Josh Hazlewood is confident Australia’s pace-bowler hierarchy remains intact despite him only playing three Tests since the start of the last home season but admits it’s been a frustrating period during what should be his prime years as a fast bowler.
Through a combination of two side injuries in consecutive seasons alongside the conditions presented on the tours of Pakistan and Sri Lanka, Hazlewood has only had a bit-part role since the beginning of the 2021-22 Ashes.
He suffered a side strain at the Gabba in the opening game of that series which ended his Test summer, with history repeating itself this season when he picked up a similar injury against West Indies in Perth. Hazlewood withdrew himself from contention for the Boxing Day Test in Melbourne when he did not quite feel ready to return, but is now primed for a comeback in Sydney.
However, while he is expected to line up on his home ground, in an attack missing the injured Mitchell Starc and Cameron Green, the emergence of Scott Boland means it is perhaps not quite the obvious decision it once would have been when Hazlewood, Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins were the locked in big three and now all have more than 200 Test wickets.
“I still feel like it’s in place,” Hazlewood said of the bowling pecking order. “It’s always good to have pressure and every time Scotty’s played, he’s done remarkably well. With the Ashes coming up as well, it’s a big one that he’s looking at and he’s a similar bowler to myself and Pat – we could potentially all play there together on a wicket that might seam and swing. It’s great to have options and it keeps you on your toes.”
Added into the equation at the SCG is that Australia may want to find room for uncapped quick Lance Morris to cover for the absence of Starc, although answers to key selection questions remained uncertain with the nature of the pitch creating some head-scratching amid continued intrigue as to whether two spinners will be selected for the first time since 2016-17.
Even if Hazlewood does return on Wednesday, how long he remains in the XI could depend heavily on the fitness of Starc come the India tour if, as expected, Australia play two frontline spinners at most stages during that tour. In Pakistan and Sri Lanka, it was Starc, Cummins and Green as the pace options.
Longer term, Hazlewood will also take a look at his workloads and how he prepares for Test cricket as a multi-format bowler in an attempt to avoid further injury blows. However, he did lament that the side injuries have only amounted to a few weeks on the sidelines, but have hit in the middle of the season.
“It’s frustrating, definitely,” he said. “I don’t feel like I’ve been injured much…it just happens to be at the wrong time of the year, after the first Test. The Test matches are so close together now. Apart from that, [for] the rest of the 24 months I’ve been fit and firing. So it’s frustrating when you think about it like that.”
There remains a degree of uncertainty over how strong of a link there is between the two side strains – which have been described as different injuries – with medical teams due to investigate further when the Test summer is complete.
“They’re a little bit in a different position,” he said. “We’d probably have to dig into it when we have a bit more time. There’s been a lot going on in the last few weeks and they (medical staff) have focused on the guys on the field a lot. Behind the scenes there’s chats…just through is there a link here or there, or what it could be. I think it’s just part of fast bowling that it’s a strength issue at times and it’s a workload issue at times. Nothing too much to worry about, just little things I’ll need to tick off in the future.”
However, Hazlewood may look into how he builds into a Test series, especially when there is white-ball cricket in the lead-up, even if it means slightly over-cooking training at the expense of being in prime condition for a limited-overs match. The current schedules rarely allow for Sheffield Shield cricket while some of the fast bowlers have said they are actually more comfortable preparing outside of match scenarios as it allows more control of how much they bowl.
“I’ve thought about it a little bit over the last few weeks,” Hazlewood said. “If you have to focus on either a strength period or bowl a few more balls at training when you are playing with the white ball, at the detriment of maybe not being 100 percent for those games, then it puts you in a better place for a Test series that follows. Just little things like that we’re talking about with coaches or medical staff. That will be something I’ll look to do in the next little period.”