How did Josh Hazlewood, James Pattinson and Pat Cummins bowl together for the first time on the most important day of the 2019 Ashes series? How did they put together the collection of spells that razed England for 67 and in doing so put one Australian hand on the urn in this part of the world for the first time in 18 years?
Hazlewood debuted for Australia first, in June 2010. It was an ODI against England in Southampton, and the home side won. ESPNcricinfo's commentary recorded the moment: "Ah, time for a bowling change and it's Australia's new Glenn McGrath, apparently - Josh Hazlewood." His first over drew two boundaries, but he soon had a first international wicket, Craig Kieswetter. In a manner that will not surprise anyone who saw him at Headingley nine year later, it came through a tight line, a bit of seam movement and a gap between bat and pad.
Pattinson debuted for Australia next, in April 2011. He had already toured once, to India the previous year, and was to be called in as part of the bowling attack for an ODI tour of Bangladesh that served as the start of Michael Clarke's captaincy. Fast and straight, he had a similar start to Hazlewood, bowling seven overs and claiming one wicket. In a manner that will not surprise anyone who saw him at Headingley eight years later, it came with speed, bounce, a full length tempting a drive, and an edge behind the stumps.
Cummins debuted for Australia last, in October 2011. Only 18 at the time, he had been rushed in on the strength of half a season of Sheffield Shield cricket for New South Wales and the undeniable speed and intelligence of his bowling even as a teenager. Unlike the other two, Cummins was thrust straight into a Test match on his first tour, and rewarded the selectors by proving the match-winner against South Africa at the Wanderers. In a manner that will not surprise anyone who saw him at Headingley eight years later, it came through speed, bounce and an edge into the Australian slips cordon.
Back then, it did not seem as though much time would pass until all three of Hazlewood, Pattinson and Cummins would bowl together for Australia. Injuries would happen, sure, and so would the whims of selectors, coaches and national captains, but they looked young, strong and keen. In fact, the aforementioned injuries, and Cricket Australia's attempts to manage them, would serve to keep the trio away from each other right up until the selection of this Ashes squad.
Even then, their selection together was delayed until Leeds by the sort of careful management of resources that has characterised this Ashes campaign. All had to go through plenty of individual battles to get their bodies ready for the rigours of Test matches, and playing more than a couple of them at a time between major back, side or foot injuries.
Hazlewood waited nearly five years between his international debut in 2010 and his first Test in 2014. Pattinson played four in a row in 2011-12 but then suffered a litany of back problems in particular that very nearly ended his career. Certainly the New Zealand surgeon Grahame Inglis, who had worked wonders for the likes of Shane Bond and Matt Henry with spinal surgery, initially thought Pattinson's back was too far gone for his remedial work. As for Cummins, he spent six years between his first Test and his second, at times leaving his Johannesburg debut to feel more mythical than real.
"It is the first time Cummins, Pattinson and myself have played in the same team so it was pretty exciting in the morning," Hazlewood said. "It's been in the pipeline for quite a while but never actually happened. That added an element to it this morning as well and we all did our roles. It's quite a good mix.
"We have played against each other at certain times, but Patty is a bit younger. I have played against Patto Under-17s Under-19s but that was the first time. The way Cummins is bowling is pretty special at the moment. He is taking wickets with the new and old ball, doesn't matter about the wicket. He is doing his business up front or later in the innings. Jimmy is always at the batsmen, he can take wickets in clumps, he is awesome to have in your team, and brings that energy to the team. I felt pretty happy with them bowling up the other end."
So much has happened in the time it took for the three to play a Test together. Australia has had Ricky Ponting, Michael Clarke, Shane Watson, Steven Smith and Tim Paine as Test captains, major reviews of team performance and Cricket Australia's culture, major scandals in India and South Africa, the shattering loss of Phillip Hughes in November 2014, a World Cup win at home, and three barren Ashes series in 2010-11, 2013 and 2015 in between home triumphs in 2013-14 and 2017-18.
But there was always a hope, and a plan, for them to be united in England for the Ashes this year. Ever since a stronger Australian side got their plans and attitudes hopelessly wrong in 2015 to lose 3-2, the intention was to bring a group of bowlers together with the methods and the physical stamina to do rather better. Hazlewood had been part of that campaign on the field and so knew what needed to change. Namely, he had to concentrate on seam and accuracy, not swing out of the hand on a floating length, while also being in the peak of physical condition.
"A blueprint devised to succeed overseas had its culmination in conditions so oddly familiar"
Cummins had been running drinks on that tour, having been called in as a replacement for the injury-enforced retirement of Ryan Harris. He was duly given a glimpse of Ashes combat in England, and was typically attentive to its lessons. When Cummins did return to Tests in India and Bangladesh in 2017, he quickly demonstrated the fact he had added physical maturity and unstinting accuracy to his natural pace and trajectory. He was no longer, in the words of one of his many handlers, a "Ferrari engine in a Toyota chassis".
Pattinson toured England as far back as 2012 and 2013, taking from these experiences plenty of knowledge about his own body as much as the prevailing conditions. Ever eager to play for Australia at every opportunity back then, he gradually grew a sense of understanding and self-knowledge that gave him the strength to not only decline that 2017 tour of India that Cummins went on, but also to speak firmly with the coach Justin Langer on this tour about needing to be carefully managed. In doing so, he brought Victorian independence of mind, not infrequently a source of annoyance for CA centralists, to timely use.
That, of course, is the other part of the story. The time that Hazlewood, Pattinson and Cummins took to bowl together in a Test match was also the time of CA's endless debate about fast-bowler management. Whatever the whys and wherefores, this conversation helped to bring Australia's leading cricketers to a point where the careful consideration of physical condition and bowling combinations could be more advanced than simply, "are you in our best four bowlers and are you fit to play?"
Paine has spoken of this as a process of selling the concept to the bowlers, not least Mitchell Starc, who is as much a part of this bowling crop as Cummins, Pattinson and Hazlewood but has found himself restricted to net bowling because of the prevailing conditions. It's the same conversation that brought one final, fleeting delay to the union seen at Headingley, as Hazlewood missed the first Test because he was still building up his workload and then Pattinson the second because he was still a little stiff and sore from Edgbaston.
At the end of day one, England having pushed past the Australians for 179 thanks to more of the singular brilliance of Jofra Archer, this whole long saga looked momentarily as though it might have come to nought. One of history's many lessons is that nothing is ever guaranteed, no matter how much effort has gone into the planning. But in the course of 27.5 overs, 26.5 of them bowled by Hazlewood, Pattinson and Cummins, the fruits of near enough to a decade were seen in vivid definition.
The precision of Hazlewood, drawing edges out of Jason Roy, Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow. The hostility of Cummins, hitting Rory Burns on the body and then bouncing him out, then doing similar to Chris Woakes and Archer. And the speed and aggression of Pattinson - has any team ever boasted a better third seamer? - provoking edges from Ben Stokes and Joe Denly after they had been probed and tested by the other members of the trio. It was brutal, it was gripping, it was far, far too much for England.
There was some happenstance about it all, namely in the state of the Headingley pitch. Having worked so hard to groove their games and adapt to English seaming conditions, the Australians were delighted to find bounce and carry that was more Queensland than Kirkstall. Nothing underlined this more than David Warner's four catches, excellent takes in which he got far better sight of the ball than he had done when dropping them at Lord's. Not unlike Nagpur in 2004, a blueprint devised to succeed overseas had its culmination in conditions so oddly familiar.
How did Josh Hazlewood, James Pattinson and Pat Cummins bowl together for the first time on the most important day of the 2019 Ashes series? Not quite by intelligent design, but not completely by natural selection either.