<
>

Josh Hazlewood closing in on Test debut

Josh Hazlewood celebrates getting Farhaan Behardien for a duck Getty Images

Australia fast bowler Josh Hazlewood's towering display against South Africa in the ODI in Perth has taken him closer than ever to a Test debut in Brisbane next month.

Figures of 5 for 31 and the manner of their collection have stuck in the minds of Australia's selectors, who are eager to use Hazlewood's new-ball swing, pace and steepling trajectory against India's bounce-shy batsmen at the Gabba.

There is even the possibility that Hazlewood will not take part in any more of the ODI matches, instead saved for New South Wales' Sheffield Shield game against South Australia at the SCG as a better way of grooving his technique and mindset for Test duty.

A baggy green in Brisbane would be a longtime coming for the 23-year-old Hazlewood, who first played for Australia in 2010, the same year in which he spearheaded the Under-19 team to a World Cup in New Zealand. Injuries have intervened at regular intervals since, and he was narrowly omitted from the Test team that played South Africa at the WACA ground in December 2012.

Australia's assistant coach Craig McDermott said Hazlewood had been on the talent radar for nearly a decade. "The first time I saw him was in an under-age carnival in Perth, and he nearly knocked my son Alister's block off for a duck - played one in front of his face and got caught at gully," McDermott told ESPNcricinfo. "I said to my wife at the time 'this kid's going to play for Australia'.

"A lot of people thought that for a long time, not just me, but he's had body issues and all sorts of things and it wasn't until the Shield final this year in Manuka that he got 6 for 50, his first five-for in Shield cricket. So he's learning how to take wickets. He's a bit of a hit-the-wicket bowler but from the back half of last season he's starting to bowl a lot better lengths.

"We spent a lot of time working on that last year when he was at the NCC and we went to MRF in Chennai with him and worked hard on getting the ball up and trying to swing it, not just hitting the wicket. He's hitting the crease hard and his run-up's really good so he's running in hard, he's hitting the crease hard, and he's done that [5 for 31] on the best wicket he can possibly have so far this summer."

Ever since his New South Wales debut as a 17-year-old against New Zealand in November 2008, Hazlewood has worn comparisons with Glenn McGrath. Like many others, he took to bowling the jamming length he thought was McGrath's staple, until counselled by McDermott and the NSW bowling coach Geoff Lawson to use his height to secure edges in the manner his role-model had actually done, contrary to the perception.

"If you go through Glenn's dismissals you'll see a lot of lbws and clean bowled wickets," McDermott said. "In coaching sessions people will say 'Glenn McGrath this or that' and I say 'well here is where he bowled'. He certainly hit the wicket hard but a lot of the time he got guys out from a fuller zone. He had a very good bouncer, and he got it through pinning blokes on accuracy and surprising them with a bouncer and just wearing them down by bowling the most immaculate line of anyone in world cricket.

"Josh is very well aware of that and we've talked about it a lot. Henry does as well, he does a great job with his bowlers in NSW. It's just something he's going to have to be very conscious of, as we were with Mitchell Starc in the Test matches against India and so forth, when we get to Perth because you're tall you've got to pitch it up further. That comes with the fear of 'oh no I'm going to get driven more'.

"The trade-off is that he's bowling 140kph, he's six foot six, blokes aren't going to be looking at coming forward to him much. Therefore you can be fuller and get guys nicking on the front foot. And he does nip the ball back too which brings into play lbws bowling the right length."

McDermott was also impressed by how Hazlewood improved from the first ODI in Perth to the second, something that could not be said for a few of his fellow bowlers. It was the sort of trend line expected of a Test bowler, and Hazlewood may only be a handful of days away from finally becoming one.