England v Australia, 2nd npower Test, Lord's, 2nd day

Swinging to the top

Ben Hilfenhaus bent the ball, toyed with batsmen and showed Australia they have a swing bowler they can start to depend on

Peter English at Lord's

July 17, 2009

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Ben Hilfenhaus celebrates Andrew Strauss' wicket, England v Australia, 2nd Test, Lord's, 2nd day, July 17, 2009
Ben Hilfenhaus has been Australia's best bowler in the Ashes © Getty Images
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Ben Hilfenhaus was the fifth Australian fast bowler in line to play in this series but after three innings he has become the opposition's most difficult prospect. It's no surprise that a swing man is doing well in England and Hilfenhaus was tipped for this tour as far back as his new team's previous Ashes success.

There have been no huge hauls or bleeding batsmen, just regular movement at swift speed, challenging the batsmen to play or leave. In Cardiff, Kevin Pietersen was teased by the line and was bowled trying to let it pass; at Lord's it was Andrew Strauss who looked foolish. In the opening over he lifted his bat out of the ball's reach before it arced back into the off stump. Plenty of batsmen in Australia's domestic scene have suffered that embarrassment so it has been satisfying for Hilfenhaus to know he can trick the game's elite.

With Mitchell Johnson unable to bowl two balls in the same spot and Peter Siddle looking sicker than the attack leader's economy-rate, Australia needed to remove Strauss quickly to prevent the total inflating. Hilfenhaus trotted in, running and bowling faster than Terry Alderman in the 1980s, and fulfilled his team's wish with the second delivery of the morning.

In his following over he bowled Broad, playing on for 16, to have two breakthroughs in his first 12 balls. The final partnership hung around, extending his figures to 4 for 103 from 31 overs and preventing him from a maiden five-wicket haul, but it was his best display in five Tests. On the opening day Hilfenhaus out-thought Ravi Bopara, catching him lbw, and also removed Andrew Flintoff with an edge to second slip. Australia will rely on him again in the second innings, especially if the fitness problems with Siddle (illness) and Nathan Hauritz (dislocated finger) persist.

Michael Hussey hasn't been surprised by Hilfenhaus' emergence in England and expects him to continue to do well. "He's a workhorse, he loves bowling and the conditions over here really suit him," he said. "He's a genuine swinger of the ball and history suggests that people who do swing the ball can have success here. I was really disappointed for him and was hoping he could have got a five-for and his name on the honour board."

While some bowlers require perfect conditions to move the ball, or can do it in May but not June, Hilfenhaus has always been able to swing it. He never tried for curl, it just happened, and he has kept the gift despite back stress fractures. Due in the West Indies with the Test squad in 2008, he was held at home by injury and it was not until the series in South Africa earlier in the year that he was handed a baggy green.

Seven wickets at 52.28 didn't seem an appropriate return, but all his wickets were highly qualified batsmen. In two Tests in England he has more than doubled his tally, kick-starting his Ashes with five victims in Wales after sneaking in ahead of Stuart Clark.

The fellow Tasmanians, Ricky Ponting and David Boon, a selector, have been strong supporters and given Hilfenhaus the belief he can succeed in the international arena. Life in Hobart, where he opens for the Tigers, assisted him in his first-class journey and there was cloud cover to encourage him on the second day. He bent the ball, toyed with batsmen and showed Australia they have a swing bowler they can start to depend on.

Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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