Line, length and Josh Hazlewood
Be it in Test cricket or 50-over format, Josh Hazlewood is the bowler on whom you would love to invest faith. He is a damn good bowler. He created an immediate impact on his debut at Brisbane against the touring Indian team. India lost six wickets for 87 runs at the hands of Hazlewood. On the second day, Hazlewood found nifty movement and steep trajectory against which the visitors had no clue. Hazlewood announced his arrival with a five-wicket haul and since then, world cricket only witnessed the rise and rise of Hazlewood as a competent bowler.
He doesn’t care about media attention. He doesn’t bother about spending time on social media. In fact, he doesn’t have any accounts on Twitter. He doesn’t talk much and focuses only on making the ball to do all the talking. Moreover, he doesn’t bang the ball short to target the rib cage. Nor does he have the lethal expresse yorkers and make our jaw drop. He comes from the school of Fazal Mahmood, Sir Richard Hadlee and Glenn McGrath, where pitching the ball on the right line and length, is given the topmost priority – target the top of off and you reap a rich harvest.
And, since his debut, his McGrath-like-ploy paid rich dividends. He has proved himself as one of the saints in the pace-bowling fraternity who can pitch the ball in that good length spot and attacking line over after over and Test matches after Test matches. Neither does he get bored nor does he get tired of doing the same thing. Hashim Amla and Murali Vijay can tell you better about Hazlewood’s mind-blowing consistency.
Especially Amla who was outclassed by him last year. Hazlewood tested him with his expertise and so far, Amla has been dismissed five times by Hazlewood.
“I had a little chat with him after the series was finished as well, just about different things he’d worked on to try and counteract, but obviously didn’t work”, Hazlewood said. “He’s one person who does watch a lot of footage and you could see the changes there in that last Test that he made, just dragged a bit wider and same result”.
“I could just see that he changed, he set up a little bit differently. He was getting further across outside off, wanting me to follow him and target the stumps a bit more and then he’s a class player off his pads. I just took it a little bit wider and took the stumps out of the equation. He probably could have left a lot more, which he did do early on, but then he started playing a couple through impatience, I guess, and I got the result.”
Australia lost the series against South Africa, but Hazlewood’s bowling did not lose its shine but continue to dazzle against Pakistan as well. The Pakistani top order found how tough was it to counter Hazlewood’s nagging and incisive line and length.
Length too full, struggle on Day 1
26% of his dismissals are caught while 39.7% are caught behind, an indication of how much he targets the edge like McGrath and Sir Richard Hadlee. In the ongoing Ashes series, Hazlewood’s such line-and-length bowling were much needed, but in the first innings he frustrated his team and fans as he struggled to pitch the ball on the right length: Of the 72 balls Josh Hazlewood bowled, 24 were full deliveries and yielded 28 runs. Nine of the 13 boundaries scored until tea came off full-length deliveries on the first day. England capitalised on it big time. The Australian shoulders dropped as their pacers failed to deliver on Day 1. Especially, Hazlewood’s struggle with the length became a huge concern as he is an expert in utilising the length in any conditions.
The roar of the New South Wales man on Day 3 and 4
Steve Smith’s brilliant hundred gave Australia a lead in first innings and at the fag end of Day 3, Smith needed his battery of pace bowlers to fire all cylinders and they did not let him down.
Hazlewood drew first flood by dismissing the backbone of English batting line-up Alastair Cook. This time he set Cook up by pitching it short in and around middle and leg and attempted Cook to go for the hook shot as a man was standing at long leg. The ploy worked as Cook forgot his abilities to resist and holed out to long leg.
This wicket changed the complexion of the Australian pacers. Pat Cummins kept on bowling with a lot of hostility whereas, Hazlewood rediscovered his bowling mojo: He pulled his length back and pitched 43% of his deliveries on the good line and length. And from a good length, he made the ball to swing and seam to create doubts in the minds of English batters.
On Day 4, he carried on his bowling rhythm and the way he set up Joe Root in the afternoon session, allowed Australia to strengthen their position on this Test more.
In a tricky passage of play in afternoon session, Steve Smith engaged Hazlewood and Lyon against Root and Moeen Ali. Root was well set to stitch a very important partnership for the fifth wicket. Smith needed to break this partnership and with few overs left for tea, a wicket might provide a huge psychological boost.
In the 39th over of England’s second innings, Hazlewood bowled with a short-length and tad fuller. Such deliveries were a cakewalk for a batsman like Root who fetched two boundaries in one over – the second one was a straight drive back past the bowler to please the purists of the game. But very few could realize, Root was allowed to relax a bit so that he fell into the trap.
In the 41st over, Hazlewood pitched one on the pads of Root who flicked it for two runs to bring up his half-century. Root was already in the comfort zone and was made to expect more mediocre stuff from Hazlewood. With ten minutes left for tea, Josh nipped one back into Root along the middle and leg which seamed a bit and trapped Root lbw. Root, the best batsman in the world, failed to use his feet and could not even get enough time to get back and behind the line of the ball.
A couple of hit-me deliveries followed by a peach – a perfect way to trap the best batsman in modern cricket. Hazlewood delivered his team the breakthrough which ensured Australia’s command.
And after tea when Ali was dismissed by creating a lot of buzz in social media, England’s confidence was buried. Mitchell Starc’s hostility and Nathan Lyon’s expertise ended England’s innings. Australia are few runs away from taking the lead and the credit must be given to Hazlewood to instill the intent which was lacking among Australian pacers in first innings.