'World-class' Hazlewood addresses 2015 missteps
Having admitted he'd gotten into "bad habits" on Australia's last Ashes tour, the paceman surprised even himself with an immaculate spell at Lord's
16 August 2019, 09:52 PM AEST
With points to prove on multiple fronts, Josh Hazlewood made a near-faultless comeback to the top-flight that underlined how the "world-class" fast bowler has not stopped improving as a Test bowler.
Hazlewood surprised even himself with his seamless return to Test cricket following a seven-month absence, snagging 3-58 from 22 immaculate overs and finishing as arguably the pick of the Australian bowlers after Tim Paine boldly inserted England at Lord’s on Thursday.
The right-armer has conceded he's previously bowled too full in England, but he found his length immediately in a captivating performance that accounted for three of England's top four including their best batter Joe Root.
Data provided by Opta showed nearly 90 per cent of the 132 balls he bowled on day two were of a good length or just back of it. Cricviz suggested it was, by their statistical models, among the best opening spells bowled in over a decade.
Since suffering a back injury that brought an early end to his home season in January, Hazlewood has endured a challenging seven months.
While Justin Langer praised how both he and Mitchell Starc reacted to being overlooked for the first Test of the series, mixing the drinks would undoubtedly have stung for the proud paceman who had never previously been left out of the Test team when fit.
Especially given he'd also been on the outer for the preceding World Cup campaign.
Moreover, Hazlewood had unfinished business in England. His more-than-respectable numbers during the 2015 Ashes (16 wickets at 25.75) masked, by his own admission, tactical misteps and technical struggles.
"I have always tried to swing the ball at different stages if the conditions suit," Hazlewood said four years ago reflecting on his performance in the 2-3 series defeat.
"I just got into a bad habit with so many left-handers in the English team, my run up kept getting wider and wider, then when the right-handers got on strike I just stayed on that line rather than getting straighter.
"I think I probably bowled a touch full … a few bad habits crept in."
On Thursday, Hazlewood showed he'd addressed those flaws.
Opta’s data confirms the right-armer, as he'd self-diagnosed, bowled too full during the 2015 Ashes as he searched for swing. More than 12 per cent of his deliveries recorded as half-volleys. Cricviz suggested it was the fullest he'd ever bowled in a Test series.
Hazlewood had halved that half-volley number for the four-Test home series against India, though the likes of Shane Warne had suggested he was still not quite at his best, finishing with 13 wickets at a touch over 30.
They were hardly terrible numbers, but with all of Australia's quicks fit and firing for the Edgbaston series opener, Hazlewood was deemed surplus to requirements.
Selectors now look set for a tremendous headache when James Pattinson, who Hazlewood replaced after he was rested for the Lord's match, returns for the third Test at Headingley.
Asked about his bowling tactics before play on Friday, Hazlewood told cricket.com.au: "Still just hitting the top of the stumps, hitting the knee roll on the batter.
"I think you can err just a touch shorter than that – full (balls) seem to be the easy scoring option.
"That was my plan yesterday to do that time and time again."
Speaking to Channel Nine, he added: "I was pretty surprised with how well the rhythm felt.
"I played last week in Worcester (in a tour match) - things felt pretty good, so I brought that into this game and I was pretty happy with how I went."
Nathan Lyon, who complemented the Australian pace brigade with a three-wicket haul of his own in England’s first innings, believes Hazlewood will feature heavily among the wickets for the remainder of the series.
"I think Josh has been a world class bowler for a long period of time," said Lyon. "I don't think he's got the rewards that he's deserved as yet.
"I think they're to come.
"In my eyes Josh is up in the top three best bowlers in test cricket in my personal eyes. I think his control of hitting that nagging length but having the skill to go both ways in and out (is unmatched)."
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, Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc, Matthew Wade, David Warner.
England squad: Joe Root (c), Jofra Archer, Jonny Bairstow, Stuart Broad, Rory Burns, Jos Buttler, Sam Curran, Joe Denly, Jack Leach, Jason Roy, Ben Stokes (vc), Chris Woakes.
First Test: Australia beat England by 251 runs at Edgbaston
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