India in Australia 2011-12 December 22, 2011

Hilfenhaus not so predictable this time


Ben Hilfenhaus has lifted himself out of the rut of predictability that made him look so innocuous during the Ashes last summer, and will be a far more versatile performer should he bowl against India's batsmen on Boxing Day.

So says Hilfenhaus' state captain, George Bailey, who was frank in his assessments and advice to the Tasmanian swing bowler on his return to Sheffield Shield ranks after Alastair Cook and others in the England batting line-up had so humbled his methods.

Under the guidance of Bailey and the Tigers' bowling coach Ali de Winter, 28-year-old Hilfenhaus has endeavoured to use a wider range of angles on the bowling crease this summer, a favoured tactic of skilful bowlers for more than a century. He is also striving for a fuller length.

"Hilfy last year had become quite predictable," Bailey told ESPNcricinfo. "He could replicate the same ball over and over but at Test cricket, once players were in he found it hard to actually break through and get a wicket.

"So aside from getting over some niggling injuries, which he's carried for quite some time - he's certainly bowling a bit quicker and is a bit stronger this year - is just a bit more variety at the crease, being able to bowl wider of the stumps, and bowl different balls rather than just the outswinger."

The adjustment of Hilfenhaus' approach has not been an entirely seamless process, for his dependable, uncomplicated character does not always take readily to change. Bailey said Hilfenhaus had needed to see results in his new methods before he committed to them fully. He also had to return his bowling action to the full-bodied style that first earned him a Test spot, rather than the self-protecting adjustments he had made to alleviate the pain of knee tendinitis, to the detriment of his pace and swing.

"He's certainly trying to come from different areas [on the crease] a bit more, Bailey said. "He's also had a bit of trouble with knee tendinitis, and I don't think he did it consciously but he just slightly adjusted his action and was bowling around his front knee a bit more. And he does bowl from quite close to the stumps, so if he was swinging it, it was swinging a little early, rather than coming a little wider of the crease and angling in at the stumps before taking it away.

"Hilfy is someone who needs to see the results before he believes something, but there is no doubt I think if he can learn to use the crease a bit more, come from wider and angle in before taking it away, he will not need to swing it as much as he thinks he needs to.

"He's certainly done that for periods, he's starting to bowl a better length that suits him, giving him the chance to move the ball, because he has got a skill that not a great deal of bowlers in Australia have in terms of being able to swing the ball at pretty good pace. He's still working on those things and working pretty hard."

Bailey sensed a certain impatience about Hilfenhaus last summer, as his hard-won place in the Test team was slipping away from him. Seeking a startling bag of wickets to re-assert himself, he may have lost sight of the patience and persistence that gave him a baggy green cap in the first place.

"We've challenged him a bit this year at Tassie to bowl into the wind a bit more, rather than being a strike bowler all the time," Bailey said. "Whether Hilf felt it or not, I felt at times he felt his way back in was to take a big bag of wickets and so he was bowling to try to take wickets every ball, whereas this year he's been a bit more patient and willing to do the roles.

"If he's taking wickets that's fine, if he's not then he can tie up an end and help Luke [Butterworth] or James [Faulkner] or Xavier [Doherty] take wickets. He's just got back to enjoying his cricket a bit more and working hard for the team while providing a bit more variation. I'd still like to see him bowling a little fuller, but that's something we'll keep discussing when he gets the chance to play for Tassie.

"Hilfy is someone who needs to see the results before he believes something, but there is no doubt I think if he can learn to use the crease a bit more, come from wider and angle in before taking it away, he will not need to swing it as much as he thinks he needs to."
George Bailey on Ben Hilfenhaus

"No doubt when he's at his best he's in Australia's best handful of fast bowlers. Looking at the Test series coming up and where they're going to be in their focus, being in England in 2013, I still think he's got a big part to play. It is good to see he's back in the mix."

Hilfenhaus returns to an Australian pace battery that is now singing from the simple hymn sheet of Craig McDermott, who has stressed the importance of bowling a full length to draw batsmen into drives and edges, even if a few more runs may accrue. Bailey said the method was neither new nor complicated, but could certainly be effective.

"It's not new information there, I think Greg Chappell before him was big on that, if you talk to Glenn McGrath and Jason Gillespie that's the length they bowled as well, I don't think it is rocket science in terms of a mantra," he said. "But that is the challenge, particularly as a young bowling group when you're playing against great batsmen and certainly some of these Indian players are.

"It can be pretty daunting to just keep throwing the ball up there full because you can get hurt a little bit on the scoreboard. The flipside is the rewards wickets-wise can be a lot greater, and it is as much about learning when you can go hard at that full length and when you need to restrict things and tie up an end."

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Deepak on December 25, 2011, 7:25 GMT

    Hilfenhaus will be the man Sehwag targets.. Good luck Hilfy, you'll need a lot of it.

  • Roo on December 24, 2011, 3:21 GMT

    @Wefinishthis... Agree, but our middle order (4,5,6) has been the main culprit... Don't stop watching cricket - we can only get better :P ... Hilfenhaus ranks at no.34 in strike rate for SS bowlers this season... Faulkner, Butterworth & Bird all have better figures than Hilfy does for Tas as do a large number of bowlers from other States... The "picking the players in form" from the Argus review seems to have been thrown out the window... On the + side, Siddle has a good record at home... But really need a 5th bowler for this match... Can't rely on Pattinson to get a 5-for every match...

  • Michael on December 23, 2011, 6:24 GMT

    I definitely think Hilfy deserves another crack.At the moment i dont think Starc is quite up to it and would probably be targeted and punished by India.Picking Hilfy means that the attack is also fairly strong enough to cope without an all rounder hence Marsh should play and Christian will miss out.

  • Chris on December 23, 2011, 6:02 GMT

    Thanks RandyOZ, I think it's just that it is painfully clear to everyone that Hilfenhaus no more belongs in the Australian team than Mick Lewis. malomay - The thing is about Anderson is that he proved himself at 1st class level to earn his way back into the side, the point that a lot of people are making is that Hilfenhaus has not improved and has not earned his spot back. The article is a joke. His biggest problem IS accuracy. He simply cannot bowl the same ball in good areas consistently with a slight variation each time (Vindaliew you are 100% correct). The Indian team could not be happier knowing they get to face the impotent Hilfenhaus and inconsistent Starc and Siddle. Matt. - We all feel your pain. I'm about ready to stop watching the Aussies as long as Siddle, Hilfenhaus, Johnson and Starc are in the team again.

  • rob on December 23, 2011, 2:52 GMT

    @YorkshirePudding : There is more spin in these 'official' quotes and articles than a bagful of Warnes. (that holds on a number of levels) They (CA) have a media manager or some such, and to be fair, if they're paying him he may as well do something. Sometimes, if you changed the names and hid the headline, the story could be about AFL or the NRL. I think most of the words we see in the sporting press are just grist from the same PR mill.

    I get your point about recycling the same old players and generally speaking you are right. If they aren't up to scratch, you are better off moving on. There are exceptions though. I remember saying the same thing about a bloke you may have heard of, name of Freddie Flintoff. Jimmy Anderson struggled early as well, as did Damien Martyn. Mark Waugh was picked and dropped a few times, as was his brother Steve. (Usually as direct swap actually). My point is that players can & do improve. Not sure Hilf is one of them, but it's worth giving him a go.

  • rob on December 23, 2011, 2:26 GMT

    I like Hilfy, reminds me of my brother in law, and I agree that he is a better option than Starc but only if he bowls at his best. I know he got hammered by England, but they all did and Ricky had run out of ideas by 10am. Clarke will do a better job of managing him.

    George Bailey sounds as though he has been busy putting Hilfy back together again. I hope he succeeded because Hilfy ain't a bad bowler when his confidence is up, and he move the ball around like magic at times.

  • Dummy4 on December 23, 2011, 0:15 GMT

    i think hilfy will do better this time around. He'll benifit from not have Johnson at the other end who released all the pressure against the Poms. He can keep it tight and he looks much more threatening when he is getting late swing - which has been happening lately.

  • Andrew on December 22, 2011, 22:56 GMT

    @ Patchmaster - pls bear in mind that Cook's success was based on the fact that he was not playing ODIs - his long term technical deficiancy outside off-stump was ironed-out. With Cook now the captain of the ODI side - where nibbles outside off result in a single to 3rd man, he'll be picked off like in his early days. Strauss is past his use by date, I'll be surprised (genuinely) if he ever scores a ton again in a test match.

  • Nick on December 22, 2011, 22:37 GMT

    @ Patchmaster, I think losing to NZ by 7 runs when chasing 240 gave most Austrailian Crickets fans an indication of where this team is at.. Rebuilding, but hopefully they can cause a couple of surprises... A lot of players in this Australian side can be (note I said can and not are) match winners on their day, they a just a little inconsistent at the moment..

  • Mal on December 22, 2011, 22:08 GMT

    @randyOz, your vendetta against Hilfenhaus is becoming a little tiresome. No doubt if you were an English supporter you'd have called for Jimmy Anderson never to play for England again at the same stage of his career. In fact Hilf has better stats than Anderson did after the same amount of tests ! Luckily for England, their selectors realised the value of a genuine swing bowler & kept persisting with him. Jimmy has repaid their faith...hopefully Hilfy will too.

  • No featured comments at the moment.