Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Starc find ways to entertain themselves during a rain delay
Josh Hazlewood‘s return to fitness will mean New South Wales will field Australia’s Ashes bowling attack against Western Australia in the unassuming surrounds of Hurstville Oval from Saturday, though the tall fast man admits he would like to see some extra bowling cover in the Test squad when it is finally announced.
The certainty around the shape of Steven Smith’s top four bowlers and top five batsmen is in sharp contrast to the vast speculation about who will fill the spots at Nos. 6 and 7, in recent times nominally the preserve of an allrounder and a wicketkeeper. Australia’s selectors will not be unveiling their Gabba squad until the day after the third round of Sheffield Shield matches on November 17, having gained precious little relevant information from the first, floodlit fixtures.
Returning to the state team following a side strain in Bangladesh and a 10-over spell in Sydney club cricket on the weekend, Hazlewood said he would like to see a fifth bowling option present in the Australian Test side. That balance would aid him, Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins in bowling at their best and fastest, notwithstanding the outstanding recent displays of the spin bowler Nathan Lyon. Moises Henriques is the allrounder for NSW, while Hilton Cartwright and Marcus Stoinis seem the most likely contenders to fulfill that role in the Test team.
“It’s always nice having that allrounder to maybe bowl five or six overs throughout the day,” Hazlewood said. “I think the way Gaz has bowled over the last 12-18 months has been fantastic and he’s been shouldering the workload if it does get put upon the quicks. But for balance you want runs and wickets from that No. 6 batter … you could go either way.
“It’s always great to have a full-strength NSW side, a lot of Test experience, the skipper and vice skipper there as well, so yeah really looking forward to getting out there. Western Australia are really strong at the moment in all formats, so looking forward to a good game.
“It’s usually one or the other [of Starc or Cummins] at different stages, so it’s great to get them together. We’ve got a pretty good record when we’re all together bowling. We’re pretty used to bowling together these days, whether it’s for Australia or NSW, so we’ll just take it as another game and try to get those 20 wickets.”
In making his recovery from the side strain, Hazlewood was several weeks behind Starc’s own rehabilitation from a foot problem, meaning he was unable to play in the first Shield round. This means he will play consecutive Shield games before the Gabba Test, creating a delicate balance between the demands of Smith, the selectors and medical staff trying to manage his workload.
“The other guys played last week and this week and I think they’re having a rest for game three,” Hazlewood said. “I’m playing game three since I missed the first one. It’s a good build-up, two Shield games before the first Test, and hopefully get through the first Test as well. Ideally you’d want to play the same as Mitch and Pat, the first two, but I don’t see it as much of a big deal, we’ll just bowl a little bit less in the nets leading into it if we bowl a bit more in the game.
“It feels really good, it’s got better every session from when I started bowling probably four or five weeks ago, it feels good now, nice and strong, so hopefully it stays that way. Very close to, if not, 100%.”
Another contender for the Ashes, Nathan Coulter-Nile, has been bizarrely withdrawn from WA’s Shield team to face NSW at Hurstville and will instead bowl a limited number of overs for an invitational XI against the Englishmen in Perth on November 4 and 5. Hazlewood, who has himself had his bowling load closely managed over numerous years, took the view that it was a chance for a speedy compatriot to place some early doubts in the minds of the touring team’s batsmen.
“I see it more as a positive I think, that he can maybe crack open a few of them early and create a few scars in their top order and middle order maybe,” he said. “Disappointing he’s not playing in the Shield game against us, but he’s had trouble with injuries in the past few years so that’s the reason he’s playing there.
“Their top order, it’ll be their first hit on tour, and to have a guy there like Coults there to warm them up I guess to maybe create a few scars would be nice. That’s their plan too, to start with the bounciest, quickest wicket and get used to that straight away.”
Elsewhere, the national selectors named the Cricket Australia XI squad to face Joe Root’s England tourists in a pair of Ashes warm-up matches, first in Adelaide (November 8-11) and then Townsville (November 15-18). The experienced Tim Paine and the NSW seamer Gurinder Sandhu add experience to the side, which also features the more youthful talents of Will Pucovski and Jason Sangha.
Cricket Australia XI squad: Jake Carder, Jackson Coleman, Michael Cormack, Daniel Fallins, Ryan Gibson, Nick Larkin, Simon Milenko, Tim Paine, Will Pucovski, Gurinder Sandhu, Jason Sangha, Matthew Short.
Source: ESPN Crickinfo