long-term.
Fast and fired up! James Pattinson's performance in the JLT Sheffield Shield final was elite viewing 🔥🔥 #ShieldFinal pic.twitter.com/JnvQdzGhQI— cricket.com.au (@cricketcomau) April 1, 2019
"If that's resting after bowling a fair few overs, I'm sure the next guy coming in - or if I'm doing that for some other guy - it will help us long-term and hold us in good shape going into the (Australian) summer and beyond that."
If Hohns and Langer were excited about the prospect of having a fit-again Pattinson to round out their bowling stocks for the Ashes tilt, then the Victorian was equally thrilled to be told of their grand plan.
And he holds no doubt he can help bring it to fruition.
"Knowing that you're wanted and feel like you can make a difference to the team … I think I can do that," Pattinson said.
"When I have played for Australia in the past, I've made a good impact.
"Being a bit older and wiser, knowing your game a bit better, I definitely feel I can impact Tests.
"And not just that, but to influence players around me to try and push them on as well."
2019 Qantas Ashes Tour of England
Australia squad: Tim Paine (c), Cameron Bancroft, Pat Cummins, Marcus Harris, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Marsh, Michael Neser, James Pattinson, Peter Siddle, Steven Smith, Mitchell Starc, Matthew Wade, David Warner.
Tour match: Australians v Worcestershire, August 7-9
Second Test: August 14-18,Lord's
Third Test: August 22-26, Headingley
Tour match: Australians v Derbyshire, August 29-31
Fourth Test: September 4-8, Old Trafford
Fifth Test: September 12-16, The Oval