Michael Jeh February 18, 2010

The secret behind Nathan Hauritz's success?

Here’s a question for you then

"Hauritz’s success in the last year or so has been more than just the sheer numbers" © Getty Images

Cricket is full of intra-sport rivalries, even though much of it is meant to be in a light-hearted tone. Fast bowlers are said to be a bit ‘thick’, wicketkeepers are apparently eccentric and opening batsmen are often associated with having no fear. Perhaps none of these myths have any real basis but it adds to the romance and character of the game.

Another school of thought centres around the notion that it’s often a batsman’s game. Bowlers are forever complaining that flat pitches, shorter boundaries, covered wickets, new technology for bats and restrictions on the use of the short ball have made it even easier for the batsmen. Not surprisingly, batsmen are quick to point out that while bowlers get plenty of chances to make mistakes, one false shot and an innings can be terminated.

Here’s a question for you then. I only thought about it when thinking about the rise and rise of Nathan Hauritz in the last 12 months, despite not really being rated highly by any of his opponents. If you are underrated by the opposition, is it easier to be a bowler than a batsman?

Hauritz’s success in the last year or so has been more than just the sheer numbers. Anyone who has watched him closely will see a bowler who is now a genuinely a world-class performer, in the context of contemporary off-spinners. He has drift, he turns the ball much more than he used to, has a good arm ball and now operates (and can execute) a plan. I’m not going to get into an argument about how he compares with Murali, Harbhajan, Ajmal, Mendis etc because that will just distract readers from the theme I’m seeking to explore: has Hauritz actually benefited from being underrated and does this make it easier for a bowler to succeed?

Just about every team that has come up against Hauritz in recent times has not been particularly concerned about the threat he posed, yet they have succumbed to him in reasonable numbers. Most famously, Pakistan recently, somewhat ungraciously bemoaned giving him a bagful of wickets in the series. Reading between the lines, the not-so-subtle insinuation was Hauritz should not have got so many of them out …. but he did! Two five-fors on Australian pitches against an Asian side for an offspinner is a creditable achievement. He certainly out-bowled the much more fancied Ajmal, despite not really having a doosra up his sleeve. Or perhaps the Pakistani batsmen treated him with less respect than their counterparts showed to Ajmal and Kaneria.

It all started last summer when the New Zealander Aaron Redmond launched a stunning assault on Hauritz in Adelaide before lunch on the first morning, showing him scant respect, only to lose his head and the war and hole out to deep midwicket. Hauritz kept improving and kept believing in himself while his opponents kept refusing to acknowledge his growing stature. Even on the Ashes tour, Hauritz more than held his own, ironically, only to lose his place in the final Test at The Oval when his bowling on that pitch may just have decided the fate of the series.

My hypothesis is that it’s a lot tougher for a batsman in a similar position to Hauritz. If he is not rated, bowlers don’t really bowl with less intensity to him. If anything, they smell blood and actually raise their game a touch, thereby making it even tougher for a batsman who knows that one mistake finishes his innings. A bowler who is severely mauled can still win the battle, a la Hauritz in Adelaide in 2008-09 or even Jason Krejza on Test debut in India in 2008 (although his wickets came at a considerable cost and Australia lost that match).

I suppose Paul Collingwood and maybe even JP Duminy are two batsmen who weren’t really feared by opposition bowlers at the start of their careers, only to prove the folly of those assumptions. Collingwood has continued to thrive, despite still being seen as unfashionable and dour, even though he can be a devastating hitter in limited-overs cricket. Duminy is now finding out the hard way that once you become a target, batting becomes a whole lot more difficult.

Back to Hauritz though; it will be interesting to see if his performances start to wane over the next 12 months as teams eventually acknowledge that he cannot afford to be disrespected. If they treat him with more respect, will that play into Hauritz’s hands or will he find the soft dismissals won’t come as easily? His economy rate might improve but it might be at the expense of his strike rate.

Returning to the argument about batsmen and bowlers, I was always happy I was an all-rounder. As the Overseas Professional in League teams in England, there was always the comfort that it would take more than one bad ball to ruin my day as a bowler, especially when the hard-bitten old club faithful expected the pro to do the business every weekend. Needless to say, they were often disappointed! Like Hauritz, I too was severely underrated but in my case, it was entirely justified.

Michael Jeh is an Oxford Blue who played first-class cricket, and a Playing Member of the MCC. He lives in Brisbane