Sometimes, in a format where the conventional wisdom is that unpredictability is key, the smartest thing to do is to be predictable.
That’s the conclusion Josh Hazlewood drew after a T20 trip that started in the Caribbean, swung by Bangladesh and ended up in the United Arab Emirates during a successful stint with the Chennai Super Kings during the IPL.
Hazlewood is a classic try-pitcher, his metronomic line and length targeting the top of the stump or the channel just outside of it and wears down hitters until they make a mistake.
But there’s little time to wear out in the shorter format, and consistency can veer dangerously into the realm of predictability for hitters who enjoy runs over time in the crease.
Australia’s first two games against the West Indies in July brought very different results for Hazlewood.
In the first game of the series, Hazlewood took 3 wickets and conceded just 12 points and, as Australia lost the game, his performance suggested that his lack of experience in the format would not be a obstacle to selection in Australia’s starting lineup in the T20 World Cup.
By the next game the West Indies hitters had learned their lesson; they knew where Hazlewood was likely to play and instead of standing still at the crease, Lendl Simmons and Shimron Hetmyer moved around and charged, removing line and length from the equation.
The result? Hazlewood finished 1 for 39 over his four overs.
“It obviously worked for the first game and then I think it’s about being proactive to get ahead of the batsman and trying to, I guess, get a feel for when they’re going to chase me and hit me. of that length and kind of get a head start when I can, ”Hazlewood said at the time.
“So I think it’s just about being unpredictable against those type of hitters and you know those are big limits and they’ve hit the ball so far and so cleanly.
“I think it’s about being proactive and getting ahead of the curve when you can and you’re probably learning the more you play in this format.”
On the difficult terrains of Bangladesh, Hazlewood made more frequent use of the knuckle ball and in four matches he took seven wickets and was Australia’s cheapest quick pitcher in another series loss.
But after working with CSK coach Stephen Fleming and bowling consultant Eric Simons, Hazlewood has come full circle.
“Funny you say it like that,” Hazlewood said when reminded of his words about predictability in the Caribbean. “I’ve probably almost gone the other way now.
“Spending some time in Chennai with Stephen Fleming and Eric Simons, just chatting about you know hitters are probably expecting that.
“If you’re hit for four or six, they’re probably expecting something different the next ball.
“I think it’s a little different here too, but they’re expecting something different, so keep doing the same thing and get them to hit four or six of your good deliveries, right above the stumps.” , a hard length.
“And it seemed to work the last few weeks at IPL and then again [against South Africa] so again, it’s different conditions, different countries, so you’re going to weigh that and go ahead with what works best.
What works best for Hazlewood brought his first wicket of the World Cup campaign to Australia; his first ball a classic test delivery with a throbbing length into the dangerous channel which tempted Rassie van der Dussen to lead and gain the advantage.
But Hazlewood came out of his IPL prep the same way he started it. There are now two Hazlewoods; the one that developed his variations and slower deliveries for later in the rounds and the Test version which he says may work in his early spells.
“Probably my first two [overs] suggested that, ”Hazlewood said. “And then you kind of play one in the middle and one at the end and you have to weigh, where the limits are bigger, who you play, the conditions, what the wicket does, it’s just a matter of thinking about your feet too.
“And again, prepare for each situation and then figure out what’s best, not just myself, but as a bowling group, and put it into practice.
“So there is definitely a place for your line in the length and then there are definitely times when it doesn’t work. “
It remains to be seen how successful Hazlewood will be once opposing teams attempt to target him early on.
On the rare occasions in test games where a batter has taken an aggressive approach – think Brendon McCullum in Christchurch, Ben Stokes at Headingley or Rishabh Pant at SCG – Hazlewood has struggled to come up with answers.
But, as he applies the skills learned with the red ball to his white ball game, Hazlewood believes his sustained experience playing T20 cricket will help him evolve as a long form weapon.
“I think there are definitely opportunities, depending on how the game goes and the teams trying to set up a chase or chase a total on day five and you know the wicket is still good, you have to. sort of having your own tricks rather than using the wicket, “Hazlewood said.” It’s always been probably when the tail hits at the end and you know the line and length are probably the easiest balls to hit. to hit.
“You can mix it up with slower balls or slower ball bouncers and just put them out of that pace, so there are definitely times in test matches where your T20 bowling comes into play.”
The loss to England following Stokes’ brave and extravagant strikes has arguably been the most frustrating for the Australian bowling attack in recent years.
“I mean there is often no time constraint on the stick so in terms of ball races you probably can’t do wide Yorkers and different things you have to try to get the ball out. player, ”Hazlewood said. “There are some things that I thought about trying to get into, if I was in this situation [again] and the more you play T20, the more confident you are in getting those changes and putting into practice the four or five day scenario we had at Headingley.
But the prospect of Hazlewood becoming even more powerful in the cricket test is to be considered later, when England arrive in Australia for the Ashes.
The question for now is whether Hazlewood 2.0, the Test and T20 hybrid, is the version that can help Australia win a title that has always eluded them.