Australia's unsung hero in Tests - Josh Hazlewood
In his third year of international cricket, Josh Hazlewood isn't the superstar fast bowler that every team mandatorily needs. That badge belongs to his more illustrious and much more celebrated opening partner with the ball, Mitchell Starc. Despite being in the shadows of Starc, Australia know very well how important Hazlewood is to them.
A tireless workhorse, the 26-year-old is very much a Glenn McGrath of the modern era. While Starc is the one who flays bails and delivers the toe crushing yorkers that crowds come to watch cricket for, the tall right-hand fast bowler prefers the age old method of testing a batsman's defence with immaculate line and length.
A senior bowler already
Since his debut at the Gabba two and a half years ago, Hazlewood has 110 wickets in 27 Tests, the most by any Australian in that time frame. Only Ravichandran Ashwin and Stuart Broad have taken more wickets in this period.
With the likes of Ryan Harris and Mitchell Johnson retiring, Hazlewood is now a senior figure in the Australian Test side alongside Starc, Steven Smith and David Warner. That is a phenomenal achievement for a bowler who made his debut just two years ago.
"Over the last six to twelve months I've found that I've sort of been the mainstay, I guess, in the team and there have been faces coming in and out," Hazlewood had said ESPNCricinfo ahead of the Pakistan series. "You just take that senior role upon yourself and I'm really enjoying it at the moment.”
While his concentration on line and length over pace has prompted comparisons with McGrath, 453 wickets separate the legendary fast bowler from the young Hazlewood. But then, the comparisons aren't totally baseless as the statistics prove.
Comparisons to Glenn McGrath
Hazlewood made his Test debut at the same age as McGrath – 23. Before the Indian series, he had figured in whites 26 times and had 109 wickets at an average of 24.78.
This is eerily similar to McGrath's stats after 26 Tests. The retired seamer had 110 scalps at 24.9. The similarities may end there but a deeper look at the numbers of the two pacemen reveal that Hazlewood is, in fact, a tad ahead of McGrath at the same stage of his career.
The poorest average for the 26-year-old in all the series he has been a part of is 34.11, against New Zealand in New Zealand in 2016. In six of the nine series he has played in, Hazlewood has an average below 30 while McGrath had four averages above 35.
He has missed just a solitary Test since his debut and has been immensely consistent in terms of getting five-wicket hauls. In the 27 Tests he has played in, Hazlewood has taken five wickets in a Test on 14 occasions as compared to McGrath's 12. Only six bowlers in world cricket have had a higher number after 26 Tests of which only one is currently playing Tests, Dale Steyn.
The phenomenal 2016-17 season
Hazlewood emerged as Australia's trump card in Test cricket in the 2016/17 season. Out of the six Tests he played before the Indian series, Hazlewood had five wickets or more in five of them.
The fast bowler was exceptional in the home series against the Proteas and then Pakistan. Against South Africa, in three Tests, Hazlewood took 17 wickets at a miserly average of 22.05. He bettered the effort against Pakistan by taking 15 scalps at an average of 19.60.
More than the numbers, it was his dominance of the best batsmen from the oppositions that stood out. He completely negated the Hashim Amla factor in the Tests against South Africa, by dismissing him in five out of the five times he batted.
The thinking behind dismissing Amla
Getting the better of one of the world's premier batsmen in every single innings of a whole series was no piece of luck. Interestingly, he bowled just 52 balls in the whole series to Amla, yet had him on all five occasions with not a single half-century to his name. Making Amla lose his concentration is next to impossible but Hazlewood planned it out perfectly.
After getting rid of him three times in the first two Tests, Hazlewood revealed that he saw how Amla tried to make a slight adjustment in the final Test. "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.
Extra Cover: 5 underrated bowlers in cricket at the moment
“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."
That kind of assessment on the go doesn't come naturally to every fast bowler. No amount of video footage and analysis can be as effective as adjustments made during the game. It is a trait of a world class bowler which the New South Wales quick is already proving to be.
Since McGrath, Australia have been blessed with only three fast bowlers, including Hazlewood, capable of testing the batsmen's patience outside the off-stump. The two others, Ryan Harris and Stuart Clark, were effective but had relatively shorter careers since they made their debuts late.
Hazlewood seems to be the best of the three and already has people sitting up and taking notice of his performances.
His numbers indicate that he could be a legend in the future although he may want to prove that he can do the job in more difficult conditions. In the first Test against India, the youngster did not have much to do as spinners dominated the entire Test. But that may not be the case going forward in the series and his patience will be invaluable if the Indian batsmen get going.
For now, though, the quickie has age on his side and plenty of time to hone his skills if required. He is truly one to watch out for.