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Feature

Stronger, bulkier Jhye Richardson awaits stage to level up

Short, whippy and quick, those close to him believe Richardson is ready now to "take the game by the scruff of the neck"

Jhye Richardson has been one of the standout bowlers at the Sheffield Shield this season  •  Getty Images

Jhye Richardson has been one of the standout bowlers at the Sheffield Shield this season  •  Getty Images

Cameron Bancroft had no idea. Having spent the Australian winter months playing in the County Championship he was oblivious to the physical transformation of his team-mate Jhye Richardson.
That was until his first day back at the WACA in September ahead of the domestic season.
"I walked in and Jhye had just done a conditioning session and was wearing a singlet," Bancroft told ESPNcricinfo. "He was noticeably a lot stronger, particularly in his upper body. He's put on I think around six kilos."
Bulkier than when he weighed just 75kg on Test debut nearly three years ago, a resurgent Richardson is in a battle with uncapped Michael Neser to replace injured quick Josh Hazlewood in Australia's line-up for the second Ashes Test in Adelaide.
Richardson, 25, rocketed into Test calculations after being the standout bowler of the Sheffield Shield's early rounds, where he claimed 23 wickets at an average of 13.43. Several withering spells made headlines, most notably when his sheer pace and menacing swing in both directions made life miserable for Test star Marnus Labuschagne at the Gabba.
But it was Richardson's sustained efforts late in the subsequent Shield match against Tasmania in Hobart, where he almost single-handedly willed a shorthanded Western Australia attack to victory, that confirmed he had "gone up a level", according to Bancroft.
"His final spell of the match was hitting 140kph on most deliveries," he said. "The work he has done in the off-season has made him strong enough to be able to do that.
"He has always been able to bowl an unbelievable ball but his ability to control and maintain his pressure for a long period has been the major thing that has stood out."
After a quick rise up the ranks saw him make his Shield debut at just 19, Richardson emerged as an exciting quick capable of breaking up Australia's pace triumvirate of Hazlewood, Pat Cummins and Mitchell Starc. His diminutive stature, where he stands 5ft 10 (178cm), was against the stereotype of an Australian quick but Richardson's versatility and ability to hustle batters proved irresistible.
His chance arrived in early 2019, coincidentally replacing an ailed Hazlewood, and Richardson performed well against Sri Lanka with six wickets at 20.50 in two Tests before several debilitating shoulder injuries consigned him to the sidelines. Illustrating the severity, Richardson is still unable to exert maximum power throwing overarm.
He did make a stirring comeback last season, where Richardson starred for Perth Scorchers and finished as the leading wicket taker in the BBL. But his swing prowess, where he can prodigiously move the ball from over or around the wicket, was somewhat limited due to his shoulder issues.
"His arm path was compromised because of the injury so he was tipping over to the left and he lost the ability to swing the ball consistently," Western Australia bowling coach Matt Mason said. Mason's fast bowling career had ended due to shoulder injuries in the late 2000s.
"As the shoulder improves he has gotten into better position which is why he is swinging it again and been so successful.
"He is back to where he was with swing, but can now sustain his pace for long spells. He is not just a strike bowler but a bowler who can do a defensive spell. What he's learned to do is to bowl within himself. He can bowl longer spells but can crank it up at the backend of a game."
Mason sometimes pays Richardson the ultimate compliment by likening his bowling to James Anderson, although Bancroft disagrees.
"Jyhe reminds me of… Jhye," he said. "There aren't any bowlers I can think of like him: short, whippy, quick and he does things only he can do."
The innately quiet Richardson, who is a well-known "big gamer" due to his affection for playing video games, has started to emerge as a leader leaving team-mates impressed by his assertiveness.
"This season, I see a guy who is growing into his skin more," Bancroft said. "We had a player-led training session with no coaches around and he drove the bowlers. He had an ability to lead training and challenge bowlers to be relentless and ruthless. I walked away admiring how he had come out of his shell."
That's not to say he's suddenly transformed into a hard-bitten Australian cricketer of lore just yet.
"I can start a conversation with him about bowling...he'll look at me, won't say anything but will reply something random about cars. He loves fast cars," Mason laughed. "We ultimately go back to the end goal of talking about his bowling but we have fun with it.
"Took me a while to get to know what makes him tick but he's 100% professional and diligent."
While Richardson's Test career was derailed the first time around, the prevailing feeling from those closest to him is that he's "ready now".
"He knows how to work over batters and he has this wonderful, positive attacking mindset," Mason said. "He'll take the game by the scruff of the neck. He just needs a chance."

Tristan Lavalette is a journalist based in Perth and writes on sports for the Guardian and mailerreport