Those who witnessed Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Starc in tandem at Worcester got confirmation – if no actual match play evidence – that the former fast man is better suited to Australia’s Ashes plan than the latter as the right armer was included in the team for the Lord’s Test in place of the rested James Pattinson.
Starc’s expensive first spell in the tour game, bowling four overs at a cost of 27 albeit with one wicket, provided a reminder of the regular boundary release balls he is always in danger of bowling in England, while Hazlewood’s far more economical effort (4-2-2-2) in the same passage of play late on day one offered all the evidence the tour selectors required to choose him once it became clear that Pattinson still had some residual stiffness from his Edgbaston efforts.
“He’s got an outstanding record. He’s built up over the past few months,” Langer said of Hazlewood. “He missed out on the World Cup because we felt he hadn’t played much cricket. We know he’s an outstanding bowler, we know that the style of play against England that his best he should execute those plans really well. He has bowled well the last couple of weeks and we hope he does a good job this Test match.
“Just the style of play we want to play here against England, he hits a great length, he’s usually pretty miserly with his economy rate, that’s what gave him the edge in this game. Don’t get me wrong, it was a hard decision. If it comes off we know what we are doing, if it doesn’t we don’t, that’s just the business we are in. It was a tough call.”
Less demanding was the discussion with Pattinson that led to his resting, after prior history indicating that asking the 29-year-old to play two Tests in a row can often have highly damaging consequences.Tellingly, Langer indicated that Pattinson needed some assuaging of his own doubts about how he had been managed in the past.
“We collaborated on that one,” Langer said. “And I think it’s been important for him in his return to cricket, I think in the past he’s felt a bit that he had to play and had to play and had to push and had to push and in those instances he usually broke at some point. It was really good collaboration between the two of us, that was our deal in Hampshire when we talked about what his progress would be at Notts and we have had really good communication with Notts as well so yeah he’s fine.
“We talked about it. He was a little bit stiff after bowling on Monday morning. We knew he would only bowl one of the two back to back games, and whilst he’s had eight or nine days, we knew he couldn’t play back to back Test matches. We just felt that having pulled up a little stiff after bowling and we thought it would be common sense to keep getting himself hungry and prepared for the third Test.”
The Pattinson example may be part of a wider evolution of fast bowler management in Australia, coinciding as it does with the appointment of two new Cricket Australia team performance chiefs in Ben Oliver (national teams) and Drew Ginn (high performance). Their predecessor Pat Howard helped advance the conversation on how to manage fast bowlers in the face of plenty of criticism, and a deep Ashes squad of six pacemen capable of being rotated according to fitness and match conditions is part of his legacy.
“It’s the first time in however long I’ve been coaching that we’ve actually had the luxury of having six high class fast bowlers fit up and running,” Langer said. “We’re lucky to have the situation to be able to do that but it doesn’t happen very often. That’s the truth, and maybe that’s why a number of bowlers break down over time, because you’ve got to keep pushing and pushing and pushing, particularly in series, particularly with the schedules as they are now.
“We’ve got five Test matches in six weeks, plus a couple of county games in between, so if you have got guys fit you’re not constantly pushing them, which ultimately leads to breaking them and with the unnatural action of a bowler, if you keep doing the same thing over and over, history will tell you that’s what happens. So if we’re lucky enough to have guys we can keep bringing in and out and firing, that’s a real luxury to have.”
As for the first day one of an Ashes Test to be abandoned without a ball bowled since the 1998 Boxing Day Test at the MCG, and the first at Lord’s since 1997, Langer said the awkwardness of a possible toss of the coin at 3pm had raised some intriguing conversation.
“We had a joke there for a moment, if the captain tosses the coin and he wins the toss can he ask the opposition to make the choice,” Langer said. “I think we decided you can’t do that. A couple of the umpires weren’t sure, but they checked for us, but you have to make a decisions. It is going to be a tough call. Today would have been tough, we knew there was a bit of rain around, some overhead conditions, the grass is wet and knowing the Dukes ball gets a bit soft when it gets a bit wet. Lucky Tim didn’t have to make the decision. We’ll see how it pulls up but it looks like a pretty good cricket wicket. Quite dry through underneath.
“At this stage we’ll only lose two hours in the Test match so it won’t affect too much. Depending on weather, which we can’t control, we’ll still, there’s plenty of time. Two hours in the Test match isn’t much in the overall, in the bigger picture of it. There’ll be longer sessions we’re going to have to deal with but our guys have said all along we have to keep adapting and be ready with whatever the conditions or the situation of the game throws up at us.”