Starc and Hazlewood have eclipsed Lillee and Thomson

Ronan O'Connell Columnist

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    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.

    Australia's Mitchell Starc

    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.

    Ronan O
    Ronan O'Connell

    Ronan O'Connell has been a journalist for well over 13 years, including nine at daily newspapers in WA. He now traverses the world as a travel photojournalist, contributing words and photography to more than 30 magazines and newspapers including CNN, BBC, The Toronto Star, The Guardian, The South China Morning Post, The Irish Examiner and The Australian Financial Review. Check out his work and follow him on Twitter @ronanoco

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    The Crowd Says (101)

    • January 3rd 2017 @ 9:06am
      Sideline said | January 3rd 2017 @ 9:06am | ! Report

      A question that interested me for a while, is whether the Starc-Hazlewood opening combo would change if we had a fully fit Cummins. Or Pattinson for that matter. Based on these statistics I’d guess it won’t change, but Cummins would appear to be the kind of strike bowler who would get great results from having the new ball in hand.

      • January 3rd 2017 @ 9:22am
        Arky said | January 3rd 2017 @ 9:22am | ! Report

        Cummins played alongside Starc and Hazlewood in the ODIs against NZ and bowled first change. While it’s not conclusive (ODIs rather than Tests, Cummins returning to the team after a long absence), it’s suggestive.

      • Roar Guru

        January 3rd 2017 @ 1:20pm
        Chris Kettlewell said | January 3rd 2017 @ 1:20pm | ! Report

        I would actually love to see Cummins coming in as the first change bowler. It would be a bit like Rabada coming in at first change for South Africa, you get through the opening bowlers only to face someone like that as first change can put a lot of pressure on. Also, if there’s any sort of breeze, Cummins can follow Starc down the breeze while Hazlewood bowls a slightly longer spell at the other end into the wind.

        • January 3rd 2017 @ 4:47pm
          Bakkies said | January 3rd 2017 @ 4:47pm | ! Report

          Exactly Lee would come on first change after Pidge and Gillespie.

          • Roar Rookie

            January 4th 2017 @ 5:23pm
            Ants32 said | January 4th 2017 @ 5:23pm | ! Report

            Beat me to it. 😀

        • January 11th 2017 @ 9:10pm
          John Erichsen said | January 11th 2017 @ 9:10pm | ! Report

          I would actually love to see Cummins bowl decently in a few four day games before his name even gets mentioned for test consideration.

    • January 3rd 2017 @ 9:06am
      bargearse said | January 3rd 2017 @ 9:06am | ! Report

      Nice stats that you can’t argue with. It would be interesting also to see Lille and Thomo’s stats when they weren’t bowling with each other.

    • January 3rd 2017 @ 9:32am
      jameswm said | January 3rd 2017 @ 9:32am | ! Report

      Hazlewood is just a machine. wobbles it about and bowls consistent mid-130s right on the spot. I remember the “NSW bias” calls when he came into the team and some mocking his ability. What a find he has been.

      Starc is lethal when on, and still pretty dangerous when not. He doesn’t leak runs the way he used to.

      Cummins or Pattinson would make an incredible trio. Backed up by Faulkner or Mitch Marsh batting at 7, what a 4-pronged attack.

      Or he’s a wild suggestion. If:

      1. Agar becomes our best or close to our best spinner; and
      2. Whiteman averages 45 in FC cricket or Handscomb really can keep,

      then we play all 4 quicks, Agar at 7 and Handscomb/Whiteman at 6 (and if Handscomb then Lynn at 5, the guy’s a freak).

      I’d query the batting depth, but you’d hav Agar as a very decent 7, Starc maybe a spot too high at 8, but then Pattinson is a good bat as is Cummins (who’d be 10). And Hazlewood is not a bunny 11. So that tem would be maybe half a batsman short, but made up for by how well we bat at 8-10.

      I’d love to see a team like that unleashed at Brisbane or Perth.

      • January 3rd 2017 @ 9:53am
        JB said | January 3rd 2017 @ 9:53am | ! Report

        I think the third seamer will be an interesting one for the Aussies, do you go for who has the form or who compliments the 2 choice quicks best. Starc and hazelwoods strength as a pair in part is the diversity, left vs right speed and swing vs seam / accuracy I’m not sure as a third option what is best, the outright speed of cummins, or pattinsons ability to get the ball to talk or birds seam and accuracy. Bird would seem to be cancelled out by Hazelwood in many ways, Pattinson and Cummins offer a right handed speed option. I think what I like most about Patto and cummins is they can both bat and field really well, We have the beginnings of a very deep batting line up. Can’t wait to watch this attack develop over the next 5 years.

      • January 3rd 2017 @ 10:10am
        qwetzen said | January 3rd 2017 @ 10:10am | ! Report

        “He [Starc] doesn’t leak runs the way he used to.”
        His ER does not support this. It’s the same now in his 33rd Test as it was in his 10th.

        “or Handscomb really can keep,”
        I wish you’d stop flogging this. If a player wanted to keep, he would.

        • January 3rd 2017 @ 11:39am
          jameswm said | January 3rd 2017 @ 11:39am | ! Report

          He can’t keep. He plays for Vic, and Wade takes that on. I’m not aware of him not wanting to keep. Has he had the chance to choose?

          As for Starc, I guess it wasn’t so much leaking runs, but bowling wide of the stumps so they didn’t need to play. Either way, his line and length have without doubt improved.

        • Roar Guru

          January 3rd 2017 @ 1:26pm
          Chris Kettlewell said | January 3rd 2017 @ 1:26pm | ! Report

          Keeping is a tough one, there’s only one per team, so if you have a keeper who, for whatever reason, isn’t likely to be budged out of the state team, and Wade is the Vic captain, no matter how poor his keeping or batting at the moment, then the options are either to move to another state and hope you can displace their No. 1 keeper, or try to make it playing as a batsman. Even Adam Gilchrist had to do this, played as a batsman for NSW a couple of times then moved from NSW to WA where he felt he had a better chance of displacing their #1 keeper even though the incumbent was the much loved Tim Zoehrer.

        • January 3rd 2017 @ 4:54pm
          Bakkies said | January 3rd 2017 @ 4:54pm | ! Report

          It’s up to the coaches and selectors in picking their keeper not the player. We have seen bad it gets when players dictate where they bat in the order. De Villiers came in to the SA side as a batsman/keeper. They had a capable keeper who could score runs with the bat (or dig it out like Healy when it got tough) so he didn’t have to do it. After Boucher retired due to a freak injury de Villiers has kept often enough but injuries have prevented him from taking it on full time.

          Australia don’t have that luxury at that moment.

      • Roar Guru

        January 3rd 2017 @ 10:20am
        Paul D said | January 3rd 2017 @ 10:20am | ! Report

        Starc bowled rubbish for most of the first innings in Melbourne. Went at close to 4 runs an over. When he’s not in his rhythm he can be expensive, but that’s the price of having a strike bowler who’s constantly looking to take wickets. Still wouldn’t change him for any other bowler going around though.

        • Roar Guru

          January 3rd 2017 @ 1:35pm
          Chris Kettlewell said | January 3rd 2017 @ 1:35pm | ! Report

          Starc is the sort of bowler who can jag some wickets out of nowhere when none of the other bowlers are looking remotely threatening. So he’s definitely someone you need in the side. I do feel that Bird, who’s thought of as a similar sort of bowler to Hazlewood, and therefore you’d think should be pretty economical, bowls way too many half volleys to give away boundaries. Bird went at over 4 runs per over in the second innings in Melbourne where Pakistan weren’t even trying to attack when his style of bowling is meant to be the metronomic, pressure building, line and length style bowling. So combined for the first two matches Bird’s economy rate was only fractionally less than that of Starc who you would expect to go for runs more than Bird.

        • January 3rd 2017 @ 4:55pm
          Bakkies said | January 3rd 2017 @ 4:55pm | ! Report

          He bowled rubbish for a while before his spurt in the 2nd innings too. In Brisbane there was a couple of wasted spells bowling short when the conditions dictated that you pitch it up to look for movement.

          • January 3rd 2017 @ 10:10pm
            mike said | January 3rd 2017 @ 10:10pm | ! Report

            it seems to me he doesn’t have the brain of a test bowler (yet). Too impatient and no stock ball. Even in ODIs where he is much more suited, if he doesn’t get a wicket in his first couple of overs while its swinging, he gets a pout on. Warnie’s criticism back when was spot on, and still applicable, but nobody dares criticize him now in case they get called out on twitter 😉
            The lack of test bowling nous is a shame, because Hazlewood seems to have it, and now the consistent form to put him at another level. No good when pressure gets released at the other end.

      • January 3rd 2017 @ 10:26am
        AdrianK said | January 3rd 2017 @ 10:26am | ! Report

        Starc’s Test batting average is only one run lower than Agar’s First Class average. Maybe need to start thinking of Starc as a bowling all-rounder.

        Out of interest, anyone know McDermott/Hughes numbers as opening partnership?

      • January 3rd 2017 @ 10:58am
        Rob JM said | January 3rd 2017 @ 10:58am | ! Report

        How about turner at 6 and Mitch Marsh/Agar at 8. Of course if cartwright could get his bowling to the level of late career watson we would be pretty happy too!

        • January 3rd 2017 @ 11:41am
          jameswm said | January 3rd 2017 @ 11:41am | ! Report

          Problem is that gives you three specialist bowlers and two part timers. You need 4 specialists.

          • January 3rd 2017 @ 2:46pm
            Rob JM said | January 3rd 2017 @ 2:46pm | ! Report

            That is certainly true for batsmen friendly conditions. In bowler friendly conditions slightly lesser bowlers can be effective while the extra batting can be crucial. You only have to look at siddle in the 5th ashes test, both agar and M Marsh are effective bowlers it the conditions assist.

      • January 4th 2017 @ 4:17pm
        Bugs said | January 4th 2017 @ 4:17pm | ! Report

        I am big on calling out NSW bias in selections as a cynical Qld’er who thinks I’d make a better selector than most of the current bunch, but Hazlewood was due when he made the Aus team.

        He made the ODI / T20 teams way too early, but in the preceding 2 Shield seasons before his debut, Haze dropped his FC avg from above 30 to 25. So he earned his call-up.

        Starc’s initial entry into test cricket was way before warranted. He’s an exceptional talent, and has blossomed into one of the best…I just wish that when he was picked, the selectors didn’t flat-out lie by saying he’s been picked on merit. I support getting in young guys who are exceptional talents, so they can learn, but let’s not pretend they earned selection by bowling better than all other prospectives.

        Plenty of justification for picking prodigious talents early – just don’t treat teh public as mug lairs who have no idea. Really grating.

        End rant.

    • January 3rd 2017 @ 9:39am
      Pope Paul VII said | January 3rd 2017 @ 9:39am | ! Report

      Interesting. Big Maxy provided excellent support to Lillee and Thommo.

      • January 11th 2017 @ 10:09pm
        John Erichsen said | January 11th 2017 @ 10:09pm | ! Report

        Lindwall and Miller went OK too. In the 33 tests where they opened our attack, they combined for 230 wickets at 24.46. Throw Bill Johnston left arm quicks bringing him 160 wickets @ 23.91, and our pace attack was as flexible as it was effective.

    • January 3rd 2017 @ 9:45am
      Linphoma said | January 3rd 2017 @ 9:45am | ! Report

      Please, let both of these guys get a season of Shield behind them. I don’t see any need to tinker with the current three incumbent quicks. Why is everyone ready to discount Bird when he has done nothing wrong?

      • January 3rd 2017 @ 10:16am
        Christo the Daddyo said | January 3rd 2017 @ 10:16am | ! Report

        Bird needs to get his first spell up to the level of his subsequent ones. It’s almost like he needs to bowl a full spell in the nets before the innings starts!

        • Roar Guru

          January 3rd 2017 @ 1:40pm
          Chris Kettlewell said | January 3rd 2017 @ 1:40pm | ! Report

          You’d think that with Bird’s style of bowling his economy rate would be a lot closer to that of Hazlewood than that of Starc, but he bowls a few too many half-volleys. He’s done okay, but the idea of having someone like Cummins coming in at first change, is a bit like what South Africa get with Rabada coming in at that point. You finally get rid of Starc and then have someone like Cummins coming in is nice.

        • January 3rd 2017 @ 4:57pm
          Bakkies said | January 3rd 2017 @ 4:57pm | ! Report

          Bird makes the batsmen play and there have been conditions that have encouraged him to pitch it up.

    • January 3rd 2017 @ 9:48am
      qwetzen said | January 3rd 2017 @ 9:48am | ! Report

      Ronan, you put forward a compelling case. It compels gnarled veterans to roll out cliches like; “Lies, damned lies and statistics.” Those of us who actually saw Lillee and Thomson are metaphorically patting you on the head and saying; “There, there. Yes Starc & Hazlewood are the bestest ever. Now go and play in the back yard.”. Either that or they’re gathering up the torches & faggots for your burning.

      Look Ronan, it’s perfectly understandable to write something deliberately provocative to boost your responses, but this is a bridge too far. Starc & Hazlewood are to Lillee & Thomson what cows are to hover boards

      • January 3rd 2017 @ 10:38am
        AdrianK said | January 3rd 2017 @ 10:38am | ! Report

        I saw Lillee and Thomas bowling, and loved watching them.

        In fairness though, the pitches today are flatter and more batting-friendly than back in the 70’s. 8 current players averaging 50+ with the bat. Back then, only Richards, Gavaskar and Chappell. This does make Starc’s and Hazlewood’s numbers even more impressive.

        Hard to compare different generations and era’s… who was better, Phar Lap or Makybe Diva? Not fair to compare them – just be grateful for both.

        • January 3rd 2017 @ 11:22am
          Geoff said | January 3rd 2017 @ 11:22am | ! Report

          Youd have to agree though that modern day test batsman arent made of the same stuff as Lilllee era players.

          Batsmen these days have a number of advantages such as bigger bats, batsmen friendly wickets etc but seem to lack the application of the players of yore.

          Obviously due to the preponderance of short form cricket and the fast moving modern game but i don’t think its wrong to suggest batsmen were a little harder to get rid of 30-40 years ago

        • Roar Guru

          January 3rd 2017 @ 2:03pm
          sheek said | January 3rd 2017 @ 2:03pm | ! Report


          Just to answer your racing question – Phar Lap was better, forget about the different eras.

          Phar was more versatile, winning from about 1200m right up past 3200m & carried huge weights quite often.

          Black Caviar belongs to a pampered era, winning at 1000m to 1200m, only once at 1400m. And she was never asked to carry back breaking weights.

          There is no way she belongs in the top six or seven thoroughbreds to race in Australia. I would have to think about even having her top 10 all-time. Her connections simply didn’t challenge her enough.

          • January 3rd 2017 @ 5:02pm
            Bakkies said | January 3rd 2017 @ 5:02pm | ! Report

            The authorities and owners wouldn’t risk a horse these days covering such varying distances. Far easier for them to travel abroad to the likes of Dubai, UK, Ireland, France and Japan for the big money races so why risk them in a single 2 mile race where they might not last the distance, pick up an injury and not be able to race again.

          • January 3rd 2017 @ 11:28pm
            Floyd Calhoun said | January 3rd 2017 @ 11:28pm | ! Report

            Jeez Sheek! I must be one of the few who still thinks Black Caviar was fairly good as a sprinter. Mind you, only on her day of course.

          • January 4th 2017 @ 8:38am
            AdrianK said | January 4th 2017 @ 8:38am | ! Report

            I guess getting assassinated by mob/mafia in America is a pretty good indication of a decent horse.

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