Ashes 2015: Josh Hazlewood can be toast of Aussies – and ease my bad memories of drinking ban in Cardiff

The Aussie Angle: He has a repeatable action, makes the batsmen play and swings the ball

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The Independent Online

I must admit, walking into Sophia Gardens brought back some bad vibes. And it wasn’t just from being spooked by ticket scalpers. These guys jumping out from camouflaged areas and speaking in a hushed tones while making no eye contact was a tad alarming.

No, the bad vibes were due to the fact that my only match here in Cardiff was a World Cup game in 1999, and New Zealand absolutely smashed us due to some big hitting from Chris Cairns and Roger Twose. Our Aussie fans had already booked in for the semi-final and had not attended this minor game.

This on the back of a “drinking ban” enforced by our captain and coach, who will remain nameless*. That went down like a lead balloon and left players bewildered, some in tears and Darren Lehmann contemplating retirement.

In Cardiff we were treated to a spectacular pre-match ceremony with plenty of fireworks, and as the smoke disappeared the only negative was the rock band KISS didn’t appear and punch out “Rock and roll all nite” minutes before the first ball of this much-anticipated series.

 

Rumours of a green, seaming, bouncy pitch were in fact just rumours as a couple of Mitchell Starc’s deliveries in the first over barely made it to keeper Brad Haddin.

Australian bowlers had a mixed day; all of them had impressive periods without building consistent pressure from both ends with consecutive maidens. Mitch Johnson and Nathan Lyon will be better when conditions suit. MJ had moments of hostility, particularly bowling to Gary Ballance.

Big Josh Hazlewood is the 30th tall Australian quick to be labelled McGrath-like since “Pigeon” retired. I believe he is the real deal. He possesses a repeatable action, makes the batsman play and probably swings the ball more than McGrath.

This is massive series for Starc. The big question is, can he dominate the five-day game like he has the 50-over game? He has been a sensational, world-class bowler in one-day cricket statistically with 83 wickets and an average of 18, and he was the best player in Australia’s recent World Cup win, setting the tone in the final by knocking over Kiwi dangerman Brendon McCullum in the first over.

He certainly has the physical attributes for Test success. Steep bounce from his 196cm height, pace to burn regularly in the 90mph bracket and a great wrist release for swing bowling. He has his wrist and fingers behind the ball, which provides a stable seam, and he generally bowls a full length.

Like Pakistani great Wasim Akram, who has worked with Starc, he is an excellent reverse-swinger and, uniquely, can bowl it both over and around the wicket.

These skills were best illustrated in his fourth over, including a beautiful inswinger to dismiss Ian Bell, followed up by another inswinger to Joe Root that almost trapped him lbw first ball, and then a delivery angled across which caught Root’s outside edge, though Haddin failed to catch it. But his next two overs went for a total of 18 runs.

I think his progression to world-class Test bowler will come from getting confidence by playing consecutive Tests and improving the consistency of his stock ball, which is on bail height and a line anywhere between off stump and sixth stump. The ball to dismiss Ben Stokes was a good example of that.

Root showed why he will be the backbone of many future England totals. One key difference is his intent at the crease. In the 2013-14 series he battled away waiting for bad balls that rarely came. Here he was proactive, chanced his arm and scored quickly.

This was summed up in an over from Shane Watson. He bowled a wide outswinger that Root chased and missed but later in the over it was wide again and slightly fuller and he had the courage to back himself and flay the ball through point for four. Root, Virat Kohli, Kane Williamson and Steven Smith look like battling it out for the title world’s best batsman for the next six years at least.

*Steve Waugh and Geoff Marsh, by the way

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