Josh Hazlewood exclusive: On mentoring Ollie Robinson and why Australian grounds won't suit Ben Stokes

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  • Josh Hazlewood
    Australian cricketer
Australia bowler Josh Hazlewood celebrates after dismissing Jack Leach during day two of the 3rd Test Match between England and Australia at Headingley on August 23, 2019 in Leeds, England. - GETTY IMAGES
Australia bowler Josh Hazlewood celebrates after dismissing Jack Leach during day two of the 3rd Test Match between England and Australia at Headingley on August 23, 2019 in Leeds, England. - GETTY IMAGES

Ollie Robinson and Josh Hazlewood only played one game together for Sydney grade club St George in 2017 but it left a lasting impression on both.

Robinson looked up to Hazlewood, and saw him as his role model as he entered a crucial phase of his career.

They bowl just back of a length, probe outside off stump and enjoy long spells for the team. Robinson showed remarkable stamina in the four Test series against India, and Hazlewood believes that will help his old protege in this Ashes.

They were so well matched at St George that Hazlewood presented Robinson with his cap and afterwards spent hours chatting cricket. Robinson credited him last week for passing on invaluable advice about how to bowl on Australian pitches and even though Hazlewood is quicker, their match up in this series will be telling.

Robinson was not a roaring success at St George’s taking only ten wickets in eight games but it was a learning exercise for a young county professional and he left such a positive impression that coaches at the club now use videos of him as an example to young bowlers.

“You come across young guys and they are either one or the other. They either ask me a lot of questions about how to improve or they are happy with how they are going and probably think they know everything they need to know. Ollie was certainly the inquisitive type trying to get better which has helped him get to where he is now,” Hazlewood tells Telegraph Sport.

“He was coming back from a side strain (at St George) and feeling his way back a bit but what I have seen of him since he looks like a natural in conditions in England. It is just about making those changes to be effective here in Australia on flatter wickets with a ball that doesn’t do as much. His accuracy is great, he gets nice bounce and he has all the game to do it. He has the whole package.

“I told him there are no great secrets. It is about getting the length right and hitting the area around the top off stump. Bowlers like myself and Ollie have to find the length that goes past the knee roll and hits the top of the stumps. It is just about how quickly you adapt to that length that is key. It looks like he runs in all day. He had some long days against India so proved he has a good engine. It is a bit hotter here than England so that will test the body but helooks a good competitor.”

Ollie Robinson bowls during an England Ashes squad practice session at The Gabba on December 06, 2021 in Brisbane, Australia. - GETTY IMAGES
Ollie Robinson bowls during an England Ashes squad practice session at The Gabba on December 06, 2021 in Brisbane, Australia. - GETTY IMAGES

Hazlewood and Robinson have exchanged messages in recent times and there is less of an edge to this series because both teams are staying in the same hotels. Over-familiarity is not necessarily a good thing, so the contact has been kept to a minimum. “Once we cross the boundary rope it will be game on as usual.”

Hazlewood has returned from a brilliant World Twenty20 where he took 11 wickets at 19.5 and he believes his T20 bowling can help him in Test cricket, particularly if Ben Stokes goes on a roll again. Hazlewood was one of the bowlers mauled by Stokes at Headingley.

“The one thing helps us here is that the grounds are much bigger than somewhere like Headingley so we might be a chance of catching him on the boundary, more so than in England.

“Our confidence is high and the players in the World Cup have transferred over to the Test team. It is a great vibe amongst the group, a confident vibe because we have had success in recent times. The staff have taken a back seat and it is more player driven I guess.

“And the good thing is it looks like we are back on the main pitch in the middle of the square at the Gabba as opposed to the Test against India last year which was a couple across to the right. It is supposed to be quicker and back to the old Gabba style.”

At 30, Hazlewood is in his peak years. He is fourth in the Test rankings and when you ask England batsmen about the Australian attack they speak with real respect about Hazlewood, finding his unerring probing of the front pad exhausting. He bowls a lick or two quicker than Robinson and on Australia pitches four years ago that pace and bounce brought him 21 wickets at 25, the best series of his career to date. He can be overlooked in the rush to focus on Pat Cummins or Mitchell Starc’s eye grabbing yorkers but in a long series likely to be defined by small moments, Hazlewood is likely to be there chipping away at England in the final hour of the day when so many Test matches can be decided in Australia.

“Playing five Tests is such a brutal demand on your body in so many different ways,” he says. “It is why Tests one and two are so important. They set the wheel in motion for the back half of the series. We have found that the last two times England have come out here it has been closely fought for the first couple of Tests then we have run away with it once we have got momentum. I certainly hope that happens again.”

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