Josh Hazlewood reinvigorated with T20 erudition

After playing an important role in Australia’s T20 World Cup triumph, the seamer looks forward to featuring in T20Is more frequently.

Versatile: For the T20 format, Josh Hazlewood has reinvented his skillset with variations, including a knuckleball and a cutter.   -  AP

Josh Hazlewood’s first and last wicket at the 2021 T20 World Cup in the UAE sum up his evolution as a T20 bowler. His first came off a classic Test-match length: in the channel outside off, Rassie van der Dussen pushing off the back foot only to be caught behind. His last, that of New Zealand captain Kane Williamson in the World Cup final, came off a leg-cutter, which Williamson mistimed straight to long-off.

Hazlewood’s success in red-ball cricket is built on his metronomically immaculate line and length, but in a format where the lines between consistency and predictability blur for a bowler, he has reinvented his skillset with variations, including a knuckleball and a cutter.

The result? He is the only player in the top 10 of ICC’s bowling rankings for all three formats. “It’s a great feeling, but it’s just something that comes from the real goal of winning games of cricket for Australia, and I’ve been lucky enough to do that over my career,” Hazlewood tells Sportstar.

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Hazlewood was part of Australia’s squad in the 2016 T20 World Cup, but for the next four years, he didn’t play any competitive T20 cricket and wasn’t selected in Australia’s 50-over World Cup squad in 2019. Since his T20I debut against West Indies in Brisbane in February 2013, Hazlewood has played only 24 matches. In stark contrast, he has featured in 55 Tests, having played his first game against India in December 2014.

Hazlewood feels the scheduling of formats is one of the reasons he has not played a lot of T20Is. “It has been the main factor; now, I have the opportunity to play T20 cricket,” he says. “Previously, there have been clashes in Test tours, and T20 tours for Australia and a number of players have had to forego T20 games for our country, which hopefully doesn’t continue to happen in the future.”

Rich vein of form

On the difficult pitches in Bangladesh, Hazlewood used the knuckle ball to good effect, and in four T20Is, he took eight wickets and was Australia’s most economical fast bowler (5.42). He continued his rich vein of form at the World Cup, snapping up 11 wickets in seven matches. “I was really happy with my performance. T20 is a fickle game, and you can’t read too much into it, so it’s just about staying level regardless of the result,” Hazlewood says.

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Williamson’s innings in the final would have ended on 21 off 22 balls had Hazlewood held on to a regulation chance at fine leg. The New Zealand skipper went on to score 85 off 48 balls before falling to Hazlewood, a dismissal that gave the right-arm seamer “immense relief.”

“Although quite late in the game, I was relieved to get Williamson out after dropping him earlier in the game off Mitch Starc. Fair to say I owe him a few beers,” he says.

Bubbles ‘not sustainable’

After winning a maiden T20 World title, Australia is busy prepping for the Ashes. Hazlewood hasn’t played a first-class match since April. Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Starc played all four Tests against India last year, as opposed to the 2019 Ashes series in England, where the team rotated its fast bowlers.

Australia will only have one three-day intra-squad match to prepare for the first Ashes Test starting December 8, but Hazlewood says there is no point in planning what games to play looking ahead. “Workloads can change a lot within a Test match and Test series. We will make decisions along the way based on the information at hand,” he says.

Hazlewood also thinks “we are seeing the end of bubbles in the very near future. It’s definitely not sustainable, and when the rest of the world is moving on and living with Covid, I think the sporting world has to follow.”

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