Australia’s bowlers are competing for the chance to take down England’s captain Joe Root, and have been heartened by Mitchell Johnson’s views on the touring side’s frail mental state ahead of the Perth Test that may seal the fate of the Ashes.
Josh Hazlewood, who bowled the pivotal spell of the Adelaide Test to dismiss Root and Chris Woakes on a tense final day, said that he, Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins have been pushing each other on to give England’s leader no respite in this series. Cummins and Hazlewood have alternated taking Root’s wicket in the four innings of the series so far, following Dale Steyn’s oft-quoted line about “cutting off the head of the snake” and ensuring that Root is unable to make his customary fast starts.
“All the bowlers want that wicket and there’s obviously a couple of key ones which we’ve talked about,” Hazlewood said in Perth. “Joe is the key, he can hold the innings together and score runs pretty freely when he gets some poor bowling his way, so everyone has to be ready when he comes in and stop that quick 20 or 30 runs early.
“It’s obviously a little bit more important, the time of that start of that fifth day when things could have gone either way, so you’re a bit more focused, [there’s] not as much room for error against those better players. Got to be on your game from ball one and he’s obviously going to punish anything that’s not your best ball. Still the key to him is bowling your best ball more often than not and hopefully keep the runs to a minimum and keep taking his wicket.
“I think I’m just getting better as time goes on. Probably just my length I think, my length especially on the last day, so obviously be continuing to work on that and I think it’s on the rise so hopefully keep getting better.”
Johnson’s presence at training on Monday afternoon was welcomed by the team, and Hazlewood said it had been useful to get the perspective of someone outside the comfortable “bubble” in which the Australians are operating – in sharp contrast to the difficulties being faced almost daily by England. Johnson’s advice on the bowling front was to the point, also: “Bowl fast and keep bowling short. Pretty simple method from Johnno.”
“You’re in the bubble the whole time. As soon as we got to Brisbane it was all cricket, all business,” Hazlewood said. “You do feel in that bubble, it takes some people from the outside to see things you’re not necessarily looking for. Johnno was good to talk to yesterday not just bowling but the mental side of it. He mentioned he saw a few things similar to 2013-14, those guys are always good to talk to about past experiences.”
Having had the benefit of several days off cricket after Adelaide, Hazlewood said the Australian pacemen were fresh and capable of getting through all five Tests, helped largely by the irrepressible Nathan Lyon. He also said the need for an allrounder, set to be taken up by the recalled Mitchell Marsh, was balanced against the desire for runs from the middle order.
“I’ve only bowled under 40 overs in both games so I feel pretty fresh at this time of the year and the other quicks are pretty similar,” Hazlewood said. “They have probably bowled more than me but the way Nathan has bowled has given us the opportunity to sit out one or two spells here or there and him just go from one end.
“He’s been bowling beautifully and taking wickets as well as keeping runs to a minimum, still feels pretty fresh at the moment. I think [I can get through five Tests], it’s still a long way off obviously and just got to take it game by game as a fast bowler or spell by spell at some stages, but feel as good as I have.
“You always want an allrounder but at the same time you want those runs at No. 6, it would be ideal to have a Jacques Kallis or someone like that but they are pretty special players. I think at this stage the bowlers are pretty fresh and we’ve got another break after this so it’s obviously up to the selectors and what they feel.”
The national selectors’ plans for the WACA Ground Test may well hinge on the state of the pitch, for any hint of help for the bowlers could allow Pete Handscomb to earn a reprieve as one of six batsmen. However, if the surface is anything like those prepared recently – it is the same strip used for last year’s Test won by South Africa – then Marsh is set to play. Given recent history, including a high-scoring bore draw with New Zealand in Johnson’s last Test in 2015, Hazlewood was not optimistic.
“I usually just look at it when I get out there,” Hazlewood said. “Been pretty flat to be honest, especially the New Zealand game, there were a couple of big scores there. Hopefully it has some pace to it, but over the last few years it hasn’t been too good.”