Hastings making up for lost time
As the cricket cliché goes, there's never a good time to be injured. But some moments are especially unfortunate, as Victoria's spinner Jon Holland is now discovering, having hurt his shoulder when he was working his way towards the fringes of national selection. His state team-mate John Hastings could tell him all about it.
Hastings had just started to establish himself in Australia's ODI and Twenty20 sides last year when he returned from the tour of Sri Lanka and suffered a serious injury at state training. Diving for a one-handed catch, Hastings felt a stabbing pain and his season was over, a shoulder reconstruction ruling him out of all cricket for nearly a year.
Tours of South Africa, West Indies, England and the UAE were out of the question, as was any hope of him being part of Australia's World T20 squad, and the injury to Hastings, a bowling allrounder, allowed batting allrounder Daniel Christian some breathing space to settle in to the side. Hastings also missed a full Sheffield Shield campaign, having been the competition's second leading wicket taker two years earlier when he collected 36 victims at 26.13.
But finally, Hastings is back, and he is looking on the bright side. The time away from the game gave him plenty of opportunity to work in the gym, and he believes his extra strength work has helped him gain a little bit of pace with his bowling. Whatever the case, he has certainly thrived on his return, having picked up 13 wickets in Victoria's first two Shield games of this season - his first outings at first-class level in nearly two years.
"The timing of it wasn't great," Hastings told ESPNcricinfo. "I pulled out of the South African series in 2011. It seems a long time ago now. It wasn't a great time for me. I probably would have been on that tour and if I'd done well there, who knows, Tests might have been around the corner as well. But to have such a long time out of the game it's going to take me a long time to gain the selectors' trust again and get back in that side.
"When I wasn't bowling or batting I spent a lot of time on my fitness, working on my strength and conditioning in the gym with David Bailey, the now Australian strength and conditioning coach. We worked our butts off to try to get me back. I think a yard of pace has probably helped me get a few more wickets than I normally would have in four-day cricket, and a little more durability as well, so I can continually back up my spells."
So far this season, the results have been coming. Only James Pattinson, who demolished Queensland with 6 for 32 in the second innings in Brisbane, has more Shield wickets than Hastings after the first two rounds. In a Victoria attack featuring four fast and medium bowlers who have worn the baggy green - Pattinson, Peter Siddle, Clint McKay and Andrew McDonald - that's no mean feat.
"I come on and I'm not as fast as the other guys, I think the batsmen think they can get after me and they just nick one to the keeper or something," Hastings said. "For me to bowl at the other end to James Pattinson is just fantastic. He creates all the pressure. That spell at the Gabba was absolutely world-class, on a pretty flat third-day Gabba wicket, he extracted bounce and a bit of movement."
Hastings, 26, can also get plenty of bounce from his 195-centimetre frame. He will enjoy the challenge of bowling to the Tasmanians at the MCG this week. Last time he played a first-class match at home it was against the touring England team during Australia's disastrous 2010-11 Ashes. Twenty-two months is a long time to wait.
"Everything is going really well at the moment," Hastings said. "It's probably the best my body has felt for four or five years. Looking back I think I was lucky to have that 18 months to get my body right and get it where I wanted to be. It's great to pull up well from games and hopefully that can continue."
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here