Feature

From fringe domestic player to Australia A: Hardie's rapid rise marks him out

Standout all-round figures and a Sheffield Shield-winning innings was followed by an impressive winter for the 23-year-old

Alex Malcolm
28-Sep-2022
Aaron Hardie brings up another milestone, Western Australia vs Victoria, Sheffield Shield final, Perth, April 4, 2022

Aaron Hardie brings up another milestone  •  Getty Images

There's a tall fast-bowling allrounder in Western Australia who is turning heads in Australian cricket, and his name isn't Cameron Green.
Aaron Hardie is 23, just six months older than Green, and after 13 first-class matches is averaging 52.85 with the bat and 26.35 with the ball.
Hardie already has two first-class hundreds, one of which came in last season's Sheffield Shield final, and three four-wicket hauls. But while Green is a friend and an inspiration, Hardie is wary of any comparison.
"Greeny and I've grown up playing together," Hardie told ESPNcricinfo. "So we're certainly similar cricketers in some aspects, but we're also very different in others. Selfishly, watching him go to that next level and dominate as he already is, it's been really nice for me to see. Not only as a friend but as a fellow cricketer, because I've seen the training that he's done and we don't train dissimilarly.
"Seeing him be able to dominate, I sort of know that I'm not too far away from being able to do what he's been able to do.
"But also, I'm not comparing myself to him because we're very different athletes, we're different cricketers. And yeah, it's pretty difficult to try and compare yourself to someone of his level because I think he's going to be one of the best of all time."
Having unearthed a once-in-a-generation allrounder in Green, there are astute judges around WA and Australian cricket wondering whether they might have a second capable of playing in the same team, following Hardie's spectacular performance in the Shield final, which led to a surprise call-up to tour Sri Lanka with Australia A during the winter.
He opened the bowling in the final and took 3 for 54, bagging three of Victoria's top four with a combination of swing, seam, and bounce. But the best was yet to come in the second innings with WA precariously placed at 110 for 5 early on day 4, leading by only 190, and a drought-breaking Shield title in jeopardy. Hardie made 174 not out, batting for six hours over two days to help WA secure the draw they needed. It left their coach Adam Voges in no doubt as to the prodigious all-round talent they had on their hands.
"If he was batter only he'd bat in our top five or six, I think," Voges told ESPNcricinfo in May. "There's no doubt he's good enough to do that. When you play the allrounder role and we need 30 to 40 overs out of him in the game, No. 7 seems about right at the moment in this stage of his career.
"Physically as he matures and gets stronger in his body and he's able to back up a big workload over four days and I'm sure he'll be able to get up the order as well. I think he's scored two hundreds now, one was at No. 8, one was at No. 7. I imagine that he will keep creeping his way up over the next couple of years."
I always remind myself I've only played 10 Shield games...the call that I got picked in the Australia A team was certainly unexpected.
It was Hardie's discipline and decision-making in that innings, as much as his powerful ball striking, that caught the eye of Australia's selectors. He was an unexpected inclusion in both the 50-over and four-day Australia A squads to tour Sri Lanka just six months after being on the fringe of WA's side following elbow surgery.
"I look back to this time last year, I wasn't going to play in the first team [for WA]," Hardie said. "Really pleased that I was able to take my opportunity at the end of last year and I suppose those experiences I had were not solely off the back of the Shield final performance, but I think that probably played a big part in those opportunities."
He franked the selectors' faith in Sri Lanka. Hardie made 58 off 50 in the second one-day game in Colombo batting at No. 7. He then produced two outstanding performances in the two four-dayers in Hambantota.
Entering at 98 for 5 in the first innings of the first game, he made 62 and shared a century stand with Josh Philippe to avert a collapse for the visitors. He backed that up in the fourth innings with the ball, claiming 3 for 35 to help bowl Australia A to victory.
In the second four-day game, he produced more fourth-innings heroics, this time with the bat. With Australia A chasing 370 to win, he joined Jimmy Peirson at 220 for 5 and the pair cruised to victory sharing an unbeaten 150-run stand. Hardie finished 78 not out while Peirson made 128 not out.
Much like Green's performance in the first Test against Sri Lanka in Galle, Hardie's batting exploits in Sri Lanka came as no shock to those in Perth after the pair had put in a power of work in the WACA indoor centre on spin mats while facing Ashton Agar in the lead-up to the tour. Hardie's development of his sweep shot was noticeable, given it is not a shot he had played during his junior days either with his club side Willetton or his school side at Aquinas College.
"I don't think the sweep was really an option that we used very much growing up," Hardie said. "A lot of people say that the sweep is quite hard for taller blokes but flip it on its head, we probably still have that reach even when we're sweeping that we can reach out to those balls and almost get them on the full.
"We did as much work as possible. We tried to replicate the conditions and I think it went really well for us.
"I think I'll benefit just being able to come back to Australia and put a few of the things that I practiced against spin in place on potentially wickets which are a bit more batter friendly when they are bowling spin. And just being able to be more proactive against the spin."
Bowling on flatter wickets is also the next phase of Hardie's development. His ability to swing the new ball, combined with his height, makes him a nightmare proposition at the WACA where he averages 17.85. But he averages 38.50 in eight first-class games away, at venues across the east coast of Australia, Sri Lanka and England.
"It's probably [about] just developing some more skills," Hardie said. "Being able to adapt when you're playing at the WACA on a nice bouncy pitch and then being able to go out over east and elsewhere and bring the stumps into the game. And obviously have the body in a good enough position that you can contribute over the innings."
He got a taste of English conditions in the off-season with a brief stint at Surrey, playing three games in the T20 Blast and one game in the County Championship where he delivered again with the bat in a win over Yorkshire. Australia A will tour England next year alongside the Test team, but Hardie's not getting ahead of himself.
"I always remind myself I've only played 10 Shield games for WA so I want to get that number up," Hardie said. "I want to be able to be fit for a full season. I want to be able to contribute with the bat and with the ball. The call that I got picked in the Australia A team was certainly unexpected. So I'm very happy just concentrating on WA."

Alex Malcolm is an Associate Editor at ESPNcricinfo