Four years after being dropped from the Test side mid-way through the Ashes due to a string of underwhelming performances, Josh Hazlewood has returned to enemy territory with venom and vengeance, finally fulfilling his long-anticipated promise that once threatened to go unfulfilled.
After having finally fought through all the injury troubles and having gotten back to full fitness, Josh Hazlewood lived a fast bowler’s dream in 2014. His bowling, his action and his perfection drew inevitable Glenn McGrath comparisons and on his debut at the Gabba, a then 23-year-old Hazlewood bowled his side to victory against India by claiming a 5-wicket haul in his first ever innings. A successful tour of the Caribbean followed the home triumph against India and in no time, the tall New South Welshman found himself canvassed by the general public as “The difference maker” for Australia in the 2015 Ashes.
Everything was in place. It felt like the stars were aligned. His swing, his pace and his control were tailor-made for English conditions and with him being the McGrath incarnate, it felt inevitable that he was going to bring the Ashes home. Perhaps, the expectations on the shoulders of a boy who had just played 5 Tests prior to his Ashes debut were too much. And so, he succumbed. He succumbed aiming for glory, trying to be too full and too cute often in search of wickets, in the process letting the batsmen off the leash at the wrong time.
With the series done and dusted, Hazlewood got the sack for the fifth Test, despite, ironically, being Australia’s best bowler statistically. That, in itself, was probably a testament to his ability, as the poor young lad was dropped despite putting up numbers better than his experienced mates, all just because he wasn’t able to satisfy the wild fantasies of people with the ball in his hand. Peter Siddle was the bowler who replaced him at The Oval in 2015 - yes, that old man.
Throughout his career, Hazlewood has been there and thereabout but has never been the player who has stolen headlines or made heads turn. If I ask you to recall your favourite Mitchell Starc memory, you probably would pick his spell in the World Cup or his supposed “ball of the century” to James Vince. If I were to ask you your favourite Pat Cummins memory, your mind would instantly go back to his debut against South Africa or perhaps, more recently, his exploits against India. But what if I were to ask you your favourite Hazlewood memory? Blank. Baffling, indeed, for a guy who has played almost a 100 international matches for his country, but that’s always what he’s been.
A World Cup winners’ medal, 150+ Test scalps and an Ashes to his name and yet, Hazlewood’s achievements have always gone under the radar - at times even undermined - and most definitely overshadowed and overshone by his compatriots. But then again, watching him bowl, one did always get the feeling that it was always what he wanted, more than happy playing second-fiddle being the “team man” while his teammates lured the limelight.
Cue the 2019 Ashes. The first Test of the series at Edgbaston and Hazlewood has been dropped in favour of who? Peter Siddle. Ah yes, that damned old man again. But yet, he knew - thanks to James Pattinson’s fitness - that a chance for him was always round the corner and all he had to do was keep knocking on the door (no, not of Justin Langer). Knock on the door he did in the tour match against Worcestershire and his call was finally answered as he was picked for Lord’s.
Perhaps, his five-month injury lay-off post the India series is the best thing that could have happened to him after a dismal 2018 which saw him average 33 with the ball. Perhaps, watching his teammates sulk in the fervency of the World Cup was all that was needed to kindle unbridled rage within him. And perhaps, getting dropped once again in favour of the old man was the final straw on his back to let go of his old self and discover a never-before-seen mojo that the cricketing world has yearned to see.
Because the Hazlewood that we’ve been seeing since Lord’s is not the Hazlewood of the old times. Hungrier and more determined than ever before, the New South Welshman looks like he’s on a one-man mission to help his country retain the urn. While the Hazlewood of old would have crumbled and gotten demoralized after a wicketless spell, his version 2.0 instead responded with a 5-wicket haul, skittling out the opposition for 67 runs. From being the kid who wanted the skipper to take the ball away from him in 2015 to the man who is now demanding the ball from the captain in times of need, the speedster’s turnaround has been nothing short of remarkable. Hazlewood is no more a rookie, but now a ringmaster that everyone else looks up to.
His nine-wicket gig at Headingley and his late burst on Day 3 at Old Trafford are just a reflection of who he has become and what he is going to be. For Hazlewood, failure is no more an option for he knows he doesn’t have time on his side. Trundling in mediocrity and gliding in the glory of his teammates are a thing of the past too, as now he knows it’s time to write a chapter of his own in the history books.
Josh Hazlewood is no more the sidekick to Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins’ party, for he’s now a leader amongst men who’s ready to take his game to the next level.
Cricket FootBall Kabaddi