Australia have arrived again. To nobody's astonishment they have picked a teenage fast bowler from the outback. His name is Josh Hazlewood, he is 6ft 6ins tall, still growing, will not be 20 until next January and looks as if he helps old ladies across roads as part of his boy scout duties.
Not that there are many roads where Hazlewood comes from. Bendemeer is a settlement in New South Wales of around 300 people, 300 miles north of Sydney, 30 miles east of Tamworth. It was established for sheep and cattle drovers.
It is part of Australian cricket folklore that when they need a cricketer they merely whistle up one from the country as England used to summon speed merchants from the depths of some northern pit. The difference is that Australia still has an outback.
The Boy from Bendemeer has a ring to it, like the Boy from Bowral, whence came Don Bradman. Hazlewood was a late addition to the one-day squad for this tour when Mitchell Johnson withdrew because of an infected left elbow. If he plays he will become Australia's youngest one-day cricketer, nosing under Ray Bright and Craig McDermott.
"I'm 90 per cent certain he'll play one or two games," said the coach Tim Nielsen. "He's had success whichever age group he's played. He's a big strapping kid, a country boy so he's pretty laidback and relaxed. I don't think it will faze him too much. He'll have a real crack at this and I think we might be seeing the start of something special."
The last country boy who bowled fast for Australia was Glenn McGrath, who came from Narromine, a veritable metropolis compared to Bendemeer, 200 or so miles down the track. Hazlewood will probably be that type of bowler, fast enough at around 85mph but not a tearaway, with enough bounce to perplex the best batsmen.
His dad is the local builder, his mum is a teacher. Josh went to primary school in Bendemeer where there were five pupils in his class and then to Tamworth. He now lives in Sydney. "A lot of whatever talent I've got came from my dad and I'm the same size and build," said Hazlewood. "I might have one more growth spurt left in me. I like the idea of being in the line of other country boys like McGrath and Gilchrist. The Ashes is obviously the main dream but Test cricket in general, I want to be part of that."
It will probably be too soon for him in the Ashes this winter. Australia have used seven fast bowlers in Test matches since the Ashes series in England last year and all of them have cut the mustard to a degree. Presumably, Hazlewood takes his place behind the lot of them. But fast bowlers emerge quickly and Hazlewood was prominent in Australia Under-19's World Cup win in January. His rhythm grew throughout the competition and when it really mattered for the team, he took four wickets in both the semi-final and final, in the latter when they were defending a total of 206.
Apart from the five-match one-day series against England which starts at the Rose Bowl on Tuesday, Australia will play in all formats of the game against Pakistan. The England and Wales Cricket Board have had a hard time of it lately largely because of their mangled domestic programme but their initiative in hosting Pakistan, who cannot play in their own troubled country, should be commended.
Ricky Ponting, Australia's captain, was elated to be back. He loves playing against England, it gives him an extra charge and he made no secret of his belief that the Ashes starts now.
Nor is he concerned that the oldest enemies are playing each other too often – last summer, this summer, next winter. By the time the World Cup starts England will have played Australia in another 12 one-day matches.
"I have always been against seven-match series but I love the contest of playing against England," said Ponting. "I don't think it diminishes the product, they are always big series and I think the people out there like to see their two teams go at it as well."
Australia will start as favourites. They are the world's leading 50-over team by a distance and have also beaten England in seven of the most recent eight matches. England will definitely be encouraged, however, by the World Twenty20 final when they took the Aussies to the cleaners.
"We will be doing everything we can to impose ourselves on the series from the start," said Ponting. "We expect to be asked about the Ashes all the time. Everyone can't wait for them to come round, everyone wants to know about them. As an Australian player and captain there is nothing bigger. This one-day series won't have any bearing, but I'm really happy with our group of players."
If England, with new openers and a settled attack growing in experience, lose 3-2, that would be progress. Anything better would give them premature dreams of World Cup glory.Reuse content