Published On: Mon, Nov 20th, 2017

Ashes: Josh Hazlewood, Pat Cummins and Mitchell Starc can do real damage to England

The challenge for Joe Root and his players over the next five Tests is clear – to survive what is shaping up to be the most sustained pace barrage any England batting line-up has faced since the days of the great West Indies attacks of the 1970s and 80s.

Mitchell Johnson ran through England on their last Ashes tour of Australia in 2013-14, bowling consistently at speeds of around 95mph.

But this time the hosts boast two men in Starc and Cummins who are as quick – if not quicker – than the now-retired Johnson and another in Hazelwood who is fast enough to bowl in excess of 90mph but whose accuracy has seen him compared to Glenn McGrath. That’s why Australians are building them up as their greatest ever Ashes pace attack.

It may well be premature considering a ball has yet to be bowled in the series and the trio have yet to play a Test together. Yet the numbers suggest they will be a potent force.

For starters, Starc, who on average gets a wicket every 49.6 balls in Test cricket, has a better strike rate than both Dennis Lillee (52) and Jeff Thomson (52.6), the fearsome Australian pace duo of the 1970s.

Cummins’ strike rate of 52.5 compares favourably too, especially considering he has never played a Test match in Australia.

Ominously for England, Hazelwood has a better average than three other former Aussie greats in Brett Lee, Jason Gillespie and Thomson.

The threat is very real, and England know it. That’s why since their arrival in Australia three weeks ago they have been practising in the nets against the lighter yellow Kookaburra balls in a bid to simulate what they will face.

Nothing beats the real thing though, and what will hit England’s batsman in front of a sold-out, baying Gabba crowd later will be an altogether tougher prospect.

Cummins has already declared that “plan A” for some English batsmen will be to pepper them with bouncers.

“Yeah, I’d say so for some of the guys, definitely,” he said. “Being aggressive will definitely be one of our weapons.

“The biggest thrill I get is seeing the whole team rally around the quick bowlers. It’s quite rare so if you see it in a game the crowd go up. So for me to see someone like Starcy tear in when I’m at fine leg, you feel that buzz and you want to be in there. You want to see how the batsman deals with it.”

Meanwhile Nathan Lyon, Australia’s spinner, has explained why he believes Hazelwood, his New South Wales team-mate, is the best bowler in the world right now.

“He can swing the new ball in and out, he can seam it, he can bowl fast, he can bowl a nice bouncer, he can reverse an old ball,” said Lyon. “His consistency, the pace he bowls at and the way he controls the game is incredible. In my book he’s the No1 bowler in the world.”

Cummins, the fastest of the trio and whose top speeds are a fraction below 100mph, has been plagued by injury since he made his international debut in 2011, hence why he has never played a home Test. But having been back now for more almost a year without any issues, the 24-year-old feels fitter and quicker than ever.

“When I’m going flat out it feels as fast as I’ve ever been,” he said. “I don’t know whether I’m the fastest in the world. I reckon Starcy up the other end is as quick as anyone else. Seeing him bowl in the nets the last couple of weeks is pretty frightening. I’m not sure I would want to face him.”

But those fitness problems for Cummins – including foot and back stress fractures – could be one sliver of hope for England. Work him hard, especially with Australia only lining up with four frontline bowlers, and he may break down.

Even Cummins himself admits that is a possibility, saying: “It’s a pretty brutal thing for a fast bowler to get through five Tests. There’s no guarantees.”

Of the three, Starc promises to be the biggest danger to lower-order batsmen, with the 27-year-old picking up two hat-tricks in his last domestic match for New South Wales earlier this month as he twice obliterated the tail with a succession of 90mph-plus yorkers.

“He wraps it up pretty quickly,” says Hazelwood. “That’s why we call him The Mop.”

England must find a way to deal with all three. Otherwise Australia may well wipe the floor with them in this Ashes series.

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