With Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood unavailable for next week’s ODI series against Pakistan, Australia’s pace pecking order is being muddied by impressive displays from Pat Cummins and Jhye Richardson.
While Starc, if fit, is a certainty to be in Australia’s World Cup XI, the position of Hazlewood is becoming less certain due to Cummins’ hot form and the brilliant death bowling of Richardson.
Just 12 months ago Hazlewood was the world’s number two ranked ODI bowler and arguably the first player picked in Australia’s attack. But he has missed Australia’s past two ODI series and will also be absent from the five-match contest in the UAE which starts next Friday, giving Richardson and Cummins more opportunities to overtake him.
Hazlewood is a wonderful ODI bowler, having taken 72 wickets at 25 in his career at the sensational economy rate of 4.73 runs per over. Yet Cummins and Richardson both possess skills which Hazlewood doesn’t – attributes which could sway the selectors.
The duo’s superior batting ability may well appeal given Australia do not have a bowling all-rounder in their side. They will surely be wary of fielding too long a tail, especially when teams like tournament favourites England bat so deep.
They may well have lost the fifth ODI and the series in India if not for the batting efforts of that pair.
At 7-229 with just 4.1 overs left and India bowling well, Australia looked in danger of making less than 250. Instead, Cummins and Richardson combined for 44 from 29 balls, boosting Australia to an above-par total of 9-272.
Richardson, who has three half-centuries from 16 career innings in first-class cricket, was impressive with the blade in that match and is rated highly enough by Australia to bat ahead of Cummins. The selectors may feel that a tail of Starc, Richardson and Cummins can help offset the lack of a bowling all-rounder.
Of course, this debate about batting ability is only relevant because of just how well Cummins and Richardson have bowled.
Cummins may be a bonafide Test star but he entered this series in India in very poor ODI form, having averaged 45 with the ball from his previous 20 matches. The 25-year-old promptly banished any concerns about his form by dominating India. Cummins was phenomenal, taking 14 wickets at 15 to comfortably outbowl the world’s number one ODI quick, Jasprit Bumrah (7 wickets at 35), on his own soil.
This was not a total shock given the enormous talent Cummins possesses. What was surprising, though, was the manner in which 22-year-old Richardson excelled against the formidable and vastly experienced Indian batting line-up.
Richardson has been remarkably effective at the death in his short ODI career and is getting better with each match.
The young West Australian copped some rough treatment in his debut ODI series in England in June last year. He then spent the next seven months out of the ODI team, during which he appears to have honed his ability to counter the aggression of elite international batsmen.
Since he returned to the Australian team in January, Richardson has been outstanding. In six matches against ODI powerhouses India, Richardson has returned the amazing figures of 14 wickets at 20. What has really stood out has been the way he has choked the Indian run-rate whether in the Powerplay, in the middle overs or at the death. Across those six matches, Richardson’s economy rate was fantastic at 4.84 runs per over.
His versatility is quite remarkable for such a young cricketer. With the new ball, Richardson is a traditional swing bowler, adopting full lengths and seeking to undo the batsmen with movement.
In the middle overs, he shortens his length and uses his fine accuracy to keep things tight. Then, in the death overs, he unfurls his full bag of tricks, mixing out-swingers with cutters, bouncers, yorkers and slower balls to keep the batsmen guessing.
As good an ODI bowler as Hazlewood is, he is not known for his variations and has never been an elite death bowler. In fact, Australia often have opted for him to bowl his full ten overs inside the first 40 overs.
This is probably due, in part, to the fact Hazlewood hasn’t played much T20 cricket, which demands pacemen expand their repertoire. It is three years since Hazlewood last played a 20-over match.
Of course, a lot can change over the course of the upcoming series against Pakistan. As much can be learnt from the series in India, during which the likes of Richardson, Usman Khawaja, and Ashton Turner went from being fringe candidates to make Australia’s World Cup squad to now vying to be in their starting XI.