Josh Hazlewood’s T20 evolution continues with 4-16 rout of Sri Lanka
Josh Hazlewood really shouldn’t be this good at T20 cricket.
In a world where the Mitchell Starcs and Jasprit Bumrahs and Shaheen Shah Afridis made you look up from your smartphone and pay attention, “Hazlewood Takes New Ball” was less likely to distract you from tweeting.
For much of its career, the words used to describe it seem to be the antithesis of the hard-hitting, adrenaline-pumping soundtrack of the shorter format.
Josh Hazlewood: reliable, consistent, line and length, metronomic, top of off. Yawn.
Ahead of the Australian tour opener in Sri Lanka, even Hazlewood admitted he was less likely to take down opponents with blistering pace than some of his teammates.
He doesn’t need it.
Over the past year, Hazlewood has proven to be a sponge, learning at a seemingly exponential rate with each tour and tournament. He went from using his natural Test cricket lines and lengths to trying to be unpredictable before settling somewhere in the middle ahead of last year’s successful T20 World Cup campaign.
He is currently the only fast in the top five ICC T20 bowling rankings and the only Australian pace bowler in the top 40, a true IPL star who can now command the big bucks.
So it was no surprise to see Hazlewood take the new ball in tandem with Starc after Aaron Finch won the coin toss and opted to play the opening T20. It was also not unusual to see him riding those tight lines – usually just short of a length, how boring and conventional! – in his first miser, giving up only two points.
But what raised an eyebrow or two was Finch’s decision to replace Starc and Hazlewood with Mitch Marsh and Glenn Maxwell after a little more each.
Australia’s strategy of fielding three rapids and a specialist spinner was successful at last year’s World Cup and they believe this gives them the best chance of defending their title on home soil later this year. relying on overs between Marsh, Maxwell and Marcus Stoinis to make up for the rest of the overs.
But Sri Lanka’s opening pair Pathum Nissanka and Danushka Gunathilaka saw an opportunity; Marsh and Maxwell went for 14 and 12 on their respective overs, victims of a combination of innovative power, sweeps and scoops.
Royal Challengers Bangalore captain Faf du Plessis made the same decision to knock out Hazlewood after a win in the RCB qualifier against Rajasthan Royals in this year’s IPL.
Jos Buttler had scored his first six points on Hazlewood’s opener but, once he was taken out of attack (Maxwell also bowled during this period), the Englishman went wild and when where du Plessis brought Hazlewood back for sixth over much of the damage had been done; Rajasthan were 0-61 and Buttler was on 40.
On this occasion, Hazlewood did the unexpected and it worked. His first return ball into the attack was a wide half-volley which Yashasvi Jaiswal carved straight to the point. It wasn’t enough to roll the match back in the RCB direction and it left the question of whether Hazlewood should have knocked another down sooner.
Perhaps realizing there was a danger that Sri Lanka could get away with the same, Finch brought Hazlewood back for fifth place. The first ball was short and rather inelegant picked up borderline by Gunathilaka.
The second ball was also short but, like Jaiswal in the IPL, Gunathilaka carved it straight at a defender, this time at the deep point. Bingo.
But Sri Lanka still traveled quickly and relatively smoothly. When Hazlewood returned to kick off their third game, the home side were 2-102 and looked set for a tough total.
At this point, we should all expect it. Mr Reliable of monotonous Test bowling line and length morphed into Mr Drop Everything Now because he shakes things up.
Finch must have felt it too. He brought in mid and mid, tempting Kusal Mendis to go over the top and Hazlewood charged, dodging anything weird for that length of stock (so predictable and ho-hum, right?) .
Mendis opted for the heave but could only manage a superior advantage, easily claimed by Ashton Agar, another victim of Hazlewood’s knack for taking a wicket when returning in attack.
Three balls later it was another standard red ball delivery and it resulted in a test match dismissal, as Bhanuka Rajapaksa played outside the stump and headed towards the wicketkeeper.
Hazlewood completed his piercing precision with another scalp, Dasun Shanuka crashed into his front pad while sliding across the line to a ball that would have ripped off the middle stump.
It ripped all the momentum out of Sri Lanka’s innings; they had been 1 in 100 in the 12th and were knocked out for 128 and it was a comfortable cruise to a ten wicket win for Finch and David Warner.
Hazlewood finished with numbers of 4 for 16 and there will no doubt be even more scrutiny of how and when Finch uses such a valuable weapon, especially on the power play when he looks menacing.
It wouldn’t have seemed surprising at this time last year to note that Hazlewood had only played nine T20Is in his career; after all, he is a test runner, through and through.
But now he’s Nessun Dorma’s cricket dance remix, a timeless classic that’s been remade for the modern era but loses none of its giddy majesty in the process.
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