Pattinson makes it three
First Nathan Lyon, then Pat Cummins, and now James Pattinson. Australia's bowling, so unthreatening during the Ashes last summer, appears to be rediscovering its elements of mystery, danger and excitement with a trio of bewitching debuts in the space of six Test matches.
Pattinson's blink-or-you'll-miss-it destruction of a fading New Zealand on the fourth morning of the first Test in Brisbane was as thrilling for Australia as Lyon's five against Sri Lanka in Galle, and Cummins' wickets and winning runs to stun South Africa in Johannesburg.
The fascinating thing about Pattinson's spell, which began with the wicket of Brendon McCullum on the third evening and peaked with three wickets in four balls - Jesse Ryder retained his off stump by a centimetre or two on the hat-trick ball - in his first over on the fourth, is that it had been a relatively long time coming. Unlike Lyon and Cummins, each introduced to the Test team on the strength of their promise within 12 months of a first-class debut, 21-year-old Pattinson had been building up to his baggy green cap for some time. He first toured with Australia to India in late 2010, and has whirred down over upon over in the nets across four overseas trips with the national team. On that first trip Pattinson left a distinct impression with all the batsmen who faced him, and only a back complaint prevented him from edging closer to the Test XI in the summer that followed.
Such growing pains are considered inevitable among those who have known the challenge of bowling swiftly for their country, and Pattinson returned stronger still. His innate speed and bounce have been augmented by the development of a powerful physique, a torso convex where once it was concave. The time in the wings has also allowed Pattinson to adapt from the "dry", short of length bowling desired by his state, Victoria, to the fuller and more swinging approach favoured by Australia's bowling coach Craig McDermott. Possessing quite pronounced natural curve away from the bat, Pattinson has developed the ability and the inclination to pitch the ball further up, something he was richly rewarded for at the Gabba.
McDermott's role in this is not to be underestimated, for he has spent as much time with Pattinson as any other member of the Australian attack in recent months. As the reserve bowler in Sri Lanka, Pattinson spent an awful lot of time delivering to McDermott's baseball mitt rather than Brad Haddin's gloves, and had to deal with the frustrations of a non-playing tourist. In this case, McDermott's empathy, having lived every experience of a young fast bowler both in and out of the Australian team, has proved invaluable. After spending so much time with Pattinson, there was even a hint of disappointment in McDermott when Cummins was chosen first.
"I think it's been very helpful, particularly with young guys like James Pattinson," McDermott said in South Africa. "Throughout the Sri Lanka tour he trained his backside off day in, day out and didn't really play much cricket. He's come to South Africa and bowled very well in the T20s and was unlucky to not stay on for the Tests."
Much as Pattinson had to wait a little longer for his Test debut, he also had to wait until the second innings to find his best rhythm. Handed the new ball by Michael Clarke on the first morning, Pattinson was understandably nervous, and his palms grew clammier with each brazen stroke by McCullum. Importantly, few of the runs Pattinson leaked were to deliveries fired halfway down the pitch, instead they were full, swinging and loaded with risk for any batsman choosing to chase them. A better second spell would account for the captain Ross Taylor, who dragged onto his stumps in reckless fashion in the same over the bowler had muddled him by moving the ball into him and also away.
Having claimed a first wicket and batted capably in Australia's 427, Pattinson emerged for the second innings with a clearer head. Granted a brief burst at New Zealand's openers, he added direction and venom to the swing of the first innings, and capped a quartet of overs for one run by drawing McCullum into an edge to second slip. Swift, seaming and indeterminate of length, it would have been difficult to bowl a better delivery to a top order batsman late in the day.
When play resumed this morning Pattinson found it was equally useful when those same batsmen were starting again. Variety accounted for Martin Guptill, squeezing a rib-bound rocket to short leg, before Kane Williamson, Taylor and the nightwatchman Doug Bracewell fenced dimly at the away swing and offered catches to the cordon. Late arrivals to the ground blinked at a scoreboard reading 5-28, Pattinson 5-7, and the match decided.
Lyon, now a comparative veteran of six Tests, claimed a hopelessly befuddled Jesse Ryder as the next wicket on his way to another exceptionally tidy match analysis of 7-88. With Cummins soon to return from the inconvenience of a bruised heel, Australia's bowling ensemble is starting to look as rich in 2011-12 as it seemed poor only a season ago. Clarke now has high speed, late swing, and beguiling spin to call on. He is becoming spoiled for choice, where at times his predecessor Ricky Ponting struggled to know who to throw the ball to.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo