Talent over planning: how Josh Hazlewood became a T20 star
Josh Hazlewood dismisses Daryl Mitchell with immaculate line and length. That shouldn't surprise you. Line and length at decent pace is Hazlewood's talent. Taking wickets is what he does.
The weirdest thing is that Hazlewood is at the World Cup at all. In 2019, at an ODI World Cup in England, Hazlewood was overlooked for the squad twice. The first time, Cricket Australia said he wasn't fit enough, but there was an injury where they could have inserted him, and they still didn't choose Hazlewood. Despite the fact that he was in the country playing for Australia A during the tournament.
Although, in 2016, it was nearly as confusing that he was playing in the T20 World Cup hosted in India.
On February 5, 2014, he had played a match for Sydney Sixers. On January 5, 2020, he played for the Sixers again. In that almost six-year window he played three T20s. All three were in 2016. The first was in a high-scoring game in Johannesburg, and then two World Cup matches in India. One against Pakistan in Mohali where he did well, and then Virat Kohli destroyed him at the same ground.
Australia had two years to prepare him for a World Cup in India. In two years coming into that tournament, he played one game. Kohli in that same period played 45 matches. If you look at pure talent, these are both A-list players. But one had spent a generation working on his T20 game, and the other had been overlooked by his own team.
How on earth can Hazlewood only play three T20s in 2161 days?
Welcome to Australian cricket over the last few years, where their planning seems to be very last minute, or not at all. But the talent, well, we saw again, it's off the chart.
Look at the players that didn't do much in the final. Steven Smith never even made it to the crease, and while his T20 credentials may not be as special, he's still Steven Smith. Aaron Finch just had perhaps the quietest World Cup of any winning captain ever. But he is the fourth-leading scorer in men's T20I history. And Mitchell Starc, usually Australia's - and sometimes the world's - best white-ball bowler, just had the worst T20 match of his entire career, allowing ten more runs than he ever has in a game before. Glenn Maxwell had a quiet tournament as well. The same Maxwell who was in the UAE during the IPL destroying bowling attacks. He is one of the true batting freaks with the ability to hit boundaries and not take up dot balls. None of these players starred in this World Cup, and it just didn't matter.
Did Australia plan for this tournament? Not like other teams. Matthew Wade is fitting into this side wherever they need him, not where he's suited. Yet he still played his best-ever middle-order innings the other day. That's testament to the talent of Wade, not any great preparation.
None of this is new either. In 2016 David Warner was asked to not open. In 2014, Hazlewood wasn't in the team, despite having a great BBL season. Back in 2012, Xavier Doherty found himself bowling at the death for Australia in the semi-final to Chris Gayle and Kieron Pollard.
Wade's partner for the semi-final victory was Marcus Stoinis, who recently decided to try and become the world's best finisher. Australia were toying with him as a No. 3 only last year. Stoinis became a late-overs enforcer through the necessity of his IPL team, Delhi Capitals.
Even the Mitchell Marsh decision was random. Australia have tried eight No. 3 batters in the last two years. Even in this tournament, they have used Maxwell and Smith. Marsh was dropped from one game; in another he was demoted. Those are three pretty important batters in Australia's finals.
This team arrived knowing they had plenty of talent, but experience, role definition, strategy, and planning wasn't their thing.
But when Marsh saw a short ball from Adam Milne first delivery and pulled it into the crowd, that was talent smacking preparation in the face. This team has assembled accidentally, but with some incredible players.
You can focus on some of their luck; they won six tosses, and six matches. They were a wicket from going home just after halfway in their innings against Pakistan. And for the final, they went up against the team that seems to have a mental block against them.
But you cannot argue with the talent of this team.
Not many countries would ignore a player like Hazlewood as a white-ball bowler. But not many could.
Hazlewood's comeback to T20 is because Australia had given up on him as a white-ball bowler. So he played some BBL, had some decent games, and was then brought in the IPL auction. In his second season for CSK this year he did well - partly because of the form of Lungi Ngidi and injury to Sam Curran.
Giving a player of this talent the financial imperative to become good and some experience playing games really improved him. He may never be an all-time T20 great, just because of how little he will ever play. And at times in this tournament he certainly showed that he still has a lot to learn, especially at the death.
In his bad moments, you can see why Australia were never completely sure of Hazlewood the T20 bowler. He is metronomic in the style of Mohammad Abbas or Vernon Philander. In T20s, those bowlers get lined up; everyone knows where he is going to land them. But Hazlewood is taller and faster than most bowlers of his accuracy. And he's been working on his variations, including a knuckleball and a decent cutter.
The Daryl Mitchell wicket was accurate. Hazlewood had delivered three consecutive deliveries just outside off stump on a hard length. Mitchell played the first two well, timing both of them perfectly but straight to the ring. Had he picked the gap with either, he would have had four.
What might Hazlewood have done in 2016, with no experience behind him? Here he chose to deliver the third ball in exactly the same spot. Mitchell decided to change his plan of attack and run it fine for a boundary. But while the ball was near identical in line and length, it was not just a standard Hazlewood delivery. He bowled it with a cross seam and then ran his fingers down the back.
Mitchell gave himself some room, opened the blade a little, and the ball deceived him off the deck by stopping. He wasn't in the right place, and he ended up running it through to the keeper. It was a skill Hazlewood doesn't need in Tests and, two years ago, probably wouldn't have been in control of. But here he was so much in control he used it to dismiss the batter who put New Zealand into the final.
Think of this as the new Josh Hazlewood, who has been perfecting his T20 bowling in the IPL - playing more than 50% of his career matches in the last two years. And becoming a good T20 bowler in spite of his country.
But, very much like Australia, Hazlewood worked it out at the right time, and because of his talent he, and they, won. Line and length at decent pace is what Hazlewood does. Winning is what Australia does.