Daniel Brettig in Adelaide
Australia’s chances of thriving against India this summer will rest as much upon the capacity of Nathan Lyon to restrain the touring team’s talented batting line-up as on the ability of the “big three” of Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins to attack them.
Entering a home Test series without the prolific run-making ability of Steven Smith and David Warner, both dominant performers against India at home during their last Australian visit in 2014-15, the capacity of the home side’s world-class bowling attack to cover for any resultant lack of runs will be pivotal to the outcome.
But while Starc, vice-captain Hazlewood and Cummins have been, as is customary, tapered precisely towards the first Test of the season at Adelaide Oval from Thursday, it will be the complementary work of Lyon that will have a major bearing on whether or not the pacemen can sustain the level of speed, accuracy and hostility that so comprehensively undid England in 2017-18.
That series was noteworthy for the collective way in which Australia’s bowlers hunted Joe Root’s men, and for how Lyon not only contributed to the flow of wickets, but cut down the runs so comprehensively – delivering an economy rate of 2.36 per over for 260.1 overs, more than 60 more than any other Australian bowler – that the pacemen benefited from attempts to lash out.
“He’s the key for me with the four of us, you have Starcy who bowls shorter spells and sometimes Patty too so to have Nath, it even worked well two weeks ago when we played the shield game,” Hazlewood said. “Nathan pretty much bowled from one end after the new ball and we filtered through from the other end, it’s hard to get a fun off him and he takes wickets, it’s good to have that down the other end and he makes that group what it is.
“That was the key last year, the partnerships. We always talk about batting in partnerships. The way we bowled it wasn’t about any individual, we all took 20 wickets plus the whole summer. Partnerships are a big one for us, always bowling for the guys following you. We’re all leaders in our own right.”
One of the few occasions when a side has got on top of Lyon was during the fateful tour of South Africa earlier this year, where they were successful in taking him for 3.23 an over while seldom getting out in the process. The cumulative effect of this pressure release on the quicks was to be seen as the series wore on, leading the tourists to look evermore desperately for reverse swing in the absence of any wickets for Lyon.
Australia have been dealing, one way or another, with the consequences of that search ever since, to the point that “taking care of the ball” has been a matter for plenty of discussion among the players left in their banned team-mates’ wake. Though Adelaide and Perth are known more for their assistance to seam and swing bowling of the conventional kind, Hazlewood said the task, if needed, would likely remain entrusted to a batsman such as Usman Khawaja or Aaron Finch.
“To be honest the people who shine the ball are the ones who don’t sweat, it’s as simple as that,” Hazlewood said. “The bowlers sweat a lot when they bowl and you don’t want it getting wet, you want to keep it dry and shine it. It’s two guys who don’t sweat, simple as that
“It’s pretty common sense. The rules are pretty clear now, it’s good to have it in black and white. This ground and Perth are not ideal for reverse swing so it’s more normal seam and swing. I don’t think it’s going to play a massive part in this game.”
Among Hazlewood’s recent experiences was the odd sensation of bowling to Warner and Smith in the SCG nets as they continued their strange summer’s existence of ineligibility for anything more prestigious than club cricket. While it was noticeable to Hazlewood that both have had their reflexes dulled by facing slower bowlers at grade level, he also remarked on how quickly they were back into rhythm against deliveries fired down at 140kph or faster.
“It’s been good, they’re probably a little bit behind the pace the first couple of overs just from playing the level of cricket they are playing and then stepping into the nets,” he said. “You can’t replicate 140kph in club cricket but it is amazing how quickly it takes them to get back where they were. Especially bowling to Smithy, I bowled to him a month back as well and he was a bit late on everything but in the space of 10 or 12 balls he gets back to that mark so quickly.”
Hazlewood made his Test debut against India four summers ago in Brisbane, in a match rescheduled due to the aftermath of the death of Phillip Hughes. The uniquely testing, even traumatic nature of that season tested all involved, and though the circumstances arrayed against Australia this time around are rather different, the challenge of performing and winning in less than ideal circumstances is something Hazlewood is steeled for.
“I feel a lot of extra excitement, potentially a debutant [Marcus Harris], it’s always good to have that around the group,” Hazlewood said. “It’s the excitement of the Australian summer coming around again there’s nothing better than playing Test cricket in Australia. Excitement is the main thing. We’ve got a couple of days’ training to fine tune a few things. A few guys have played a lot of cricket but excitement is the main thing.
“I see the Indian line up as the best in the world, if not right up there, led by Virat and I think they feed a lot off him and how he goes about things. If we can make some early inroads in this first Test, it’s always crucial and the first innings. If we can get on top of them early hopefully that filters through the rest of the Test.
“It places a little bit of pressure on us but I think the four guys really love that. They love that extra responsibility on them. We’re due for a big summer, I’m looking forward to it.”