A banner went up at the entrance of a tiny village in Australia a week before Christmas in 2014. “Bendemeer’s Josh Hazlewood gets his baggy green!” The 19-year old from the village of 500 inhabitants was about to make his Test debut, and the sheep and cattle farmers were delirious. In the neighbouring town of Tamworth, where Hazlewood honed his skills as a bowler, a group of punters were staring at a big payday. Friends of Josh’s father Trevor, they had bet 100 dollars in 2007 when he was just 15 that he would play for Australia before he turned 30. The odds were 500-1 and they pocketed 50,000 dollars.
In Tamworth, a former cricketer, was also pleased as a punch. John Muller was the first coach of Hazlewood who told the young boy what to do with a cricket ball. “Take it nice and easy when you run, keep your arm by your side, and don’t throw your arm around.”
Even after a decade and a half later, nothing much has changed. In Bangalore, on a humid afternoon, Hazlewood kept his arm to his side, didn’t threw them around, and ran in nice and easy and threatened to knock out India in the first round.
Comparisons with Glenn McGrath abound — the stats at 27 Tests are eerily similar, 113 wickets to McGrath’s 117, the headspace as bowlers, homing in on that off-stump line with bounce, and both are country boys. He doesn’t have the wow-factor of Mitch Starc, nor do his deliveries jag about crazily, but no other Australian has taken more wickets than him since his debut.
Still, it was a matter of interest to track how would a young bowler from an Australian village who went to primary school with just five classmates do in India. ‘Very well, thank you for asking’ he seems to be saying. Growing up, Hazlewood has won gold at javelin in National All Schools Titles, was good at shot-put as well, and Australian cricket would be grateful he chose this game.
Abhinav Mukund got him started off on Monday afternoon. Hazlewood moved in from round the stumps and hurled one full on a length, but Mukund’s bat came down at such an angle that he had no chance to stop his stumps from doing the cartwheel.
As a kid, Hazlewood had scared the living daylights out of young batsmen. Once, at Tamworth, in a juniors’ match, he bundled out five in a row, nailing the last kid with a toe-crusher. There was still one wicket left but the No. 11 batsman didn’t come out because he was scared. Here in India, in these conditions, there was no scare factor. He wasn’t going to threaten the heads and had to work his way through with his skill.
He showed that with his dismissal of Virat Kohli. There was some variable bounce on offer and he kept it on a length, tailing it in. Kohli made the mistake of pressing back, and was done in by the one that kept a touch low. After an interesting DRS, Kohli stormed off but Hazlewood wasn’t done yet.
From round the stumps, he took out Ravindra Jadeja. On live viewing, it seemed a fault of the batsman but replays revealed the extent of the nipbacker. Perhaps there was a bit of help from a crack, but it suddenly veered in and Jadeja was made to look a bit silly with the downward swing of the bat not prepared for the deviation.
There were two things that he didn’t do during the Pujara-Rahane partnership that he might rue on hindsight. The first one, he admitted later after day’s play — he should have been a lot more stumps-to-stumps, homing in for the lbw or the inside-edge dismissal mode. Instead, he had shifted a bit to off and outside off and the batsmen started to work the angles behind square on the off side.
The second miss was a bit more puzzling. In the past, Hazlewood has shown that he has the ability to bowl offcutters and mix pace. Those cutters would have been perfect on a wearing track like this — where the ball would occasionally hold up, the cracks would come into picture more, and the deviation would have presented real danger of lbw shouts. Not that what he served up was any less potent, but it would be interesting to see his line of attack and choice of weaponry on Tuesday. You can bet 100 dollars that he would do both.