Sports

Workhorse Hilfenhaus back in from cold

MELBOURNE: Two years is a long time to spend in the international freezer, so paceman Ben Hilfenhaus is keen to stake his claim on the sun-baked pitches of the Middle East when Australia take on Pakistan in a test series next month.

Once an automatic pick in the team’s pace brigade, the 31-year-old bricklayer has been on the outer since the home summer of 2012, when he picked up a side injury bowling against Sri Lanka in his home state of Tasmania.

As young up-and-comers like left-armer Mitchell Starc and Jackson Bird helped bowl Australia to victory in the series, Hilfenhaus was left stranded on 99 test wickets.

With an average of 28.50 from 27 tests, Hilfenhaus had done little wrong in his four years at the top level, barring an underwhelming Ashes series in 2010-11 that, for many Australians, left the blackest mark on his resume.

But the return of big-hearted Ryan Harris and the rehabilitation of fellow quick Mitchell Johnson last season left even less space in the dressing room.

The wheel of fortune has turned again, however, and with Australia losing injury-prone all-rounder Shane Watson to yet another calf strain, Hilfenhaus is in line for a comeback few thought possible.

“I had a call from Rod Marsh yesterday telling me the exciting news,” Hilfenhaus told Cricket Australia’s website (cricket.com.au) on Monday, referring to Australia’s head of selectors.

“Obviously it’s disappointing for Watto not being available, but I’m very happy to get another chance at the next level.

“I know that if I get back bowling to the way I was a couple of years ago then it’s hopefully going to be good enough to get another crack at that level.

“It’s unfortunate for the blokes that are currently injured, but it’s given me another opportunity.”

With Ryan Harris sidelined as he recovers from knee surgery and James Pattinson taking a cautious approach to a back injury, Australia will likely lean on left-armer Johnson and Peter Siddle to spearhead the attack, leaving Hilfenhaus to battle Starc for the third spot.

A more parsimonious bowler than Starc, Hilfenhaus may be able to press his claims in a tour match ahead of the first test which starts on Oct. 22 in Dubai.

Hilfenhaus has proved his worth as both a workhorse able to give the front-line seamers a rest and as an effective wet blanket to smother a free-scoring batting partnership.

Currently in India, he will hope to show form on subcontinental pitches, which may offer similar conditions to the wickets in the United Arab Emirates.

“Any time you get an opportunity to play on these subcontinent wickets you make the most of them, so to get the chance before that tour is, hopefully, beneficial,” said Hilfenhaus, who can swing the ball both ways.

“Reverse swing is probably going to be a factor (in the UAE) I would have thought and there’s probably not going to be a lot of pace in the wicket.

“They’re things that we’ve come across before and we just have to make sure we have good plans to accommodate those conditions.” (Reuters)

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