Ranking Australia’s ‘big four’ quicks ahead of the Ashes

Edward L'Orange Roar Pro

112 Have your say

    With the Ashes looming, there has been much discussion about Australia’s ‘big four’ fast bowlers: Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood, James Pattinson, and Mitchell Starc.

    With only three likely to play, the inevitable result is people trying to rank these players in terms of quality.

    Assuming all are fit and in reasonable form, I have attempted to do this as objectively as possible.

    Experience and records
    The most experienced of the bunch is Starc, who has played 36 Tests and taken 148 wickets at 28.35, with a good strike rate of 49.6.

    However, this is sullied by a checkered start to his Test career, in which he was dropped from the team a number of times. Since being selected full-time, Starc has averaged a healthier 26.34 and taken 107 wickets at the excellent strike rate of 45.84.

    Next comes Hazlewood. In 31 matches, he has taken 118 wickets at 25.35, with a strike rate of 55.5. He is currently the highest ranked Australian bowler (No.5 in the ICC Test rankings).

    While having a better average than Starc, Hazlewood has a noticeably higher strike rate. However, this simply demonstrates their differing roles within the team; Hazlewood’s economy rate of 2.78 is the lowest of the four, and demonstrates his worth as a containing bowler.

    Pattinson has played 17 Tests over five years, in a career hampered by significant back injuries. However, he has taken an impressive 70 wickets at 26.15, with a strike rate of 46.84. Nevertheless, his back continues to affect the big Victorian’s performances.

    But Pattinson should not complain to Pat Cummins.

    After taking a fiver-for on debut in 2011, Cummins has only managed five Test matches, and 13 first-class matches. Of those five Tests, the last four have been in Asian conditions, far from ideal for a fast bowler.

    Nevertheless, Cummins has achieved an impressive 21 wickets at 25.8, with the strike rate of 52.5 – an excellent return for games in mostly in India and Bangladesh.

    Cummins was bowled heavily in these recent matches, which suggests his body may have finally adapted to the workload.

    He has frightening potential.

    Other factors
    Traditionally, Australia has preferred to field a team with two strike bowlers and one pressure-builder. This all but guarantees Hazlewood a spot.

    His economy is the best of the four, and his persistent line and length are valuable in building bowling partnerships. Combining this with his record and international ranking, Hazlewood is comfortably in the top three.

    Of particular note is his opening partnership with Starc – a combination that takes a wicket every 40.18 balls, giving them the best-ever strike rate for an opening partnership (minimum of 100 wickets), leading Jason Gillespie to claim that the duo will be Australia’s greatest opening pair.

    So Starc is also a must for the opening Tests. Combined with his excellent strike rate and experience, Starc also comfortably fits in the team.

    The final place comes down to Cummins and Pattinson, who are both an injury risk, making it important to pick the bowler most likely to remain fit.

    This player is Cummins. His performance in India and Bangladesh show he is ready.

    Pattinson’s early success was based on a bowling style which his back could not sustain. To remedy this, he remodelled his action in 2014, but the resulting form was less than ideal.

    Returning against the West Indies in December 2015, Pattinson took no wickets in the first innings, which he bowled with his renewed style. Frustrated, he famously reverted to his old style and took five wickets in the second innings.

    Sticking with this action through the remainder of the series and into the following tour of New Zealand, it once again led to his downfall due to injury.

    It remains unclear whether Pattinson can bowl effectively with a new style, or not be injured with the old. Until that time, he is at the bottom of the big four, which to me is therefore ranked: Starc, Hazlewood, Cummins, Pattinson.

    Cummins, however, has the potential to be on top before long.

    Roar Podcast Logo