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The day James Pattinson became a star

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28th July, 2019
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James Pattinson has smoke trailing off his deliveries. His eyes have rolled back in his head and he’s launching at his victims, jaws wide open, teeth bared. Nothing good can come of this.

Unless, of course, you happen to be on the same side as this ferocious quick. It is February 23, 2013, the second day of the first Test in Chennai, and the 22-year-old Victorian has caught India by surprise.

Bowled, bowled, bowled. That is what’s happened to Virender Sehwag, Cheteshwar Pujara and Murali Vijay. Pattinson is to blame.

India knew a bit about this pace prodigy – they’d faced him in two Tests in Australia more than a year previous and he’d given them some grief, snaring 11 wickets. But this is different. This is Chennai.

This is a dead, dusty pitch. This is a batting lineup of Tendulkar, Kohli, Sehwag, Pujara, Dhoni and Vijay in their home conditions. Yet here is Pattinson, running amok.

“Pattinson is on absolute fire,” reads the ESPNCricinfo live commentary description as the youngster castles his third Indian. Pattinson has bowled just 4.4 overs in India and already he’s earned three wickets and a wealth of respect.

Earlier, the right armer shared the new ball with Mitchell Starc, also 22 years old, who bowled the first over. Starc operates between 137 and 141kmh in this six-ball set.

“He’s got some pace this lad,” remarks one Indian television commentator. Then Pattinson comes on and hits 150kmh in his first over, swinging the ball late in both directions.

While he is best known for his out-swinger, it is a delivery that tails in late which gives Pattinson his first wicket, from just his eighth delivery.

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Murali Vijay sees the ball full and in his arc. He shapes to play a cover drive. But this delivery is not as he expected – it is significantly faster and swings much sharper.

Vijay hasn’t even time to get in a full stride. Instead his front foot is stuck on the crease and the ball is past him before his bat arcs through, attempting an optimistically-aggressive stroke.

The off stump is rattled. Vijay whips his head around, sees this disturbance and immediately swivels back to stare at Pattinson.

A caption describing Vijay’s reaction would read: “What the f— was that?”.

Vijay was no rookie, either. He had debuted in Tests almost five years previous and had been playing first-class cricket for eight years. But you don’t get balls like that in the Ranji Trophy.

In fact, some first-class batsmen around the world can go their entire careers without ever receiving such a ghoulish delivery.

Balls that start 30cm outside off stump, then curve in late to smash your pegs at 150kmh are extremely rare, even at Test level.

Sehwag has encountered such deliveries before. Although he’s watched this one from the non-striker’s end, he has copped similar hooping missiles from the likes of Pakistan’s Shoaib Akhtar.

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I can’t imagine, then, that the champion Indian opener was too startled by what he saw from the Aussie quick.

The first ball Sehwag faces from Pattinson is a bouncer which he ducks comfortably. No big deal. The next one is fuller, but still short of a length.

This 147kmh delivery seams in to Sehwag, hurries him, catches his inside edge and deflects on to the stumps.

James Pattinson

James Pattinson celebrates a wicket (Photo by Hamish Blair/Getty Images)

Pattinson is screaming, leaping, high-fiving. Sehwag is trudging off. Pattinson’s opening spell lasts just three overs and, for some unknown reason, he doesn’t bowl again until 26 overs have passed and India have recovered well to be 2-94.

None of the other Aussie bowlers have looked like taking a wicket. Not Starc, not Peter Siddle, not Nathan Lyon. Pattinson is operating on a different plane to them today.

Within minutes of belatedly returning for his second spell he has vandalised Pujara’s stumps.

That doesn’t happen often to Pujara, the man dubbed The Wall 2.0 in reference to his rock-solid defence, which is reminiscent of the great Rahul Dravid, the original Wall.

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This time Pujara gets as mangled as a drugged-up hippie listening to Pink Floyd’s The Wall. Both of his feet come off the ground, he’s squared up reaching for the ball and Pattinson’s off-cutter passes through a yawning gap between bat and pad. Never have I seen Pujara dismissed in such ugly fashion.

Soon after Pattinson almost cleans up Kohli, who just manages to dig out a blistering yorker. Then the Victorian is taken out of the attack. He has 3-25 and it is time for his bowling colleagues to build upon his remarkable effort.

But they can’t help. When Pattinson returns for his next spell two of the best batsmen in Indian history, Tendulkar and Kohli, are cruising on 71* and 50* respectively and he’s on a hiding to nothing on a flat pitch.

Despite Pattinson swinging a hammer through India’s top order, the hosts go on to pile up 572. Lyon cops the worst public lashing of his Test career, conceding 215 runs at 4.57 runs an over. Starc and Siddle combine to take 1-141.

Pattinson stands head and shoulders and leagues above his teammates with figures of 5-96, all of which are top seven wickets.

This shaped as a match cricket fans would look back upon, as the moment they would pinpoint when Pattinson kickstarted his rise to inevitable Test superstardom.

For those of us who watched this performance live, the past six years have been bittersweet. Every time Pattinson’s name has appeared in a headline we’ve click on it faster than his yorker.

Again and again, it has been bad news. Back injury after back injury, interspersed only by short periods of cricket and a long layoff with a shin complaint.

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Throughout it all, the memories remained vivid. Stumps pinned back, Indian batsmen befuddled, Pattinson leaping and hollering and celebrating.

The 2019 Ashes is the perfect venue for Pattinson to finally, belatedly, remind us of that unstoppable force.