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Fit again Pattinson targets ambitious Ashes 2019 return

After a major back surgery similar to the one Shane Bond had, the Australian fast bowler is set to return to first-class cricket after 15 months

Alex Malcolm
James Pattinson got rid of Keaton Jennings, Durham v Nottinghamshire, County Championship, Division Two, Chester-le-Street, 1st day, April 14, 2017

James Pattinson is targeting an Ashes 2019 comeback  •  Getty Images

James Pattinson has set the ambitious target of playing in the 2019 Ashes series on the eve of his first first-class match in 15 months, after being named in Victoria's squad for the Sheffield Shield clash with South Australia at the MCG starting on Saturday.
Pattinson, 28, has not played first-class cricket since June 2017 during a county stint with Nottinghamshire. In an attempt to fix the issues relating to repeated stress fractures in his lower spine, he underwent a major back surgery last November, the same procedure former New Zealand quick Shane Bond had during his career.
Having made tentative steps back this summer via a Futures League game for Victoria and four first-grade matches for his club side Dandenong, Pattinson is raring to get back to the MCG.
"It is exciting," Pattinson said. "I think it's been about 15 months since I've played a professional game of cricket. It's been a long time and something I'm really looking forward to, getting out on the 'G.
"The big goal would be to play in the Ashes next year. But I know that there's a lot of water to go under the bridge before that happens and there's a lot of games of cricket. Obviously, this is just the start of hopefully working towards that."
Pattinson has only bowled 22 overs in matches this summer. He bowled just four overs in the Futures League while playing predominantly as a batsman, scoring 108 against South Australia batting at No. 6. He bowled eight overs in a match on October 13 and then 10 overs last Saturday, which yielded figures of 1 for 42 in a loss to Melbourne University.
As a result, he will be cautious with the number of overs he bowls in the Shield clash.
"I won't go ballistic with it, I probably won't bowl 40 overs," Pattinson said. "But I think it's just about managing, especially my intensity too. I've been trying to work at 90% for a while and obviously having the ability to crank it up when needed.
"But I think it's just about getting back into the rhythm of games. Obviously, it's a big step up from playing club cricket to state cricket. So, it's just about finding that rhythm again, and hopefully I can find that sooner than later and everything can run smoothly."
Pattinson's return to bowling post-surgery was hardly smooth sailing, with plenty of painful days and periods of self-reflection. He hasn't remodelled his action in any way, instead working with what he describes as a "comfortable" hybrid model between his tearaway youth and the significant changes he made in his mid-20s. But discussions with Bond, among others, have helped him push through to this point.
"It took a bit longer I think when I started bowling," Pattinson said. "I was bowling indoors and it felt a little bit sore to start with and slowly got better. It probably took more time than I thought. Obviously, there's some frustrating mornings when you wake up and can hardly move. But I think talking to a lot of the guys who have had the surgery, Shane Bond included, he basically said just keep going, it will get better and better, which it has.
"And since I've been bowling outdoors it's felt really good. Touch wood I haven't had a problem with it since I've been bowling. But like I said, it is only early days. If I'm still standing here playing at the end of the season I'll be happy."
Pattinson has worked hard on his batting during his time out and has earned a promotion in the order.
"When I got injured the one thing I could do was bat, I couldn't bowl," Pattinson said. "A goal of mine was to try and bat No. 7 for Victoria and try and put some runs on the board that would warrant that, and I think over the last year and a bit I've gone out and made a few hundreds at club level and then obviously at Second XI level.
"I'm pretty proud that I can sit there and say that I can bat up the order a little bit. Obviously, that helps me in getting a game as well."

Alex Malcolm is a freelance writer based in Perth