In June 2017, Josh Hazlewood became the world's No. 1 ODI bowler. Since then, though, he has only played six more 50-overs games for Australia, thanks to a combination of injuries and workload management. He last featured in an ODI fourteen months ago, and was rested from the 2019 World Cup in order to preserve him for the Ashes tour of England that followed.
Australia are returning to ODIs for the first time since the World Cup. With a home T20 World Cup to come later this year, they will want to prepare a pool of match-ready fast bowlers, with adequate back-ups, in time for the tournament, which they are yet to win in six attempts.
Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins and Kane Richardson were the preferred pace trio for the first two ODIs in India. Bengaluru will be Australia's third ODI in six days. Given the need to manage workloads, bringing Hazlewood into the attack for the third and final ODI would have been a no-brainer had Australia been 2-0 up, but with the series level, it's a tough call for captain Aaron Finch and stand-in coach Andrew McDonald to make.
Starc brings his left-arm angle and death-overs mastery, Cummins adds pace and hostility, and Richardson boasts an array of variations including cutters, slower bouncers and the knuckle ball. What about Hazlewood, then? Australia want to build dot-ball pressure on a traditionally flat batting track in Bengaluru, and Hazlewood, with an ODI economy rate of 4.73 from 44 games, could be the man for the job.
"Our plan is to build as many dots as we can," Cummins said on Saturday. "Few of the wickets that have come about is because of five-ten dot balls, and you felt like something was building. [On these surfaces] there aren't heaps of options. There is no sideways movement. You could bowl slower balls to upset the rhythm, but it's still probably not that much of a wicket-taking ball, so you've to just try and bowl really good balls, build pressure and hope the batter makes a mistake.
"Dot balls are like gold, if you can aim to get two or three in an over, and still use the bouncer which is a wicket-taking ball, [it would be effective], but you have to just keep it simple. The ball flies around heaps in Bangalore, but don't really know what to expect sometimes, last couple of years, it hasn't been all that batsman-friendly."
Hazlewood is capable of building the sort of pressure Cummins was referring to, even if he comes with the risk of not having played an ODI in India before. He doesn't have Richardson's variations, but he can hit the seam and deliver a nagging length, in an almost robotic manner, and derive minute deviations off the pitch. He also does all this at above 140kph.
"The good thing is everyone's playing a lot and in good form," Cummins said. "Starc and I obviously with the red ball, but the other guys have played lots of white-ball cricket and are right on top of their skills. To have someone like Josh Hazlewood on the bench is a bit of a nod to the strength we have in the bowling department at the moment.
"Our spinners [Adam Zampa and Ashton Agar] have controlled the middle overs, in ODIs that's a tough period and they've been brilliant. Really happy with how everyone's going, there is still a lot of firepower in the bench."
Hazlewood's recent record is mighty impressive. He returned from a hamstring injury picked up against New Zealand in Perth to star for Sydney Sixers in the two BBL games he played prior to flying out to India. Having last played in the BBL in 2014, he shook off any signs of T20 rust largely by sticking to his Test-match lines and lengths.
He didn't use slower deliveries or yorkers, but simply built pressure by bowling hard lengths, and conceded less than five an over in back-to-back games against the Adelaide Strikers. In the second of those games, he also hit three fours in three balls to seal a tense chase.
The fact that he's been picked on this India tour is an indication that the selectors aren't looking at him only as a Test specialist. Hazlewood will return to India in eight weeks to play for Chennai Super Kings in the IPL, a stint that could give the selectors even more of an idea as to where he stands as a white-ball bowler. If he plays on Sunday and performs at a venue where the last two India-Australia ODIs have produced match aggregates of 709 and 647, he will become extremely hard to leave out.