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

Edward L'Orange Roar Guru

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 โ€“ 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 โ€“ 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.

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    The Crowd Says (112)

    • September 20th 2017 @ 3:36am
      Mike Dugg said | September 20th 2017 @ 3:36am | ! Report

      It’s all well and good to proclaim how good our pace bowling stocks are at the moment but when are we going to get them ready to go at the same time? It’s all a bit of a fantasy to go on about the big four. It’s unbelievable that Cummins is the last man standing at the moment

      • Roar Guru

        September 20th 2017 @ 8:25am
        Edward L'Orange said | September 20th 2017 @ 8:25am | ! Report

        It is truely bizarre that Cummins is the only quick from these four actually fit. But the good news is that we should see all four in the Shield before the Ashes.

        • Roar Rookie

          September 20th 2017 @ 8:38am
          Matthew Pearce said | September 20th 2017 @ 8:38am | ! Report

          Young pace bowlers and constant injuries go together pretty well. Brett Lee had a similar problem at the start of his career, it’s just the rigors of bowling express on a body not quite matured.

          • September 20th 2017 @ 12:19pm
            James said | September 20th 2017 @ 12:19pm | ! Report

            Other teams dont seem to have injuries to their fast bowlers as regularly as Australias quicks though. What are South Africa or England doing right to look after their quicks that the Australian coaches are not? Surely its gone past just being unlucky. Obviously players will get injured and no amount of training or rest or whatever can deal with that but does Australia ever have these four fit?

            • Roar Rookie

              September 20th 2017 @ 12:47pm
              Matthew Pearce said | September 20th 2017 @ 12:47pm | ! Report

              Dunno, England and SA seem to have had their own woes of late. Wood and Woakes have spent quite a bit of time injured, and when was the last time Steyn, Philander and Morkel lined up together? That’s just what I can remember off the top of my head.

              I don’t know that there’s ever been a time where all four have been fit, but usually three of the four are right (or two at the very least), they’re all still pretty young as well. From what I’ve seen stress fractures etc. are often pretty frequent up until the mid-20s.

            • Roar Guru

              September 20th 2017 @ 12:48pm
              The Bush said | September 20th 2017 @ 12:48pm | ! Report

              England’s fast bowlers break down all the time. That’s why most of us barely know who anyone other than Anderson and Broad are. As they’re both veterans their bodies are up to it now. I just had a look at their squad then and to be honest, the only other bowlers I recognise are Finn and Wood and their Wiki pages are littered with the word “injury”. Even Anderson’s Wiki page shows a lot of injuries.

              • Roar Guru

                September 20th 2017 @ 12:56pm
                Edward L'Orange said | September 20th 2017 @ 12:56pm | ! Report

                Anyone want to take at stab at who England will line up?

                Andersen, Broad, Finn with Ali as their spin option? Or will they go for four pace bowlers and Ali as an all-rounder?

              • Roar Rookie

                September 20th 2017 @ 1:04pm
                Matthew Pearce said | September 20th 2017 @ 1:04pm | ! Report

                I could see them throwing in Roland-Jones as a fourth pacer, he did pretty well in his few tests.

                Don’t think it’s especially likely though, not with all their top order woes, that would probably be the main focus for them.

              • September 20th 2017 @ 1:07pm
                James said | September 20th 2017 @ 1:07pm | ! Report

                Ofcourse sometimes guys get injured there is nothing that can be done about that but Australias quicks just seem to be more injured more often and have been for the last 5 years basically. Yes we only really know of Broad and Anderson but they have been pretty great injury wise, at least for long spells. Something that no Australia bowler has been able to do in that time. Cummins and Patterson especially seem to not so much get injured but have bodies that just break down and just sometimes work.
                You cant be happy with how often Australia quicks break down, they get injured and break down way more often than players a generation before. Why.

              • September 20th 2017 @ 1:40pm
                matth said | September 20th 2017 @ 1:40pm | ! Report

                England will go Brad, Anderson and Woakes. Roland-Jones as a back up. Finn is well off the radar and Wood is injury prone but could be an outside chance. England do not need to play four seamers because they have Stokes as back up.

              • Roar Guru

                September 20th 2017 @ 2:31pm
                The Bush said | September 20th 2017 @ 2:31pm | ! Report


                This is something that has been discussed and debated a lot before on this site. I’ve been slowly won round the age argument.

                The first thing to remember, all these guys are very young. Mitch Johnson didn’t break into the test team until he was 26. Take Broad who debuted at 21, that is 3 years after Cummins did. So Cummins is unique – at such a young age it was inevitable. Even the others all started very young.

                Pattinson is injury prone, I’ll give you that, but that just makes him the Finn of our step up (I don’t personally think Patto will every be injury free, but you never know). Starc and Haz break down about as often as you’d expect fast bowlers to do (see Anderson and Broad).

                I think the reason Australians have such a negative outlook on this is because of two factors;

                1. McGrath was a freak who almost never broke down; and

                2. The best fast bowler of the last generation was incredibly injury prone; Harris.

                In reality fast bowlers break down all the time – Lillee had to rebuild his action and Thommo spent years on the side lines with injuries. McDermott was notorious for it and Alderman spent more time on the table than out in the field.

              • September 20th 2017 @ 2:56pm
                Ouch said | September 20th 2017 @ 2:56pm | ! Report

                “You cant be happy with how often Australia quicks break down, they get injured and break down way more often than players a generation before. Why.”

                I remember Wasim Akram being asked similar question (i think it was by Robert Craddock in those “Legends of Cricket” segments they show between innings) and his response was that they don’t bowl enough.
                Too much time in the gym etc. His point was that when he was growing up, all he did was bowl. There were no special programs he had to follow, the number of balls he bowled wasn’t ‘managed’. He just bowled and his body got used to it.

              • Roar Guru

                September 20th 2017 @ 3:21pm
                Edward L'Orange said | September 20th 2017 @ 3:21pm | ! Report

                I also recall Lillee (I think, could have been Thomson) discussing this.

                He claimed that it is actually the advances in medical science that have resulted in so many bowlers breaking down and coming back. In the old days, a young bowler would get injured in his early 20s and just play well again. Therefore, the players who actually made it to test level were those physical freaks who’s body’s did not damage so easily.

                These days, with our medical advances, the injury prone players are continuously being rebuilt, but the fact is they just may not be built well.

                Though it was an interesting perspective…

              • September 20th 2017 @ 6:33pm
                dylillama said | September 20th 2017 @ 6:33pm | ! Report

                ‘Anyone want to take at stab at who England will line up?

                Andersen, Broad, Finn with Ali as their spin option? Or will they go for four pace bowlers and Ali as an all-rounder?’

                Stokes will be the all-rounder, Ali as the spin option, with Anderson, Broad, and one of Rolland-Jones, Wood, or Woakes I reckon.

              • September 20th 2017 @ 8:18pm
                Nudge said | September 20th 2017 @ 8:18pm | ! Report

                I’ll have a crack

              • September 21st 2017 @ 8:32am
                jameswm said | September 21st 2017 @ 8:32am | ! Report

                Nudge are you saying Stoakes, Foakes and Woakes?

                I know the mid to lower order bat pretty well, but isn’t it a long tail? Do they need 2 keepers?

              • September 21st 2017 @ 10:01am
                Ouch said | September 21st 2017 @ 10:01am | ! Report

                My favourite bowler as kid, Bruce Reid, was always injured. Only played 25 odd tests and had an average of around 24.

              • September 21st 2017 @ 11:15am
                George said | September 21st 2017 @ 11:15am | ! Report

                Hardly a long tail with Woakes at 9. He could possibly bat at 6.

              • September 21st 2017 @ 11:46am
                Don Freo said | September 21st 2017 @ 11:46am | ! Report

                Australia would like Woakes in at 6.

              • September 21st 2017 @ 12:09pm
                jameswm said | September 21st 2017 @ 12:09pm | ! Report

                Woakes – test average 32, FC average 36.

                If you want someone like that at 6 in your test team, go for it.

              • September 21st 2017 @ 12:48pm
                Nudge said | September 21st 2017 @ 12:48pm | ! Report

                That’s the way I hope they don’t go James. If they have 3 rookies in their top 5 like they have of recent times, if Root gets out early they will be stuffed.
                Bairstow has been one of the best bats in the world in last 18 months, so I’d move him to 5. Foakes has been braining them in county cricket this year and his first class average is over 40 I think, so he could nearly get a place in the team as a pure batsman. But the word is he is the best gloveman in the country. Releasing Bairstow of the gloves may help his batting even more. I think that makes Englands team look so much stronger so I hope they don’t go that way.

              • September 21st 2017 @ 4:01pm
                George said | September 21st 2017 @ 4:01pm | ! Report

                ‘Australia would like Woakes in at six’.

                Well, as an alternative to your favourite Mitch Marsh, Don, I suspect so…

                Note, I said ‘possibly’. Point being that Woakes is a very good No.8/9.

                Woakes probably has a better technique than half of England’s current top six. He has a higher first-class batting average (and lower bowling average) than Stokes – who does bat in the top six.

              • September 21st 2017 @ 5:27pm
                Don Freo said | September 21st 2017 @ 5:27pm | ! Report

                What a petulant Pommy argument! Is that a come back?

                Marsh is not even in the national side. What does he have to do with English selection?

            • Roar Guru

              September 20th 2017 @ 8:01pm
              Michael Keeffe said | September 20th 2017 @ 8:01pm | ! Report

              I think it tends be the really quick bowlers that suffer more injuries. Bowlers in the high 140km’s or pushing 150km plus are the one’s that go down more often. Australia has more bowlers in this speed range than other countries.

          • September 20th 2017 @ 6:17pm
            DavSA said | September 20th 2017 @ 6:17pm | ! Report

            I remember years ago Brett Lee in an interview saying that he got medical advice that his excessive beer drinking was inhibiting his bodies ability to properly recover . Alcohol does retard protein synthesis. As I remember he either cut down or stopped drinking and his injury issues drastically improved.

        • Roar Guru

          September 20th 2017 @ 9:58am
          Ryan H said | September 20th 2017 @ 9:58am | ! Report

          It’s a very weird and ironic circumstance I bet we never thought we’d see.

        • September 21st 2017 @ 8:54am
          jameswm said | September 21st 2017 @ 8:54am | ! Report

          It doesn’t matter how many are fit today, as we aren’t playing cricket.

          Starc was close to ready for the Indian ODI tour but was kept hiome to continue to work on rehab, safety first. We all know what the big prize is this summer. The 1st Ashes test is on Nov 23 and Starc will have ample cricket under his belt.

          Cummins is fit and firing.

          Hazlewood had a side strain and is usually durable. He is expected to be back for all 3 Shield games.

          Pattinson had a massive English summer. Was he the dominant player in the country? I don’t follow it closely enough to know, but I read he took 32 wickets at 12! And averaged nearly 50 with the bat. In the late Shield season he took 24 wickets at 17 and averaged 35 with the bat. The guy can play. He had a slight back inflammation and was ruled out of the BD tour as a precaution. He is expected to be back for all 3 Shield games.

          Shield games are on 26 October, 4 Nov and 13 Nov. A week from the 3rd Shield game to the 1st test. Hopefully all 4 are firing. As we know it is highly unlikely the preferred 3 will play all 5 games.

          • September 21st 2017 @ 11:17am
            George said | September 21st 2017 @ 11:17am | ! Report

            But likewise, those Shield matches (and upcoming training workload) also provide more opportunities for injuries. No point predicting fitness, especially in terms of Pattinson.

            • Roar Guru

              September 21st 2017 @ 11:36am
              Rellum said | September 21st 2017 @ 11:36am | ! Report

              Or it is a chance to get them fit so they have less injuries.

            • September 21st 2017 @ 12:11pm
              jameswm said | September 21st 2017 @ 12:11pm | ! Report

              They could get hit by a us crossing the road tomorrow George. We know anything’s possible.

              • September 21st 2017 @ 4:05pm
                George said | September 21st 2017 @ 4:05pm | ! Report


          • Roar Guru

            September 21st 2017 @ 12:15pm
            Chris Kettlewell said | September 21st 2017 @ 12:15pm | ! Report

            Pattinson did pretty well in County cricket, but he only played 5 matches and it was in second division, so I’m guessing that’s a slightly lower level of opposition than he’d have got in division 1. But yes, he took 32 wickets at 12 and averaged practically 50 with the bat, (197 runs in 5 innings with 1 not out which was 89 not out).

            So he did pretty well with what was put before him.

            The dominant player in English County cricket this summer though would have to be Sanga! Over 1300 runs, averaging 125 or something with 8 centuries. Shame he’s retiring! He’s definitely still got it!

            • Roar Guru

              September 21st 2017 @ 12:48pm
              Rellum said | September 21st 2017 @ 12:48pm | ! Report

              They have promotion and relegation don’t they? So you will have strong teams in either division, but the second is in general weaker.

              • Roar Guru

                September 22nd 2017 @ 12:20pm
                Chris Kettlewell said | September 22nd 2017 @ 12:20pm | ! Report

                Yes they do. Though that doesn’t necessarily mean the levels are similar. Often in a multi-division thing with promotion relegation there can be a massive jump between the top 2 divisions. I think there’s probably less difference here than in some other sports, (eg it’s still all considered first class cricket. It’s not like in being relegated to division 2 you are now playing the level below first class cricket) but I’m sure that overall you’d have to find playing division 2 would mean you’d face at least slightly weaker opposition than playing division 1.

    • Roar Rookie

      September 20th 2017 @ 7:51am
      Lancey5times said | September 20th 2017 @ 7:51am | ! Report

      James Pattinson and Jackson Bird should catch up with Stuey Macgill for a beer or two

      • September 20th 2017 @ 9:07am
        matth said | September 20th 2017 @ 9:07am | ! Report

        Bird yes, but Pattinson would have been picked a lot more if not for injury.

    • September 20th 2017 @ 8:39am
      Basil said | September 20th 2017 @ 8:39am | ! Report

      All 4 bowlers are very impressive. Cummins has really suprized me, but I can’t help but feel that when all fit and firing Pattinson is the most talented out of the lot.

      • Roar Guru

        September 20th 2017 @ 8:48am
        Edward L'Orange said | September 20th 2017 @ 8:48am | ! Report

        You may be right Basil, his stint in country cricket this year has been excellent. But it once again led to injury.

        One thing I did not put into consideration is batting skills. Pattinson is easily the best here, possible better even than Johnson was. I’d say Pattinson, Starc, Cummins and Hazlewood a distant last when it comes to batting.

        • September 20th 2017 @ 9:10am
          Marshall said | September 20th 2017 @ 9:10am | ! Report

          I would have Starc above Pattinson in batting as he has actually done it at crucial times on the Test stage

          • Roar Guru

            September 20th 2017 @ 9:19am
            Edward L'Orange said | September 20th 2017 @ 9:19am | ! Report

            Fair statement, although Pattinson did just average 49.25 in county cricket.

            • September 20th 2017 @ 11:21pm
              The watcher said | September 20th 2017 @ 11:21pm | ! Report

              Apart from Hazelwood they can all bat. In fact given our consistent collapses wouldn’t it be just as good to play all four plus Lyon and have 5 batsman. Goes against our traditional 6 plus four and keeper but more than justified in the circumstances.

              • September 21st 2017 @ 8:34am
                jameswm said | September 21st 2017 @ 8:34am | ! Report

                If Handscomb was ready for test keeping (and he may never be), he could bat 6, Pattinson 7, and play 4 quicks plus Lyon. Starc and Cummins at 8-9 both average 30-odd.

                That would be a very aggressive team. Handscomb 5 or 6 and the next best batsman gets in, with Maxwell and Cartwright currently at the front of the queue.

          • September 20th 2017 @ 12:32pm
            BurgyGreen said | September 20th 2017 @ 12:32pm | ! Report

            Starc’s better than most of our actual batsmen against spin, but he’s not always comfortable against quality seam bowling. Pattinson was a good batsman when he started in Test cricket and he’s vastly improved now. Both good but Pattinson’s numbers at domestic level are entering genuine allrounder territory.

            • September 20th 2017 @ 4:20pm
              Brian said | September 20th 2017 @ 4:20pm | ! Report

              Pattinson is a victim of our really weak keepers. If we had a decent keeper to bat at No 6, you would put Pattinson at No 7, Starc at No 8 and be happy.

              As it is Wade or Nevill are poor at No 7.

              • Roar Guru

                September 20th 2017 @ 6:59pm
                Rellum said | September 20th 2017 @ 6:59pm | ! Report

                You mean if we had a keeper who could bat? Having weak keepers is more likely to cause Patto to suffer from all the missed chances.

            • Roar Guru

              September 21st 2017 @ 8:32am
              Chris Kettlewell said | September 21st 2017 @ 8:32am | ! Report

              Agreed. I’d probably take Cummins over Starc to bat against pace and Starc over Cummins to bat against spin. But we’ll see how they go more long term. Starc had a period where he batted well, then his batting seemed to really drop off before starting to come good again in the last 12 months or so.

        • Roar Guru

          September 20th 2017 @ 9:38am
          JamesH said | September 20th 2017 @ 9:38am | ! Report

          I like the fact that you didn’t rate them on their batting, Ed! Otherwise Joe Mennie might be on top ๐Ÿ™‚

          Patto is lethal against lower-ranked batsmen but I’m not 100% sold on him against elite players. I think the other three have a few more tricks up their sleeve.

        • September 21st 2017 @ 8:54am
          jameswm said | September 21st 2017 @ 8:54am | ! Report

          Edward only a minor injury.

    • September 20th 2017 @ 9:14am
      matth said | September 20th 2017 @ 9:14am | ! Report

      I agree with your assessment, purely on Pattinson’s recent injury run. However, given our recent history with injury, there is no doubt that we will use 4, 5 or even 6 bowlers over the season. So Pattinson will get his chance. Also, with the depth we have here I would hope that we only play bowlers who are 100% fit. There is no need to rush anyone back when we have such quality options available.

      I sort of think about it that there are a number of like for like (as much as you can) replacements available. So who comes in should depend on who is being replaced. Starc, Hazlewood and Cummins, in addition to being a high quality trio, also provide a good balance of contrasting styles. So I would look at replacements like this:

      Starc – Behrendorrf or Pattinson
      Hazlewood – Bird or Sayers
      Cummins – Pattinson or NCN

      The one who doesn’t really fit the existing style up there is Sayers, but his ability to bowl long tight spells would suit the role, even if his actual bowling style is very different to Hazlewood. Obviously Pattinson for Starc is not like for like in terms of style (or bowling arm), but both are out and out strike bowlers.

      So there are seven possibilities. Maybe they could be tapped on the shoulder as a squad and told exactly where they sit.

      • Roar Guru

        September 20th 2017 @ 9:23am
        Edward L'Orange said | September 20th 2017 @ 9:23am | ! Report

        Totally agree with you equivalences between bowlers. Bird and Sayers are the bess comparison to Hazlewood.

        Sayers is more of a swing bowler, like you say, so he might struggle on some flat wickets. But that said, his home is Adelaide.

    • Roar Guru

      September 20th 2017 @ 10:15am
      Chris Kettlewell said | September 20th 2017 @ 10:15am | ! Report

      Pattinson is the one I fear for as far as injuries are concerned. He’s a few years older than Cummins and would really hope he’d have moved past that early, injury-filled part of his career by now. He came back with a re-modeled action and found it significantly less effective so ended up switching back to his original action, instantly had more success before breaking down again. That really makes me worry about the likelihood of him being able to have any sustained injury free periods of his career to really make a go of it. He could end up being a bit of a Shane Bond type, potential to be really, really good, but just so many injuries he’s never able to have the great career many hoped.

      Cummins looks strong and fit and I think there’s a good chance he could be past his main injury issues and fix his place in the team long-term. Of course, nothing is guaranteed when it comes to fast bowlers and injuries.

      Hazlewood, Starc, Cummins is definitely the top bowling attack for Australia at the moment. Certainly if everyone stays fit there’s a nice selection of back-ups to that in guys like Pattinson, Behrendorf and others. Unfortunately, that’s what we’ve been saying for years while regularly not only not having all of them fit, but having so many injured that we’ve struggled to put a decent attack on the park at times, (Mennie anyone!)

      • September 20th 2017 @ 11:08am
        matth said | September 20th 2017 @ 11:08am | ! Report

        Yes what’s the bet we end up having to throw in Siddle, Tremain or Mackin before the season is out.

      • Roar Guru

        September 20th 2017 @ 11:38am
        Edward L'Orange said | September 20th 2017 @ 11:38am | ! Report

        Keeping fit is always an issue, but I have a feeling about the Ashes series that our bowlers will be ok. But like you say, we do have back ups in Pattinson, Bird, Behrendorff, etc.

        In all honesty, if we lose the Ashes I’ll be surprised if it is on the back of poor bowling.

        Funnily enough, he situation is kind of reversed with England.

    • September 20th 2017 @ 10:25am
      Keval Shah said | September 20th 2017 @ 10:25am | ! Report


      Today we have match and this is yesterday situation ?

      • September 20th 2017 @ 11:10am
        matth said | September 20th 2017 @ 11:10am | ! Report


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