Hazlewood raises bar as competition heats up
Blues paceman desperate to continue setting the standard to ensure he maintains his place in star-studded bowling line-up
Sam Ferris in London
11 September 2019, 01:27 PM AEST
Josh Hazlewood's brilliant Ashes campaign has been fueled by his desire to cement his spot in Australia's first-choice Test team as competition for spots reaches new heights.
Hazlewood has arguably been the pick of the bowlers in the Ashes with 18 wickets at 16.88 in three Tests having missed the series opener in Birmingham.
Peter Siddle pipped Hazlewood for the third fast-bowling spot at Edgbaston to extend the NSW quick's time out of the Test side to eight months after suffering a back injury in the New Year's Test against India in Sydney.
That setback ruled Hazlewood out of contention for Australia's World Cup squad and instead he slowly returned to full fitness on Australia A's tour of England, which preceded the Ashes.
But Hazlewood quickly put the disappointment of missing out on the World Cup and first Ashes Test behind him, bowling exceptionally at Lord's before taking career-best figures of 9-115 in the thrilling loss at Headingley.
He backed up that performance with 6-88 at Old Trafford, including the final wicket to seal a 185-run win to ensure Australia would retain the Ashes.
On Tuesday, his name also returned to the top 10 on the ICC's bowling rankings, slotting back in to number eight after slipping to 15th during his time off.
The 28-year-old is part of a six-strong pace-bowling group which includes world No.1 Test bowler Pat Cummins, seasoned campaigners in Mitch Starc, James Pattinson and Siddle, as well as uncapped Queenslander Michael Neser.
In this era, it is unprecedented to have Australia's top fast bowlers all fit and firing at the same time, which has allowed the National Selection Panel to sub in fresh quicks throughout the Ashes without compromising the quality of the attack.
The high-octane battery of fast bowlers makes every selection meeting difficult, with each paceman a legitimate chance of being picked.
But the competition for spots only adds more motivation for Hazlewood, who wants to have his name on the team sheet whenever possible.
"I've missed a bit of cricket for Australia lately in a few different formats and just wanted to entrench myself back in the team," Hazlewood told cricket.com.au on Tuesday in London.
"There is always competition from outside and there are a lot of quicks here doing really well.
"I just wanted to get my place back in the team and hopefully do well for the team and move towards what we've already accomplished, but to (win) 3-1 as well."
Despite playing three emotionally-draining Ashes Tests in a row, Hazlewood says his body is feeling good and he is excited to play at The Oval, if selected.
Given his high workload this campaign and the short, three-day turnaround between Tests, the right-armer will not train in the lead-up to the fifth Test.
But having sent down 121.2 overs in three straight Tests, Hazlewood says his game in a good place heading into The Oval where Australia will aim for a win to record their first Ashes series triumph in England since 2001.
"I'll just rock up to the game and roll the arm over," he said. "When you're playing so much you're probably only training to loosen up really and get the cobwebs out.
"The ball feels like it's coming out really nicely, so (I'm) ready to go."
Hazlewood had a mixed tour of England in 2015, taking 16 wickets in four Tests but was nowhere near the wicket-taking threat he is in 2019.
The Bendemeer product has worked tirelessly on the length he bowls in English conditions with the Dukes ball, which has seen him capture six wickets bowled or leg before wicket, with the vast majority of his other 12 wickets caught behind the wicket.
The ability to adjust and repeatedly perform in the cauldron of Ashes cricket is what has pleased Hazlewood the most.
"It's just the areas I've been hitting, the top of the stumps," he said when asked what has given him the most satisfaction this tour.
"A lot of bowleds and lbws, so very happy with that.
"We've been really simple with our plans. Patty has got a few bowleds and lbws as well, so that's been the plan and having executed that under an Ashes pressure is what I'm most happy with."
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, Craig Overton, Jason Roy, Ben Stokes (vc), Chris Woakes.
First Test: Australia won by 251 runs at Edgbaston
Second Test: Match drawn at Lord's
Third Test: England won by one wicket at Headingley
Fourth Test: Australia won by 185 runs at Old Trafford
Fifth Test: September 12-16, The Oval