After snaring three late wickets on day three to keep the fourth Ashes Test tilted towards Australia, fast bowler Josh Hazlewood said that his present Ashes form is the fruit for all his labour while being out of the side with a back injury.
Hazlewood picked up the injury in January this year, after the Sydney Test against India, and did not play an international again, until the start of the Ashes. He was kept out of the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup 2019 in a bid to preserve him for this series and make sure he was fully fit to return.
The plan has worked, as Hazlewood has snared 16 wickets at 16.50. That included a late burst on Friday, 6 September, the third day, when England, in their bid to outdo Australia's colossal first-innings 497/8, had moved 166/2, with Rory Burns and captain Joe Root batting on half-centuries.
Having come together to repair early damage, the duo solidified the home team's position with a third-wicket partnership of 141 in good batting conditions. However, their calculations were upset when Hazlewood stormed back late in the evening to send Burns and Root packing in successive overs, before sending new middle-order entrant Jason Roy’s middle stump flying back, all within the last hour of play.
Hazlewood’s effort has left England still precariously placed, at 200/5, trailing Australia by 297 runs. Asked if he was bowling at his best in this series, Hazlewood said: "It is certainly up there. Consistently, I think day in, day out, through the last two-and-a-half Tests, the body feels fresh and really good.
"Conditions have suited seam bowling, maybe not this wicket as much. I feel like I made some changes after my last injury. I did some good work at home [during the time out] and I am reaping the benefits now."
Hazlewood, however, wasn’t the only Australian bowler on show to have impressed. Fellow pacer Pat Cummins also excelled, repeatedly going past the edge of England’s batsmen, but did not have the numbers to show for his toil, finishing with a solitary wicket after 17 overs.
Before being replaced by Hazlewood, Cummins bent his back for seven straight overs in the last session. It was a spell in which he conceded 20 runs, had boundaries scored off him off the edge of the bat, and had an lbw decision rightly turned down. It wasn’t an ideal reflection of the teasing lines he bowled and the questions he asked of England’s batsmen.
"Consistently, I think day-in-day-out, through the last two-and-a-half Tests, the body feels fresh and really good."
But the pressure he created from that end eventually helped Hazlewood when he came on. "Patty rarely bowls a bad spell, to be honest," Hazlewood said. "He was fantastic in the evening session. He's always at the batsman, just keeps getting better each time he bowls, really. It is good to have him in the team.
"He's a machine, really. He had all that bad luck with injury during his late teens and early 20s. He has always been a great athlete, so it was always a matter of time until his body hardened up. He is the all-round package. Hopefully, it continues for him."
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