If he was someone else, he might have given up. If he was someone else, Australian cricket might have given up on him. But when he did play, Pattinson was a cut above. In those 17 Tests, he has taken 70 wickets at 26. In his scant total of 51 first-class games, he has taken 220 wickets at 22. Playing for Nottinghamshire two years ago, he took 32 at 12. He is a born wicket-taker. But later that year, he had back surgery and did not play again at first-class level until four months ago.
Even now, no one can be sure, about the affliction or the cure. It’s not one injury, or one type, but fall under an ancient malediction: “back-related”. Hot spots, stress fractures, side strains, they come and go. He came and went.
He looks unbreakable, but it’s been a con, his body putting one over him. Is it that he once bowled too much, or since has bowled too little? The log books are full of numbers, but don’t say. Pattinson has experimented with variations of his action, but not radical change, because there is nothing to say that his action is explicitly the problem. Now, it is pretty much as it was, and classic at that.
When given the all-clear late last year, the Vics did not hesitate to bring him back for an umpteenth reboot. Of course, they didn’t. Though they have an overflowing roster of fast bowlers with forward Ashes claims, Pattinson, when not in traction, is the best. He has pace, swing, control and – let’s be honest – eyes that pop and roll at the necessary level for a fast bowler.
Victoria has been able to use him sparingly, for maximum effect. In seven Shield matches, he took 25 wickets at 19. In the final, he bowled spells that broke the back of both NSW innings. Having nicked a speedy Pattinson outswinger to the wicketkeeper, teenage rookie Jack Edwards looked as if he had just seen a ghost. Hopefully for Australia, it was a portent.
Pattinson will be 29 before the Ashes come around. Never has become now. He has another deal with Nottinghamshire, where he can pace himself. He won’t be in the World Cup squad, and is unlikely for the “A” tour. He has nothing to prove, and everything. In England, there is already a suspicion that Australia will have a better attack than the home team, even when factoring in local conditions. That would put a different complexion on Ashes prospects.
Of course, we’re way ahead of the game here. There are still black cats to be shooed away, ladders to avoid. But after a dire 12 months, a string of one-day wins, useful Shield returns and the imminent return of Smith and Warner have put a glow again on Australian cricket. At one point, it seemed the selectors would have to advertise for players to fill World Cup and Ashes vacancies; now they’re swamped.