If Australian cricket supporters like their heroes to be the strong and silent type, they must adore everything their opening bowler Josh Hazlewood and skipper Steve Smith have brought to the national team.
At the risk of being rapped over the knuckles by my editor for using a cliché, this dynamic duo ‘do all of their talking on the field’.
We live in an age where sports stars live in beachside palaces that are featured in all forms of the media; who have their love life documented in gossip rags; who drive luxury cars and have their wealth splashed about in glossy magazines and via ‘selfies’ and other social media posts.
I think it says a lot that I don’t know where Josh Hazlewood lives and, for the life of me, I couldn’t tell you the type of car Steve Smith drives.
They’re chips from the block of the old fashioned quiet achiever; a breed of athlete who prefers performing with the bat or ball in hand to grandstanding in front of the television cameras – and I also note the pair are using their time in the baggy green to provide the Aussie team with a rock solid foundation.
Smith headed into the third and final Test against Pakistan poised to become the first batsman since Don Bradman to average 60 runs after their 50th Test.
Hazlewood prepared for a possible clean sweep having taken his 100th Test scalp in the Boxing Day Test and by also knowing the great Glenn McGrath has earmarked him as the man most likely to take his record as Test cricket’s most successful fast bowler.
I admire the pair.
As a retired member of the Fast Bowler’s Union I find there’s a lot to like about Hazlewood.
He carried the can against South Africa earlier this summer and he’s been at the forefront of Australia’s dominance over Pakistan.
He is very much like McGrath in that he likes to get the job done.
There’s no basking in the limelight and for all he offers I don’t think Hazlewood has received all the accolades he deserves . . . which is something Glenn failed to receive for much of his career.
What I also like about the soon-to-be 26-year-old is you know what you’re going to get from him every day, every game.
While he has days that are better than others, you know he’s going to get through the overs, that he’s going to ask questions of the batsmen and give his all.
Sometimes you hear commentators say about other bowlers, ‘I have a feeling they’re going to fire today” but Hazlewood is renowned for just gritting his teeth and ploughing through the tough stuff.
His consistency is a genuine strength and he’d be the first bowler I’d pick for any form of cricket.
Sure, he mightn’t have the X-factor of the game’s speed merchants but his (Test) economy rate of a skinny 2.88 is testimony to how tough he is to play.
Hazlewood is tall, he’s quick, he gets enough bounce and he hits the rights areas.
He’s the kind of bowler every team needs to be successful.
If anyone needed proof as to why Steve Smith is one of the best in the business, he proved it last month against South Africa in Hobart when he scored an unconquered 48 out of Australia’s first innings total of 85.
He made it look like a different pitch to the one his teammates couldn’t handle, and that’s a trait of the truly great batsmen.
Steve has always impressed me as someone who understands hard work is the secret to success.
When we played together for NSW he was a young player coming through but his commitment to excellence was second to none – his attitude was also something special.
He suffered a few early setbacks – including being dropped – but he never complained. He hit the nets and worked on what the selectors advised him to.
Steve established a reputation early in his career as a “fearless” player.
A few random examples of that is how he smashed Jonathan Trott for six to score his maiden Test century at The Oval;
The night he asked the then NSW skipper Simon Katich to open the bowling with Brett Lee at the 2009 Champions League T20 final in India;
When he first played against Pakistan - in the 2010 two-Test series staged in England - his swashbuckling 77 included two consecutive sixes off Danish Kaneria, one of which landed on the roof of Headingley’s neighbouring football stand.
He has built on that fearlessness with the mettle that’s worthy of an Australian captain.
While the pair are still ‘young’ in their careers, what I’ve seen of them would suggest Smith and Hazlewood are the players who have it in them to prove to the next generation of cricketers that substance and character are the qualities that matter most.
- Nathan Bracken, exclusively for Sportsta.