While Australia’s batting line-up has a lot to prove against Pakistan, the big three of Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Starc are in ominous form ahead of this Test series.
Australia’s batting is a potential pressure point versus Pakistan, who boast some fine bowlers, yet the home attack must make the tourists nervous.
Starc, Hazlewood and Cummins have dominated in their limited Sheffield Shield appearances this summer, combining to take 31 wickets at 15.
The number one ranked bowler in the world, Cummins has torn Test cricket apart since the start of last year. In that time the NSW quick has grabbed 87 wickets at 19 from just 16 Tests. No one in world cricket has taken more Test wickets in that period.
What has stood out most about Cummins has been his remarkable consistency. The 26-year-old has been Australia’s best bowler in each of their past four series. He ran amok in South Africa last year, then was excellent at home against India, bullied Sri Lanka, and bossed England on their home turf with 29 wickets in the Ashes.
Cummins has offered Australia the rare combination of a strike bowler and a holding bowler, all in one. Over these past two calendar years Cummins has been an ever-present threat, as evidenced by his elite strike rate of 41. Yet he’s also been very frugal, going at just 2.74 runs per over and building pressure for his teammates to capitalise on.
Creating pressure is also a specialty of Hazlewood. After his form waned in 2018 as he seemed to be battling for full fitness, Hazlewood was back to his supreme best in the Ashes.
The veteran was left out of the first Test and then sent a resounding message to the selectors over the final four matches. Hazlewood was as impressive as any bowler from either side in those Tests, showcasing precision, patience and subtle skills as he took 20 wickets at 21.
That was the best I’ve ever seen Hazlewood bowl. In 2017 and 2018 he seemed to stray from what makes him a fantastic red ball bowler. His pace increased significantly during that period, to the point that he almost hit 150kmh during the 2017-18 Ashes in Australia.
In earning this extra speed, however, he lost two valuable attributes. Firstly, he was not as accurate. Secondly, his seam position suffered, denying him consistent lateral movement either through the air or off the pitch.
Hazlewood was trying to be something that isn’t natural to him: an aggressive, intimidating quick. Cummins and Starc already have that angle covered. Hazlewood, then, can complement their dynamism by doing what he does best: hit a nagging line and length with monotony.
When he does that, he also makes Starc a bigger threat. With Hazlewood, Cummins and Lyon stalling the run rate, something each of them does well, batsmen are more inclined to take risks against Starc. That is the perfect scenario for any genuine strike bowler.
Not only do batsmen open themselves up more against Starc, but the left armer is under less pressure not to leak runs. That is when he is at his most dangerous, when his focus is on hunting wickets and nothing else.
Starc is a born wicket-taker. He is never likely to be an economical bowler and in certain attacks that can make him a liability. But when Cummins, Hazlewood and Lyon are doing their roles and keeping things tight, Starc slots right in.
His wicket-taking prowess has been on full display in his last two Shield matches, during which he took 16 wickets at 10. The standout element of Starc’s bowling in those two matches was the sharp, late reverse swing he was earning.
At his best, Starc’s ability to trouble elite batsmen with the old ball is invaluable. Whether he is back to his best or something close to it, we won’t know until he’s challenged in the Test arena.
But he looked nigh-on unstoppable during several spells across those past two Shield matches. Starc deserves first crack at partnering Hazlewood and Cummins in the first Test in Brisbane this week.
Fellow Test squad members James Pattinson and Michael Neser also have very strong claims. Both of those talented quicks could be used at some stage across Australia’s five home Tests this summer.
This is a luxurious situation for Australia. To be able to leave two bowlers of that quality on the sidelines while still picking an attack that combined has taken 885 Test wickets at an average of 28.
Australia’s Test bowling stocks have rarely looked better.