Australia have a bowling attack to compare to “any era”, Glenn McGrath has said, as the Test team targets a clean sweep of the summer powered by the performances of Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood, James Pattinson and Nathan Lyon.
The season began with talk of whether Steven Smith could continue his Ashes feats (Neil Wagner has stopped that), then moved on to David Warner‘s run-glut against Pakistan and the emergence of Marnus Labuschagne as a world-class No. 3. Through all of that, the excellence of Australia with ball in hand has continued unabated. They have conceded over 300 just twice – Pakistan’s 335 in Brisbane is currently the highest opposition total of the summer – while New Zealand failed to cross 200 in the first three innings of the current series.
The individual returns of the five bowlers this season make for impressive reading: Starc 25 wickets at 16.96, Lyon 17 wickets at 27.94, Cummins 16 wickets at 25.56, Hazlewood 11 wickets at 20.00 and Pattinson six wickets at 11.50.
Starc, who began the summer outside of the Test XI, has reaffirmed his Test credentials while Cummins has consolidated his position as the No, 1 bowler in the world. Hazlewood has missed the final two Tests of the season after picking up a hamstring injury in Perth, which gave Pattinson his chance in Melbourne, and he is set to play back-to-back Tests for the first since returning to the Test side during the Ashes. Who misses out when they are all fit will be a tough call for the selectors, although it’s precisely that depth available that gives the feeling of Australia building a dominance that can last.
McGrath was part of one of Australia’s greatest attacks when he joined forces with Jason Gillespie, Brett Lee and Shane Warne, and he believes this group has the same attributes.
“They are right up there, without a doubt, their stats prove that,” McGrath said on the eve of the annual Pink Test at the SCG which is used to raise funds for the McGrath Foundation. “They are forming an attack that can compete with any era of Australian cricket.
“That spell on the [third] day [at the MCG] with Pat Cummins and James Pattinson, the way they bowled in tandem, was as good a fast bowling as you’ll see anywhere in the world. To have Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood as well, four quality bowlers, throw in Nathan Lyon as well, it’s as good a bowling attack as we’ve had. A lot people say New Zealand has been disappointing but I think a lot of that has been because of the way our bowlers have bowled. In Australian conditions they are tough to face, they will be tough to face anywhere in the world but especially at home.”
The bowling attack came together well before the events of Newlands and even during the tough times Australia were generally able to field a strong bowling unit. They were repelled by a world-class India batting line-up last season – and did not have the volume of runs to work with, which has been the luxury this season – then during the Ashes the horses-for-courses approach meant a different collection each match, but this season there has been a consistency to the selection barring the Hazlewood injury, which in itself has highlighted the riches on offer with Pattinson’s potency.
“I think it’s pretty exciting that we can continually put three or four big strong fast bowlers on the park,” Tim Paine said. “It’s not something we can take for granted, we’ve got to keep working away and I’m sure Cricket Australia are behind the scenes, trying to develop more. We’ve just lost Peter Siddle who has been a great influence on that bowling group, again we’re lucky that you’ve got your Hazlewoods and your James Pattinsons, Mitchell Starcs, that have played a lot of Tests.
“I think at the moment the three or four we’re able to get on the park consistently are as a group of bowlers are right up there with as good as we’ve had. There’s no doubt walking out to bat against our attack right now is a difficult prospect for even the best players in the world.”
For those facing the onslaught it has been a daunting prospect with rarely any relief in sight whether with the old ball or new. “It’s been an immense challenge,” Tom Latham said. “It’s been an enjoyable one, yes we haven’t quite had the results from a batting point of view, but to test ourselves in these conditions against four world-class bowlers, it has been a challenge and that’s the standard we want to reach.”
After this series concludes in Sydney, Australia’s next Test assignment is two matches in Bangladesh in June – which will be a good examination of the adaptability of the quick bowlers chosen – before the next Australian season which includes the mouth-watering prospect of the head-to-head with India’s stellar attack, including Jasprit Bumrah, Ishant Sharma and Mohammed Shami, who proved too good last season. A lot can happen in a year – just ask this Australia team – but right now that has the prospect of a great tussle.