Hazlewood shapes as rock of Australian attack in Ashes

There is a family friend of Josh Hazlewood who has followed the Australian team abroad over the past couple of years when he can, brandishing the same banner wherever he goes.

It reads “The Bendemeer Bullet”, in dual acknowledgement of the tiny village north-east of Tamworth from where the Test paceman hails and how quickly he rolls the arm over.

Matt Zell is his name. He was there in Dominica in 2015 and in Colombo last year, too. “He sort of saves up and goes on the away trips,” Hazlewood says. “He’s a cricket nuffie and loves touring.”

The fast bowler’s travel-happy mate hasn’t tagged along for every Test series that has featured Hazlewood. Had he done so he would very likely be out of pocket because the 26-year-old is the Australian pace attack’s everywhere man.

He approaches the Ashes next month having missed only two Tests in 33 since he made his debut against India at the Gabba in 2014. So constant and reliable a presence is he on the Australian scene that at the National Cricket Centre in Brisbane there is even a Hazlewood setting on the ProBatter bowling simulator. Batsmen in training there can watch him on a video screen trotting in on his run-up before a machine spits out a ball at them as he reaches the crease. If it’s true to form most would be directed around the top of off-stump.

For Hazlewood the number of Tests he has been able to string together is a point of personal pride. So it was a blow to have to miss one in Bangladesh last month after picking up a side strain during the first match of the series in Dhaka. That was his 22nd consecutive Test, dating back to the start of the 2015/16 home summer. The only other Test he has missed was a dead rubber against England at the Oval three months earlier due to shin soreness.

“That was the first time I had walked off in a Test match so it was disappointing. You never want to let your teammates down,” Hazlewood says of the injury that ruled him out of the second Test in Chittagong. “It didn’t hurt so much me walking off in a subcontinent Test, I guess. We had a couple of spinners and you don’t play as big a role. But there is not many Tests you win if you’re a bowler down, especially during the first innings. So it’s a little badge of honour if you get through that many games.”

As he sets about starting over he once again shapes as the rock of the Australian fast bowling line-up this summer. The guy that you bring back on when you want to get a bit of control back in your attack, to steer you back on course for a wicket. Brad Haddin, Australia’s wicketkeeper when Hazlewood was given his baggy green cap and now a member of Darren Lehmann’s national coaching staff, describes him as “the backbone of that attack”.

“You know exactly what you’re going to get,” Haddin says.

An important factor in establishing that dependability is that Hazlewood himself has grown to know and trust his body. As a fellow member of Australia’s fab four of fast men, James Pattinson, faces another stretch on the sidelines with a lower-back stress fracture Hazlewood hopes he has put his days of serious bone injuries behind him.

The early stages of his first-class career were marred by a series of setbacks including stress fractures. And as an emerging fast bowler he had restrictions based on his workload to decrease the risk of further breakdowns. Now, he believes the cautious approach taken by Cricket Australia was the right way to go.

“It’s a bit frustrating at the time. You feel like you’re missing a lot of cricket,” says Hazlewood, who will make his return from the side strain in the NSW Premier Cricket competition and wait until round two of the Sheffield Shield season before joining Test teammates such as Steve Smith, David Warner and Nathan Lyon in the state side.

“But looking back now in the long run you’ve got to do it I think. Anywhere from when you start at 18 to 23 I think, even when you’re feeling good, I think you’ve got to take those rests just because your skeletal system isn’t fully grown yet.

“You sort of notice that point when you get to 22, 23 … everyone is different … but you feel everything just sort of harden up. You have that resistance in your body. I feel like your legs harden up first, then through the middle. You notice if over time playing consistent cricket. Once you play six months in a row or something like that you find you’re more confident, I guess.”

Hazlewood’s partners in crime in the Australian pace attack, Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins, have been through all that themselves.

It is that pair who loom as getting the bulk of the attention with speed and short stuff against England but having seen the key roles played by Ryan Harris and Peter Siddle alongside a fire-breathing Mitchell Johnson in the 2013/14 Ashes Hazlewood is keen to make a similar contribution.

“I watched Ryan and Pete pretty closely and talked to them about it since then. I’ve talked to Sidds a fair bit about how he goes about his work in Test cricket,” he says.

“You don’t get the headlines like Mitch did but we’ve got two guys in the team now that can bowl that fast. Patty has got a very good bouncer, especially on Australian soil.

“[My role is] just to complement that and have that nice balance … if things aren’t going great they sort of can rely on myself and Lyono [Nathan Lyon] to steady the ship and get things back on track.”

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.