Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood are a more prolific fast bowling team than Australia’s most famous pace pair, Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson.
That’s the result of research I did this week into the effectiveness of Australia’s current new-ball stars. In the 19 Tests Starc and Hazlewood have played together they have combined for 181 wickets at the brilliant average of 23.8.
By comparison, Lillee and Thomson combined for 217 wickets at 27.2 and they only took 8.3 wickets per Test, compared to Starc and Hazlewood’s 9.5 wickets per match.
So good are the numbers being put up by Australia’s young quicks that they are only a tad behind the figures of arguably the country’s best-ever new-ball pair, Glenn McGrath and Jason Gillespie.
Gillespie and McGrath combined for fewer wickets per match (8.3) than the current pair, due to the presence of wicket-taking machine Shane Warne. But their combined average of 23.0 from a haul of 484 wickets was even better than Starc and Hazlewood.
Regardless, it is phenomenal Starc and Hazlewood are producing numbers close to those up by McGrath and Gillespie. It would be fair to argue McGrath and Gillespie had things easier due to the pressure exerted on batsmen by Warne and the fact Australian Test pitches in their era were not as lifeless as those of the past few summers.
It would also be fair to argue Starc and Hazlewood should only get better. Many fast bowlers are at their peak aged 27 to 29 years old, so Starc (26 years old) and Hazlewood (25) may well have improvement left in them.
Both became notably better bowlers in 2016. Starc finished third on the world wicket-taking tally, with 50 wickets at 23 in Tests, en route to earning a place in the ICC Test Team of the Year.
Hazlewood had incredibly won a spot in the 2015 ICC Test Team of the Year, in what was his first year of Test cricket. Yet he bowled even better in 2016, with noticeable improvements to his fitness and ability to swing the ball.
In 2015 Hazlewood at times flagged in his third and fourth spells of the day, resulting in him bowling at a gentle pace in the high 120kmh range. Last year, however, he maintained his pace much better, particularly this summer when he at times reached 140kmh deep into his third or fourth spell.
Hazlewood also became a more dangerous bowler due to his ability to curve the new and old ball through the air.
In 2015 Hazlewood was often compared to Glenn McGrath because of his approach of bowling short of a length and looking to seam rather than swing the ball. Hazlewood maintained a fuller length more often in 2016, which he was able to do because he was generating outswing, particularly with the new ball.
His reliable, suffocating bowling is a perfect counterpoint to the less predictable, more dynamic offerings of Starc. They complement each other extremely well; this has been my opinion for some time and the stats I dug up gave it a factual foundation.
Neither Starc nor Hazlewood is as effective when the other is not playing. When Starc plays, Hazlewood averages 23.8, when he doesn’t Hazlewood averages 33.6.
When Hazlewood plays, Starc averages 23.7, when he doesn’t that figure balloons to 36.7. Starc’s latter average is a bit misleading in that he happened to hit his stride as a bowler around the same time Hazlewood joined the Australian team. Even still, it seems clear they feed off each other, and earn wickets together.
Whether they can match the numbers of McGrath and Gillespie, we’ll have to wait and watch. But they’ve already eclipsed Lillee and Thomson and that, in itself, is a remarkable achievement.