Hazelwood reveals truth about Smith and Warner's leadership
AUSTRALIAN Test vice-captain Josh Hazlewood believes the biggest gap following Steve Smith and David Warner's ball tampering bans was the leadership vacuum.
Australia entered the summer without its two most experienced batsmen after last March's infamous Cape Town ball tampering scandal, with the pair receiving year-long bans.
With weeks remaining before their bans expire, Hazlewood said the batting group needed leadership.
Since the two-Test series against Pakistan in the UAE, Australia blooded six debutants, including five batsmen.
Without Smith and his 64-Test experience and Warner and his 74 Tests, it was left up to less experienced batsmen to take the lead.
Usman Khawaja, who was having his own issues over the summer after his brother was arrested on the eve of the first Test against India, which he said affected his form, was the most experienced batsman. He has now played 41 Tests.
Shaun Marsh has played 38 Tests, but averaged 26.14 from seven innings against India before he was dropped.
With Marcus Harris, Travis Head, Marnus Labuschagne, Aaron Finch and Kurtis Patterson all new to Test cricket, it meant a lack of player leadership around the group.
"Every time Steve goes out to bat, he pretty much gets a hundred these days, so the time with the feet up is pretty important (for the fast bowlers)," Hazlewood told ESPN Cricinfo.
"It's probably been the first time when you've had the top six with no real senior batsmen to feed off, I guess, around training and games, so they (the newcomers) have had to do all their learning from the coaches.
"It's just so important to have those couple of senior guys when you bring those young guys into the top six to learn from. You just can't teach some things as coaches, you have to learn out in the middle batting with a senior person, so I think the other young batters will really feed off having them back."
There is also a squeeze on places with Joe Burns, Travis Head, Kurtis Patterson and Khawaja all hitting centuries in the last Test match against Sri Lanka in Canberra after a drought that stretched back to the first Test in the UAE series.
It's now nearly 11 months since Smith and Warner received their bans. Although the pair have been on the international T20 circuit and played grade cricket, Hazlewood warned not to expect the pair to just come back as they were before the bans.
The NSW quick bowled at the pair in the nets in January and got to see how a year away from top-flight first-class cricket had hindered them.
"It was great to have them around - it's better than bowling to a stump if no one's available," Hazlewood said.
"They were really keen to get in there and have a hit. I think all three quicks were there on one of the occasions and there was just me and Patty (Cummins) the other time.
"They're class players and they really put you to the test and it really makes you get something out of the net session. They were a little bit rusty early on.
"It's hard to prepare to face 140km-plus if you haven't been doing it, but you saw over the course of three or four overs how much improvement they had even in that short space of time, so there's no doubt they'll be ready to go when called upon."
Hazlewood, who was named vice-captain to Tim Paine before being sidelined by a back stress fracture, won't return to the Australian side until just before the World Cup.
But many of the Australia's Test stars return to Sheffield Shield action this weekend.
From the top order that defeated Sri Lanka, only Khawaja will not make his domestic return.
Patterson, who struck his maiden Test ton in his second match, said the second half of the Shield year would be vital to their chances of selection.
"It's crucial," Patterson said. "I think we're really lucky - and I can speak personally from my own Test experience - playing Shield has blooded me really well for those two Tests.
"We've got such a high standard of cricket, such a high standard of quality domestic cricketers - such hard, tough cricket breeds you well for the next level."
The Shield will use English Duke balls, instead of the Kookaburra usually used in Australia, to expose the batsmen to the ball ahead of the Ashes series in August.
The Duke balls swing for longer than the Kookaburra and will be the first step for Ashes hopefuls.
"Playing against England in England is something I think every kid aspires to," Patterson said.
"There's plenty of water to go under the bridge before but if the opportunity arises, it'd be a once-in-a-lifetime thing and I think I'd take it with both hands.
"Hopefully I get on that 'A' tour firstly, which is a good opportunity to score some runs. If I'm in that Ashes squad or team, that's wonderful.
"But right now it's about NSW and trying to do what I can for NSW - as it is for all the Test players who have gone back to their states.
"The one-day boys can focus on the white ball for the next six months but it's a good opportunity for blokes like myself to really knuckle down and score some red-ball runs."