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Australia's Mr. Dependable

There is little to differentiate the numbers for Josh Hazlewood and Glenn McGrath after 26 Tests ESPNcricinfo Ltd

Four-hundred-and-fifty-four wickets is the gap between the Test hauls of Glenn McGrath and Josh Hazlewood. In a glittering 13-year Test career, McGrath played 124 Tests and took 563 wickets, the most by any fast bowler in Test history. Hazlewood hasn't even taken as many wickets as the number of matches McGrath played, but over his two-year career so far his numbers - including some trivial ones - are remarkably similar to those of the great McGrath.

Both bowlers made their Test debuts at 23, though McGrath, at 23 years and 276 days, was 67 days younger. In their debut Tests - McGrath against New Zealand and Hazlewood against India - both bowlers conceded exactly 142 runs, though Hazlewood took seven wickets to McGrath's three. In their second Tests, McGrath's match figures of 3 for 111 in 41 overs were remarkably close to Hazlewood's 2 for 115 off 40. More importantly, after 26 Tests, the big numbers are similar: McGrath is ahead by one wicket, though Hazlewood has a marginally better average and strike rate. Not only the number of wickets, but also the manner in which they take them is similar: both depend heavily on catches and not on bowled or lbw for their wickets. The bowled or lbw percentage for Hazlewood is 33, compared to 45.5 for Mitchell Starc.

Hazlewood has also been stellar in terms of his fitness - he has missed only one Test since his debut - and his consistency: in the nine series so far, his average has never gone beyond 35. His poorest series average is 34.11, in New Zealand last year, while six times he has averaged less than 30; by comparison, McGrath averaged 35 or more in four out of eight series in his first 26 matches (excluding one-off Tests).

Another excellent indictor of Hazlewood's consistency is the number of occasions when he has taken five or more wickets in a Test. Hazlewood has achieved this feat no less than 14 times in his 26 Tests so far; among all fast bowlers, only five have done it more often at the same point in their careers. England's Sydney Barnes stands out with 19 such instances, while Waqar Younis achieved it 16 times. Among current bowlers Dale Steyn is the only other among the top seven, with 15. Vernon Philander and Allan Donald, among a few others, did it 13 times, while McGrath achieved it on 12 occasions. In the 2016-17 home season, Hazlewood took five or more wickets in all but one of the six Tests he played - the Brisbane game against Pakistan, where he had match figures of 3 for 121. In the other five Tests this season, his wickets tally was 5, 6, 6, 5, and 7. In three Tests against South Africa, he took 17 wickets at 22.05, and he followed that with 15 at 19.60 against Pakistan. Beat that for consistency.

Apart from consistency, Hazlewood has also been outstanding against top-order batsmen. Hashim Amla found that out when he fell to him five times in 52 balls in the recent series, scoring only 29 runs for an average of 5.80. Overall, Hazlewood has averaged 26.96 against the top-seven batsmen, which is fourth best among all bowlers who have taken 75 or more top seven wickets in the last ten years. And a comparison between his averages against right and left-hand batsmen further indicate how complete his skills are as a fast bowler.

The similarity between Hazlewood and McGrath after 26 Tests is uncanny, but there are two other bowlers who did a similar job for Australia in the period between McGrath's retirement and Hazlewood's emergence. Just around the time that McGrath's career was winding down, along came Stuart Clark, another bowler who believed in relentless accuracy and the fourth-stump attack around the corridor. In the 24 Tests that Clark played, he finished with 94 wickets at an average of less than 24 and an economy rate of 2.61. Clark had his problems in Asia - three wickets in three Tests at 79 - but his career numbers are outstanding.

Clark played his last Test in 2009, but within a year of his retirement along came Ryan Harris, another bowler in a similar relentless mould. Harris' career numbers are very similar to Clark's, but Harris was more consistent: in the nine series he played, his worst bowling average in any of them was 33.40, in the home series against India in 2014-15. And when Harris' career wound down due to injury, Hazlewood emerged as a ready replacement; in fact Harris' last series was Hazlewood's first.

Both Clark and Harris had relatively short Test careers because of late starts, but they played key roles in that limited period, ensuring that, in the last 23 years, Australia have almost always had at least one bowler in their line-up who could play the attacking role and pick up wickets while maintaining control and putting a premium on conceding runs. In the period since 1990, these are the only four Australian fast bowlers to take 75-plus Test wickets while achieving the rare combination of averaging less than 25, at a sub-55 strike rate and an economy rate of under three runs per over. (A prominent name who just misses out is Jason Gillespie, who averaged 26.13 over his 71-Test career, while striking at 54.9 balls per wicket and conceding 2.85 per over.)

Overall in world cricket, only ten fast bowlers meet these criteria since 1990, and four of them are Australians, which indicates how blessed the team has been. (Dale Steyn ticks two of those boxes but goes at 3.22 runs per over.) The presence of one fast bowler who can attack relentless while keeping the runs in check has allowed Australia to control the game for longer periods, while giving the license to the other fast bowlers to go flat out for wickets. With a tough tour to India coming up in a month, Hazlewood's ability to perform the dual role will be a key to how Australia fare in the series.

* Jan 13, 1900 GMT: Mohammad Asif's name had been missed initially in the table, and has subsequently been added.
With inputs from Shiva Jayaraman.