How The Duke (John Hastings) roared back to life
It’s January 4, 2016.
Australia have just named their squad for the upcoming Victoria Bitter ODI series against India, a group of 13 players featuring none of the five fast-bowlers from their most recent one-day campaign, a 3-2 victory over England in September.
In comes uncapped duo Scott Boland and Joel Paris, the inexperienced Kane Richardson and Test quick Josh Hazlewood.
Out go Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins and Nathan Coulter-Nile (all injured) as well as James Pattinson, who is watching the rain tumble at the SCG during the washed out third Test and would soon be put on ice for a month with shin soreness.
John Hastings, the fifth member of the pace battery from that series in England, is fit and in form but has surprisingly been overlooked, despite returning figures of 3-21 from 10 overs in the series-clinching win at Old Trafford and following up with 12 wickets at 22 for Victoria during the Matador BBQs One-Day Cup.
Hastings’ initial public response to the squad announcement was to tweet his best wishes to Bushrangers and Melbourne Stars teammate Boland, whom he combined with just two nights later to deliver what Kevin Pietersen labelled at the time “the best death bowling by two bowlers I have seen throughout my whole career”.
Fast-forward a little more than a month and not only is Hastings back in Australian colours, he is arguably their most important bowler in white-ball cricket.
Brought in for the second match of the series against India for what was initially a one-game stint, the Sydney-born quick did enough to be retained in the squad for game three, then game four and ultimately the rest of that series, then the T20s that followed and the three Chappell-Hadlee matches against New Zealand earlier this month.
And on Tuesday, he was named as one of four frontline quicks for the ICC World T20 in India, one of the least surprising selections in a squad that raised eyebrows on both sides of the Tasman.
In an ODI series where India’s average innings total was 313, Hastings managed a series-high 10 wickets in four matches at an economy rate of 5.65. He then headed to New Zealand where he took just three more scalps but leaked runs at just four-and-a-half runs an over, easily the stingiest frontline paceman in the series.
Throw in a significant contribution with the bat in Australia’s series-levelling victory in Wellington and Hastings – just a month after being considered surplus to requirements – was a near certain inclusion when Australia’s selection panel met to name the 15-man squad for the tournament in India.
Not that Hastings’ form has come as any great surprise to his state coach David Saker.
“I expected him to perform like that,” Saker told cricket.com.au on Tuesday. “He was brilliant in England when they played over there and I was surprised that he wasn’t in that initial team (to play India).
“He’s performed beautifully so that’s really good for him.
“He hits the bat quite hard because he comes from a good height, he gets behind the ball, he very rarely misses his length so that makes him really tough (to face), and he just changes his pace up and down.
“He’s a really good package for both four-day cricket and one-day cricket, but he’s also got the ability to close down an innings at the end.
“He’s just a good, experienced player.”
The past month is the latest upturn for Hastings in a career that’s swung like a pendulum since he made his Bushrangers debut at the start of the 2007-08 season.
Incredibly for someone who’s played just 25 international matches, the World T20 will be his second World Cup in India having been a part of Australia’s squad at the 50-over tournament in 2011.
Then there was his one and only Test against South Africa in 2012, the disappointment of returning match figures of 1-153 softened by the fact that the ‘1’ was none other than AB de Villiers.
In between international sojourns, he’s been a key pillar of Victoria’s success at domestic level and, in many ways, is the heartbeat of the Bushrangers playing group.
“Without a doubt he’s one of the better ones around the room,” Saker says. “He’s just a really good team person.
“He’s won the John Scholes Medal (the peer-voted Most Valuable Player award) on numerous occasions, which for us in Victoria (is) probably the biggest thing you can win.
“That’s (based on) performance and more so what you do around the group. He’s won that three times.
“There’s not many people in the world that would have a bad word to say about John Hastings. He’s a really good human being.”
A leader at the Bushrangers and the Stars, Hastings has proven to be one at international level as well as he’s taken the reins of a pace attack that was diminished significantly in 2015 due to injury and retirement.
Richardson provided an example of the esteem in which Hastings is held by his young teammates after the fourth ODI against India and Canberra last month. The man-of-the-match, the South Australian steered the attention of his post-match media conference onto Hastings on no less than three occasions.
“I can’t talk highly enough of the way he’s going,” the 24-year-old said of his teammate, whose dismissal of Shikhar Dhawan and MS Dhoni in the final over of his spell paved the way for Richardson to claim career-best figures of 5-68.
“He was stiff to miss out on the squad for the first game but for him to come in the way he has and lead this attack, taking 2-50 on that ground, he’s a match-winner.
“It’s up to us to keep riding his wave because he’s showing us how it’s done.
“He’s not the quickest bloke around but he’s got a big heart and he just finds a way to get the job done.”
Hastings himself has credited an improved fitness regime and his time with English county side Durham for his career resurgence, which has come five-and-a-half years since he first appeared at the top level.
And he’s pleased that the raw young quick that was given a chance at the start of the decade is not the only impression he’ll leave in the international stage.
“It’s been a bit of whirlwind the last month, but I’ve enjoyed the ride,” Hastings told Big Sports Breakfast on Wednesday.
“(I know) my game inside and out by now. I’m 30 years old, I know what balls to bowl when and obviously you’re going to miss your execution at times but that’s part and parcel of cricket.
“I feel like my game is in a really good place.
“I have worked really hard for this opportunity and I’m glad it’s come around again because I don’t think you saw the best of me in international cricket when I was 24, 25 in 2010 and 2011 and even 2012 when I played that Test.
“I’m feeling good and I’ve just got to keep that body ticking over now and hopefully I can hang in there and keep that spot for a while.”
The selection squeeze will undoubtedly come on Hastings again when strike bowlers Starc and Cummins return from injury later this year and Pattinson’s workload increases.
But for now at least, Australia will head to India with the man known as The Duke ruling the roost.
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