'Didn't know Test cricket was going to be this hard' - Hazlewood at 50

Josh Hazlewood struck early Getty Images

If this year's Ashes retention against England at Old Trafford in Manchester seems a little too recent to be the highlight of Josh Hazlewood's entire career - one that will reach 50 Tests in Adelaide against Pakistan this week - then there is some fundamental logic to the New South Welshman's choice.

To return home from the northern hemisphere with the urn in Australia's keeping for the first time since 2001 was not only the breaking of fresh ground for Hazlewood and the rest of the touring team, it was also an achievement that could be enjoyed all the more for the fact that the 28-year-old had seen plenty of difficult days and defeats that made it something more to savour.

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For a young, tall fast bowler to whom, injuries aside, so much had come rapidly, here was a garland he had spent time chasing, to the point of struggling on one previous Ashes tour in 2015 when a team led by Michael Clarke had been widely expected to succeed. Test cricket, Hazlewood had long since learned, was far harder than he imagined as a teenager making his debut for NSW as a 17-year-old in 2008, or for Australia in an ODI two years later.

"Probably Manchester, not that long ago," Hazlewood said. "To retain the Ashes over there and be the person to get that last wicket. It was a pretty special moment. There are some good moments of the team celebrating. It's just a great memory.

"I didn't know it [Test cricket] was going to be this hard. You learn patience. You bowl in the nets all the time and you try and take two or three wickets and you're only bowling for half an hour. Things like that you try a lot of things. Once you get into Test cricket it's about building that pressure and patience and working on it all day. And a side is never going to roll over I think. That's a big one. That patience stands out for me."

There is something fitting, too, about Hazlewood's 50th Test arriving in Adelaide, a venue where he has plucked 22 wickets at 20.22 and a strike rate of 44.5 in four matches (as against a career average of 26.3 and strike rate of 56.7) and has little hesitation in labelling the best all-round pitch in the country. "I love Adelaide the most I think," he said. "I have had good success there. Often it is a pink-ball game now. But we played red ball last year and it still did a bit for most the game.

"It keeps you a little bit interested when the ball is a bit older and the wicket is a bit flatter, there is still a little bit there for you throughout the day. And it is a new-ball wicket, so I think it's an even contest between bat and ball. I think everyone would have their own favourites, but I think that is one that sticks out. I think Nath [Lyon] loves bowling there as well, there is spin there for most of the game. I think it's just a great all-round wicket to be honest.

"I think pink ball in Adelaide is a pretty similar length to red ball [in Brisbane]. You want to get it up there, you want to get it quite full. The pink ball does swing for probably a bit longer and if you've got a new one at night we know what can happen. I'm looking forward to getting it back in the hand, it's been quite a while. I missed the one last year against Sri Lanka [at the Gabba], so I am looking forward to getting back bowling with the pink one."

Knowing what to expect and how to respond, namely by applying relentless pressure to opponents, has always been a part of Hazlewood's game, but there is a sense among the bowlers who toured England that they are growing in their proficiency at doing so.

Noting the evolution of the game towards ever more aggression and short-form hitting, Hazlewood believed the reward for the build-up of pressure through diligence and control - plus natural bounce and a little movement either way - is growing all the time. Having not conceded more than three runs per over in any Test series since March 2016, Hazlewood is reaping the rewards.

"As cricket goes on more players are limited-overs players and they play more of that. And the guys want to play their shots," Hazlewood said. "With that strangling, if you can do it for long enough you get rash shots as we saw in the first innings. It's building that pressure and strangle we talked about, and I think moving forward it's a big thing for us.

"We didn't strangle them like we did the first innings [at the end of the Gabba Test]. We had a few more runs to play with and we probably over-attacked at certain stages and they got away with us in that middle session. I think the best thing was we had the best part of two days off between innings. The boys batted phenomenally this Test. We had our feet up for a long period and we could come out fresh last night and today. You're feeling very fresh. That is probably the one thing that stands out for this Test."

That freshness should ensure that Hazlewood is joined by Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc and Nathan Lyon in Adelaide, with James Pattinson set to return to the squad but not yet the XI - keeping the "big three" fast men together is certainly to their liking. "I think it's huge. We know everything about each other basically," Hazlewood said. "But on the field you know when guys are going well and when they might need to slow it down and have a word with them.

"I talk to Nath a lot, I field at mid-off for him a lot and we talk a lot about how things are going and we talk a lot about how things are going, if we're not bowling the right areas or getting the wickets, and what can we try here. It's huge I think. The same as batters batting together. We've all played together now for a long time. And we all know what needs to be said at different times to different people. That balance and that partnership is huge.

"Being a fast-bowler you can never look too far ahead. It's quite tough the summer in Australia with the wickets seeming a lot harder than England and places like that. They do take their toll. But ideally you want to keep the same bowling group together, the same as the top six. Guys get confidence, they relax when they know they are not on their last chance. We're no different."

As for Pakistan, the advantages Hazlewood enjoys in Adelaide will be available to the visiting seam bowlers also, including the potentially recalled Mohammad Abbas. The chance for the pink ball to wobble around in his and other visiting hands will be another reminder of why Hazlewood knows how hard Test cricket can be, and why Old Trafford will linger in his memory.

"I think the Adelaide wicket and pink ball will suit them. A lot of them have nice wrists and present a nice seam," he said of Pakistan. "So I think they will be able to swing it around. Whether Abbas comes in or not is up to them obviously. I think they have got a number of guys who can bowl well with the new ball. I think it will be hard work, especially when it's new. But throughout the whole Test I think it will be hard work."