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Hazlewood steps up as Australia's spearhead

Cricket

Josh Hazlewood has always been a young man in a hurry.

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At age 17 he became the youngest paceman to play for NSW, taking the new ball in a tour match against New Zealand.

Hazlewood was 19 when he made his ODI debut, an Australian record at the time.

Injuries stalled the right-armer’s progress, but at age 25 he is now arguably the most important player in Australia’s bid for the No.1 Test ranking.

Steve Smith has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to run-makers in form; Shaun Marsh was dropped earlier this summer after scoring 182.

But the same can’t be said of an attack that has been decimated by injuries and retirements.

Hazlewood is the only paceman in the current squad boasting form and fitness ahead of the second Test against New Zealand, which starts on Saturday.

Australia will reclaim top spot on the International Cricket Council’s Test rankings if they win or draw that clash in Christchurch, having walloped the hosts in Wellington.

NZ skipper Brendon McCullum knows Hazlewood is more than capable of spoiling his international swansong at Hagley Oval.

“When we turn up at Hagley, we’ll need to find a method to keep him out of the game,” McCullum said after Hazlewood piloted Australia to an innings-and-52-run win in the first Test.

“At the moment he’s proving a dangerous bowler.”

Hazlewood made his Test debut in 2014-15 but this summer has been full of breakthrough moments.

He was able to play all six Tests at home, when team medical staff and selectors had all but ruled out the prospect.

On the park, Hazlewood was the third man picked in the attack for the 2015-16 opener after a disappointing Ashes campaign in England.

“He’s developed really quickly… was probably the junior member of the line-up 6-8 months ago,” McCullum said.

“Now he’s a senior member.

“He’s an excellent bowler who has made adjustments in different conditions to get some good results.”

Ever since Mitchell Starc broke down during the day-night Test at Adelaide Oval, Josh Hazlewood has stepped up as Australia’s spearhead.

It started in that pink-ball clash, when he grabbed a career-best haul of 6-70 in NZ’s second innings.

Starc was unable to bowl because of his foot injury, while Peter Siddle was restricted by back spasms.

“He bowled like a genius,” Starc said at the time.

Siddle’s back will be assessed this week, the Victorian having failed to bowl at Basin Reserve since delivering the final over before tea on day three.

James Pattinson was omitted from Australia’s XI because of a lack of match fitness but skipper Steve Smith expects he’ll be available for the tour finale.

Mitchell Johnson and Ryan Harris, who both retired in 2015, and injured stars Starc and Pat Cummins headline Australia’s missing pace personnel.

HOW HAZLEWOOD STACKS UP WITH PACE GREATS’ FIRST 16 TESTS

Dennis Lillee: 75 wickets at average of 24.14

Mitchell Johnson: 72 wickets at average of 27.11

Josh Hazlewood: 67 wickets at average of 24.08

Brett Lee: 67 wickets at average of 24.73

Glenn McGrath: 57 wickets at average of 29.28.

-AAP

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