Josh Hazlewood leads way as Australia squeeze free-scoring England

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Seldom has the word “some” carried more meaning than in how Josh Hazlewood characterised England’s Test batting line-up. It is a team composed of, in Australia’s view, “some” great Test cricketers and several great one-day cricketers. Ruthlessly and relentlessly, Australia have attempted to pressure this hodgepodge of batsmen, some of whom were World Cup heroes a matter of weeks ago, into the horrendous display at Headingley, where they were shot out for 67 and left almost certain of losing the Ashes at home in the space of three Tests.

Hazlewood, who had never before taken the field to bowl with Pat Cummins and James Pattinson, stated bluntly that drying up the runs and forcing England into errors like those committed by Jason Roy and Ben Stokes was key to the Australian blueprint, which now sees them on the verge of retaining the urn in a Test series in this part of the world for the first time in 18 years.

“That’s probably the general plan, they’re all great one-day cricketers, some are great Test cricketers, so I think they love to feel bat on ball, especially through that middle order,” Hazlewood said. “So if we can dry up the runs and force a mistake, which we saw a couple today, then that’s fantastic.

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“I think when Davey [Warner] and Marnus [Labuschagne] were batting yesterday, you can see the runs can pile up really quickly in England, with such quick outfields and that hour or hour-and-a-half here or there, can really decide the game if the runs can flow quickly. I always love the scoreboard going nowhere and picking up a wicket here or there.

“I don’t think many teams are winning if one of their innings is 60 or 70 runs, it makes it difficult. I think if we start well again next innings, they might think ‘here we go again’, so it’s about creating that doubt in the mind. I think through the way we’ve gone about it is not letting the foot off, just keep going.”

Similarly, Hazlewood said that England’s decision to send Joe Root in at No. 3, meaning he is frequently facing a new and moving ball, has worked to Australia’s advantage. “I certainly like him in there as early as possible,” he said. “They follow him a little bit, he’s the leader, he’s the captain, he’s got the best average, he’s their best batsman going by numbers. So if we can get him I think they can be vulnerable at times, same as any other team, if their best batter’s out you feel a bit more relaxed about your business.”

Having been close to being an automatic selection when fit for most of the past four years, Hazlewood was left out of the team for the opening Test at Edgbaston and had to work his way back via a tour game in Worcester. He has responded with several of the spells of his life, not least his 5 for 30 here, and agreed that the extra pressure for places – created by the presence of Cummins, Pattinson, Peter Siddle, Mitchell Starc and Michael Neser on tour – had pushed all bowlers to raise their standards.

“Yeah, I guess at times you might get a little bit comfortable, a little bit relaxed in there’s no-one really knocking the door down,” he said. “I guess that can happen at certain times. But when they’re right here training every day, putting pressure on you every day, it adds that extra element, I think. How quickly the Tests are spaced together it brings that extra element of having six quicks here. Five of those have played a lot of Test cricket.

“We see how well Siddle has bowled this series, he’s been fantastic, our best at times. I would love to play every Test. The body feels great, I have had my issues over the last few years which has been disappointing, but I feel really good and hope I can go back-to-back Tests. But the way the series is set out, we have six great quicks here and it keeps you on your toes.”

A hallmark of the England innings was how wickets fell steadily, not in a rush of two or three in an over, through the constant pressure being applied. Another was the pace, bounce and carry in the surface, which offered Australia’s catchers an excellent sight of the ball. It was not until Matthew Wade spilled a running chance from short leg, before Hazlewood bowled Jack Leach next ball, that Australia missed out on a perfect ten chances taken out of ten.

“It didn’t feel like there was a big collapse,” Hazlewood said. “The runs stayed stagnant for a long time and we just kept taking wickets here and there. A bit of luck went our way and it felt like it was just our day. We bowled well, a couple of really good deliveries in those wickets and we were very happy with how we went about our plans. The slips caught well and everything went our way.

“I think they all carried through hip high, which is what you want. I wouldn’t say it’s slow, the carry is pretty good for both teams, there is sideways movement off the wicket, which is doing the damage and I am sure the slips love it coming through a bit higher. I guess sometimes in England they can go quite low but this wicket seems pretty good.”

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