Jhye Richardson relieved with comeback five-for after 'tough' first innings in Adelaide
He knows the five-for may not be enough to keep him in the team for Melbourne, but is "happy to go either way"
Jhye Richardson's return to Test cricket could not have gone much better, taking a five-wicket haul in the fourth innings to help Australia claim a 2-0 Ashes series lead in Adelaide. But his reaction in the aftermath said a lot about his character.
"More of a relief than anything," Richardson said. "Especially after the first innings having a bit of a tough time of it out there, to come out again and most importantly get the win. It's nice to make a contribution as well, but there's no better feeling a Test win."
He also knows that a Test match five-for may not be enough to keep him in the team for the Boxing Day Test in Melbourne, with Pat Cummins certain to return and Josh Hazlewood pushing to be fit as he recovers from a side strain.
"The beauty of Australian cricket at the moment is we've got fast-bowling stocks for days," Richardson said. "I think that's a wonderful problem for the selectors and JL [Justin Langer] to have. Whatever happens, happens. I had an unfortunate first innings and then bowled a little bit better second innings. I'm happy to go either way. As long as we're winning, then that's all we can ask for."
Richardson, 25, marks himself harder than most young fast bowlers. He is a deep thinker and a perfectionist in terms of his craft.
After nearly three years out of Test cricket following a shoulder dislocation that kept him out of the 2019 World Cup and the Ashes series that followed, and multiple surgeries thereafter that saw him nursed back through Sheffield Shield cricket while still being unable to throw with any venom in the field, Richardson could have forgiven himself for his first-innings figures in his first Ashes appearance.
But the disappointment was written all over his face. Having bowled superbly on the second night, repeatedly beating Haseeb Hameed's outside edge and bowling three consecutive maidens, he returned on the third afternoon to leak more than four runs an over without taking a wicket.
"I think getting back into the intensity of Test cricket, it's obviously a step above playing domestic cricket," Richardson said. "You can often find yourself - if you haven't played for a while - trying too hard because you feel like you need to impress. But having said that, I don't think I bowled too badly."
Richardson went away and came back a different bowler in the second innings, something which his stand-in captain Steven Smith noted having never played with him before.
"I think the way Jhye adapted throughout this match was really pleasing," Smith said. "First innings we made a concerted effort to try and get the ball a little bit fuller, and we went for quite a few runs in that first session but I wasn't too disappointed with that. We were still a long way in front of the game and we tried to bowl a lot fuller than England perhaps did.
"In the second innings, I think he wanted to work his way up in terms of length. He wanted to start back a little bit and sort of drive his way forward from there. So that was fine. He's a thinker. He thinks about the game really well and he's got good control of his skills."
Richardson explained that he just wanted to get himself into a rhythm the second time around.
"I think for me on a personal level, I probably started a little too full and didn't give myself a chance to get it in the right area," he said. "I sort of started too full and then struggled to bring it back a little bit and get into a rhythm. Whereas I think second innings, I probably started a little bit back of a length, and allowed myself to sort of creep up a bit more and get into a bit more of a rhythm."
"I said to Starcy at mid-on [that] I'm just going to charge in here, [and] try and get some airspeed because I was getting annoyed at the speed gun"Richardson expresses his frustration at his bowling speed
Richardson's skill set is unique, and he showed his full repertoire among his five wickets. At just 178cm, he is naturally skiddy but he can also produce extra bounce from nowhere, like he did to blow Hameed's glove off on the fourth evening and to remove James Anderson to close out the match late on day five.
He even dismissed Rory Burns with a skillful piece of bowling from around the wicket, angling in and seaming away to catch the outside edge. His ability to move the ball both ways did for Chris Woakes after his partnership with Jos Buttler frustrated Australia. Richardson's wider release point always challenges the right-hander's inside edge, but his ability to shape it away also threatens the outside edge. Woakes played for the latter and had the top of his middle stump rattled as it nipped back sharply through the gate at 139kph.
"It was quite funny, I was getting frustrated at myself looking at the speed gun each ball and seeing sort of 131-132kph - I wasn't too happy with that," Richardson said. "So I said to Starcy [Mitchell Starc] at mid-on [that] I'm just going to charge in here, [and] try and get some airspeed because I was getting annoyed at the speed gun. I just tried to bowl fast and bowl straight. Thankfully, the wicket did something."
Most importantly, he took the key wicket of Buttler in unusual and fortuitous fashion, after he trod on his stumps as he pushed off for a single, having defended from deep in the crease. Amazingly, it is the second time he has dismissed Buttler hit-wicket. The first came in a BBL match nearly three years ago in January 2019. Buttler, on 55 playing for Sydney Thunder then, tried to reverse sweep a Richardson slower ball and clipped the stumps with his bat in his follow-through.
"Maybe it might be worth mentioning if I get another Test," Richardson said.
Alex Malcolm is an Associate Editor at ESPNcricinfo