Wed, 13 Nov 2019

A few days after the 2015 Trent Bridge debacle, Josh Hazlewood cut an even more agitated figure than the rest at Northampton when advised by the Australian selectors Darren Lehmann and Rod Marsh that his first Ashes series was over with one Test remaining. Four years on, he feels better prepared for his second tilt at a series in England having not lasted the distance four years ago, despite coming off a six-month lay-off due to his back injury.

Hazlewood's Test career was just five matches old when he took the new ball in Cardiff but he had made an impressive start with 24 wickets at 19.08 against India and West Indies. His overall figures for the Ashes of 16 wickets at 25.75 did not look shabby but at key moments he struggled for consistency and admits he was running out of steam before he was dropped for the final Test. His replacement, Peter Siddle, took six wickets as Australia won the dead rubber at The Oval in a selection shift it has since been admitted should have happened earlier.

"I was pretty fresh heading into that tour," he told ESPNcricinfo before departing on the Australia A tour that preludes the Ashes. "I felt like I started really well in the Ashes, on the back of a good West Indies tour and home summer, but it caught up with me body-wise in the third and fourth Test. I think my body let me down more than by skill. I was chasing my tail a bit from there in my first big 12-month cycle of bowling. That was the hardest part."

Australia are aiming to end an 18-year Ashes drought in the UK having not won a series since 2001. Starting with the iconic 2005 tour repeated batting line-ups have been undone by swing, seam and spin at various stages but another key factor, certainly in 2015, was the inability of the Australia bowlers to harness the powers of the Duke ball with the same effectiveness of the England attack. Hazlewood often strayed into the pads or hip of Alastair Cook, allowing the moving new ball to get away from him. It's something he acknowledged four years ago.

"The [different] Dukes ball in the West Indies I found pretty easy to handle," Hazlewood said in late 2015. "I think it was the overhead conditions as well that played a part in England, just to land that ball in the same spot over and over, it's quite easy in Australia with the Kookaburra where it doesn't do as much off the wicket and in the air. It was a bit more a challenge, especially on those two wickets in Tests three and four. We saw how well the English guys did it, and it's something to work on for next time, definitely."

Since then a variation of the Dukes ball has been used for parts of the Sheffield Shield season over the past two summers and Hazlewood is confident that the attack has built up the skills required to exploit conditions with a key element - not chasing wickets.

"That's part of international cricket, adapting to different conditions and different balls," he said. "Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad have bowled a hell of a lot more deliveries with it than us so they'll be a head start there. But we have learnt a fair bit and even playing with the variation in Sheffield Shield, just controlling that swing and seam, the more you do it the better you'll get.

"We are pretty confident with it these days, think it's about not trying to do too much with it, still being that patient bowler I am without trying to bowl that miracle ball. You see it seam and swing and you can try and do too much, it's about bashing away."

One of the main reasons the selectors are leaving naming the Ashes squad so late - it will be announced after Australia play Australia A at the end of July - is to assess how a collection of pace bowlers operate with the Dukes ball in England. Siddle, who is playing for Essex instead of being part of the A squad, is also firmly in the mix as the management try to ensure mistakes of 2015 are not repeated.

With five Tests in six weeks Hazlewood acknowledges it will be unlikely that the same attack will play throughout - particularly from a personal point of view with his recent back injury - but can also see the value in being more flexible with selection based on the individual characteristics of grounds. The pace of James Pattinson is already being earmarked for the flatter surfaces, such as Lord's and The Oval.

"Horses for courses for sure, that's around the world but I think more so in England where there are some flatter wickets as well as the greener tinged ones where more might happen," he said. "You might need a bit more airspeed on those flat wickets and seam bowlers on the greener wickets. England will probably go down that path as well, they have some guys with good airspeed now as well. It's about summing up the conditions."

However, while he knows English conditions will sometimes demand he moves away from the length he would operate on in Australia he doesn't believe he has to significantly change his style of bowling. "I still think you want to be hitting the knee roll and top of the stumps. Whatever length that takes is what I always aim to do. You get a bit more zip in Australia from back-of-a-length so you can still nick guys off whereas in England they might have time to react or leave it so it does make you push up a bit further. We've seen how Anderson bowls all the time and if you are going to try and copy anyone he's probably the man to take a leaf out of his book."

With inputs from Daniel Brettig

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