‘What are some facts that sound fake but are actually true?’ is a popular question in r/askReddit and the thread has over 16K comments and responses. If you scroll through some of the facts there, you would be genuinely fascinated, surprised and maybe even shocked; because they are absurd.
So it was only natural that the subreddit scratched that part of my mind, one that equates anything and everything to cricket. And so I wondered, what could potentially be the one cricketing fact that sounds fake but is actually true. I thought and thought - from Misbah once holding the record for the joint fastest Test ton to Ajit Agarkar having his name up in the Lord’s honours board for his batting exploits - but I felt that most of the facts were so absurd that they HAD to be true. But then it finally struck me. I recollected one particular fact that does not sound absurd, a hiding-in-plain-sight kind of fact, yet takes you aback and makes you scratch your head the moment you hear it - Josh Hazlewood holding the top spot in the ICC ODI Rankings.
“Wait, what? Did that actually happen?” a lot of you might be wondering after reading the statement above. To quash all doubts, yes, Hazlewood, on 13 June, 2017, climbed to the top of the ICC ODI Rankings for bowlers. It is indeed an interesting fact, for all this while, we’ve all pictured the big man from New South Wales to be this consistent, ‘You miss I hit’ bowler, who keeps testing batsmen by bowling in and around the corridor of uncertainty, who is only capable of succeeding in Test cricket. But somewhere along the way, gradually, Hazlewood, in conjunction with taking his red-ball game to the next level, also honed his white-ball skills. It is something that has gone unnoticed.
It has gone so unnoticed that he, currently, is not in the reckoning to make Australia’s squad for the World T20. If the squad selection for the ongoing South Africa series is anything to go by, then Hazlewood is quite far behind in the pecking order, with all three of Kane Richardson, Jhye Richardson and Sean Abbott ahead of him to be the pick as the country’s third seamer. While it is understandable as to why the aforementioned trio have leap-frogged Hazlewood for the third seamer’s spot, there can also be an argument made for the case of the selectors, till date, having starved Hazlewood of an opportunity to stake a claim to be in the T20 side. It is the classic case of the HR rejecting the application of a candidate without opening the e-mail and checking his CV in the first place.
Hazlewood, for one, does not boast the greatest of T20I records - in 7 matches, he’s picked up just 8 wickets at an economy of 9.60 - but it is to be noted that he last featured in a 20-over game for Australia way back in March 2016; in other words, Hazlewood last played a T20I for Australia 1428 days ago. In the meantime, he’s accounted for 171 scalps in international cricket, picked up 46 ODI wickets in just 28 matches, transformed into one of the best red-ball bowlers in the world, helped his country retain the Ashes and delivered his franchise their first BBL title in over eight years. He has, in short, evolved and matured as both a cricketer and a bowler.
That he’s been starved of an opportunity, for four long years, to prove his worth in the format is a tragedy. But more than ever, Hazlewood, as of this moment, is now making all the right noises and it might just be in Australia’s best interests to cash in on him. ‘Strike while the iron is hot’, as the famous saying goes.
Take the recently-concluded edition of the BBL for example: It was the New South Welshman’s first appearance in the tournament in over five years and yet, he slotted into the team seamlessly and, in fact, bowled his side to the title. He adhered to a more conservative approach - not defensive, rather, just no-nonsense bowling - and reaped rich rewards for the same. Hazlewood ended the season with 5 wickets to his name in 5 matches, but they came at a scarcely believable economy rate of 6.22 - the best for any pacer in the tournament to have bowled a minimum of 15 overs. His economy rate of 6.22 was, in fact, considerably better than that of his competitors Kane Richardson (6.99), Jhye Richardson (7.07) and Sean Abbott (7.30).
The attributes he brings to the table - none more so than the control and consistency to go along with his versatility - in a way, complete the Australian bowling attack which already comprises three attacking options in the form of Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins and Adam Zampa. The inability of third seamer to be versatile has also been the team’s Achilles heel over the course of the last 18 months in T20 cricket. Hazlewood’s inclusion, in many ways, would solve this, for he can take the new ball, bowl in the middle overs and at the death, as he’d shown in the BBL.
For all the talent his competitors - be it the Richardson(s) or the Abbott - possess, it goes unsaid that the trio fall a tier below the class of both Starc and Cummins. With the WT20 beckoning, perhaps, the management should look in the mirror and ask themselves the question - do they really need to leave the door open for opponents to pounce on a weak-link in the bowling line-up, or would they rather reinforce it with someone who has unfinished business in the team; someone who’s fit, raring and ready to go and has ‘been there, done that’.
With no less than eight months left for the World T20 and with all but one Test series - against Bangladesh - scheduled between now and the global showdown, it would make all the sense in the world for Australia to reintegrate Hazlewood into the T20I setup - now more than ever. It took the team seven games to figure out their third seamer in the 2019 World Cup before they settled down on Jason Behrendorff, but this time around, in the WT20, the window for experimentation will be shorter and the margin for error will be lesser. The World T20 title has evaded Australia for thirteen long years, but perhaps their best shot at clinching the title might be to field a certain Josh Reginald Hazlewood in the XI.
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