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Josh Hazlewood, the all-format wizard, might just be the world’s best right now

Josh Hazlewood, The All-Format Wizard, Might Just Be The World's Best Right Now
Ben Gardner by Ben Gardner
@Ben_Wisden 5 minute read

Josh Hazlewood was integral to Australia’s T20 World Cup campaign, with his excellence confirmed by his elevation to sixth in the ICC’s T20I bowling rankings.

Hazlewood claimed 11 wickets with an economy rate of 7.29 runs per over, with the former tally bettered only by New Zealand’s Trent Boult among fast bowlers. Hazlewood sits above Boult in the T20I rankings however, as indeed he does above all other quicks.

What’s even more impressive is that Hazlewood’s T20I ranking is in fact his worst in all three formats. In Test cricket, he’s ranked fourth, and in ODIs he’s second. This despite not being part of Australia’s 2019 Cricket World Cup squad, a tournament he missed apparently to rest him for the 2019 Ashes, a series he then missed the first game of. Go figure.

Hazlewood has long been rated as one of the world’s best Test quicks, an advocate of the Glenn McGrath philosophy of relentless line and length, extracting uncomfortable bounce consistently from a significant height, testing the batter’s technique over and over again and eventually drawing the error. It’s a method that has reaped him 212 wickets at 25.65 apiece in his career. Since the start of the 2018/19 season, those numbers improve to 61 wickets at 22.68. In that time, only four bowlers – Jasprit Bumrah, R Ashwin, Tim Southee and Pat Cummins – have claimed more wickets at a better average.

It’s the last of those names, however, that can lead to Hazlewood being somewhat overlooked in the longer format. The two almost always turn out together for Australia, with Cummins generally rated the first among equals. He tops the ICC Test bowling rankings, and is largely from the same school of bowling. The only thing is, he’s a bit quicker, and a bit more attacking, with his overall record significantly superior to that of Hazlewood’s. Hazlewood’s best format is Tests, and he’s not even the best Test bowler in his team? So how can he be the best all-format bowler in the world?

Two things recently have changed. Firstly, Hazlewood looks to have got a tad faster. Where he used to operate in the mid- to high-80s, now he’s topping 90. Where batters used to get on top of the bounce, now he’s hitting the splice. And secondly, Australia, and others, have started picking him in white-ball cricket.

Strangely, for such an old-school bowler, it’s here that he really makes his case. Hazlewood doesn’t do anything radically differently in ODI and T20 cricket. He still targets just back of a length, with the odd cutter the only variation. But, in formats where we’re told unorthodoxy is key, where second-guessing the batter, bluffing and double-bluffing so the cards fall your way, is supposed to be paramount, he’s showing that if your best ball is good enough, you can keep bowling it over and over – they still won’t be able to hit you.

Hazlewood didn’t play a single ODI during 2019, but since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, Australia have picked him and stuck with him, and he’s been broadly unhittable. In that time, he has claimed 15 wickets from eight games at 20.00 each, with an economy rate of 4.52. This is a small sample size, and perhaps the one thing holding Hazlewood back from consideration as an all-format worldie is the desire to wait until there’s more to go on. Equally, however, if you wait too long before evaluating, you might miss what’s right in front of you, right now.

In that time, Hazlewood has underpinned series wins over England and India, two teams generally rated above Australia in the 50-over format, and maintained an economy of 2.07 an over through a series against West Indies. He’s claimed new-ball wickets aplenty, and bowled a staggering eight maidens. Zimbabwe’s Blessing Muzarabani and England’s Chris Woakes are the only quicks with more runless overs in that time. Again, it’s hard to claim Hazlewood is the best in the world in ODIs, but he’s right up there.

It’s in T20Is where Hazlewood’s success has perhaps been most surprising, where innovation is supposed to be most important. Despite making his debut in 2013, he has only played 24 games in the format. But 17 of those have come since the start of the pandemic, having gone more than four years without playing a game since the 2016 World T20. Australia have backed him and been rewarded spectacularly.

In that time, Hazlewood has claimed 24 wickets with an average of 18.25 and an economy rate just under seven runs per over. No fast bowler from a Test nation has claimed more T20I wickets at a better economy rate since then.

Hazlewood was also impressive in the IPL. Having played three games in 2020, he was a key figure in helping Chennai Super Kings bounce back from failing to make the playoffs for the first time in their history to claim the title the following year. His numbers weren’t staggering, but with 11 wickets and an economy just over eight, he showed that he could more than hold his own in a competition that purports to be the best v the best and can see pace bowlers punished.

In a way, it’s fitting that Hazlewood, a bowler who relies on doing lots of things very well over and over again, even if there’s few headline-grabbing deliveries or eye-catching pace, has a claim to being the best all-round, all-format in the world based on being very good whatever the length of game, rather than the out-and-out best in one or the other.

He has long been a bowler in the shadow of others, protected by Australia to a curious extent, hidden away when it’s assumed he won’t succeed, without given the chance to prove otherwise. In the past year, he has had that chance, and he’s been untouchable.

There are other bowlers – the likes of Jasprit Bumrah, Kagiso Rabada and Trent Boult – who have an all-format record across a longer period of time. And there are bowlers, including some in his own team, who reach more spectacular highs. But right now, at this very moment, there might be no one better. According to the rankings, Hazlewood is on top of the world. It’s a bold claim, but not an unfounded one.

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