The unsung champion that is Josh Hazlewood
Australia had won the toss and decided to have a bowl first in the second Ashes Test at the mecca of cricket, Lord's. Kicking off the proceedings, it didn't take long for Josh Hazlewood to prise out an iffy Jason Roy, who nicked behind while tentatively poking at a lethal out-swinger.
England captain Joe Root was in early with a tough ask on his hands. But the lanky Hazlewood unleashed a barrage of out-swingers at him, extracting prodigious movement off the deck and tantalizingly drawing the skipper forward.
Root reluctantly jabbed at a couple while the others whizzed past the outside edge; it was easy to see a strategy being implemented by the Aussie, directed at exposing the loopholes in the Englishman's defensive technique.
The ball was methodically pitched in the 'corridor of uncertainty', luring the elegant right-hander into false strokes as he was constantly pushed further across his stumps. The head fell dangerously over the right shoulder, the mind preoccupied with thoughts of feathering one to the anticipating slip cordon.
The moment of triumph arrived shortly. Root's nervous presence at the crease was terminated when he was caught plumb on the shuffle by a lovely in-swinger from Hazlewood. The experienced campaigner walked off the field in despair, undone by the sheer brilliance of the Australian.
It wasn't the first time a batsman was dismissed after falling prey to an organized set-up. But the way Hazlewood went about his business - how he relentlessly stuck to immaculate lines and lengths during his spells, how he painstakingly hovered around the off-stump before eventually deceiving the batsman with a booming in-swinger, how he discovered a chink in the armor of the most technically accomplished player in the English lineup - speaks volumes of his expertise over the onerous art of swing bowling.
Hazlewood's attributes of a smooth run-up to the bowling crease, unwavering accuracy and ability to swing the ball both ways have justifiably inspired comparisons with the legendary Glenn McGrath. Moreover, the fact that Hazlewood possesses supreme control and guile through the air rubbishes the arguments put forward by cynics that he lacks the speed to be successful in unfriendly conditions.
Cricket pundits often stress upon the importance of picking 20 wickets in the longest version of the game; batting well is merely half the job done. Steve Smith has captured all the attention by pulverizing the hosts with his transcendent knocks, but Hazlewood's contribution has been just as important.
He has rattled the opposition with the cherry in his hand, topping the wickets column more often than not. Having scalped 18 wickets in the ongoing Ashes series, the seamer has been a central figure in Australia's retaining of the urn. His magnificent performances deserve legitimate applause.
You won't often see Hazlewood dominating the headlines or terrorizing the batsmen with bursts of brute pace. But he silently does the job for the team, unnoticed and unfazed.
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