James Pattinson is finally fully fit and ready to ready to terrorise English batsmen in the Ashes. Picture: Getty Images
James Pattinson is finally fully fit and ready to ready to terrorise English batsmen in the Ashes. Picture: Getty Images

Pattinson back and ready to fire in Ashes

James Pattinson made the biggest decision of his cricket career after a conversation in the underground carpark at the MCG.

The injury-plagued Victorian fast bowler had broken down with stress fractures in October 2017, after terrorising English county batsmen during the Australian winter, and he'd had enough.

He faced a monumental decision on whether to gamble on delicate spinal surgery.

Two Kiwi surgeons had pioneered a spinal surgery procedure specifically for cricketers that would involve taking bone from Pattinson's hip and wiring his spine in an attempt to strengthen and hold the vertebrae together.

"When James decided to have this operation we were in the carpark at the MCG. He was going through the pros and cons. He asked me what I thought," Victorian bowling coach Mick Lewis said of the late 2017 conversation.

"He was getting pulled in so many directions and everyone was telling him what to do. I said it was his life, his career and his body, and he had to take some ownership.

"If it didn't work, he would have been looking for a new career.

"But I knew he had spoken to the appropriate people about it, and if he wanted to have a crack, I told him we'd all support him."

Critically, Pattinson made the decision himself.

 

James Pattinson bowls in the nets in Southampton. Picture: Getty Images
James Pattinson bowls in the nets in Southampton. Picture: Getty Images

 

He was 27 and staring down the barrel of being one of those "what might have been" cricketers.

But there's a stubbornness about him.

It's a family trait among the Pattinsons, including his older brother, Darren, who played a single Test for England.

Once he locked in his plan, Pattinson wouldn't deviate.

Being released from a Cricket Australia contract that tied him to its medical methods and ideas was another key factor.

It freed Pattinson to take the riskier path and he travelled to New Zealand for the delicate operation that was performed by renowned spinal surgeons Rowan Schouten and Grahame Inglis.

The five-Test series starting in England this week was not just a goal when Pattinson decided to have the spinal surgery.

This year's Ashes series was the goal.

 

Pattinson sends one down in the all-Australian Ashes warm-up game in Southampton. Picture: Getty Images
Pattinson sends one down in the all-Australian Ashes warm-up game in Southampton. Picture: Getty Images

Pattinson's battle with injuries throughout a 17-Test career is an agonising tale.

After he tore through New Zealand in a barnstorming debut in 2011, the most Tests he has played in a single year was five in 2013.

There was one in 2014 and one in 2015 as he was plagued by those back issues.

Now Pattinson is on the verge of capping a stunning resurgence with a place in Australia's squad for the Ashes.

Not being shackled to a CA contract also meant recovery could begin at Victoria with Lewis and the state medical staff who had looked after him since his debut as an 18-year-old tearaway.

 

James Pattinson holds a replica of the Ashes urn after he was named in the Australian squad for the series. Picture: Getty Images
James Pattinson holds a replica of the Ashes urn after he was named in the Australian squad for the series. Picture: Getty Images

 

Recovery began at Junction Oval early last year, after a solid break that included a lot of time fishing in Bass Strait to "not think about cricket".

And it began with batting.

"He was hitting balls, and because of the tightness in his back, he got sore even doing that," Lewis said.

"But once that started to get alleviated we started bowling. We did a lot of rehab work, shadow bowling to get his action right, working on the mechanics.

"Then we moved to target bowling, then finally it was bat versus ball.

"But we had to keep him away from batsmen for a while, because

Jimmy is such a bull, and so competitive. If you put him in a live net situation, he is hard to control."

Pattinson bowls above 140km/h most of the time and swings it both ways.

His slowly-slowly comeback, however, included limiting net sessions to 110km/h deliveries.

The cautious approach was in great contrast to every other Pattinson recovery.

He was a weapon Cricket Australia didn't want to waste and, more often than not, was brought back from injury way too early.

 

James Pattinson last played Test cricket for Australia against New Zealand in 2016. Picture: Getty Images
James Pattinson last played Test cricket for Australia against New Zealand in 2016. Picture: Getty Images

 

Not this time. There was too much at stake.

The approach worked. There were no setbacks. He was even ahead of schedule.

It was last August during an indoor net session when Lewis knew Pattinson was nearly ready to be unleashed.

"He was in a bit of a mood and he bowled one ball and it hit 137kmh in the indoor nets. That was fast and scary.

"We didn't want him bowling that fast inside. We think there's about a 10kmh difference to outside, so it would have been 147kmh outside. He was only six weeks into his prep."

Cameron White has played more games for Victoria than anyone. The longest-serving skipper in the state's history first saw an 11-year-old Pattinson hanging around Dandenong Cricket Club.

He was explosive then, too.

The 29-year-old hasn't lost that fire, even when he wondered whether all the ups and downs were worth it.

Combined with Pattinson's undeniable skills, it makes him an imposing force.

"I've been thinking about this a lot since I finished and if I had to pick a team from all the players I have played with, James would be the first person I'd pick," White said.

 

 

Victoria’s James Pattinson celebrates taking the wicket of NSW batsmans Moises Henriques in the Sheffield Shield final. Picture: AAP
Victoria’s James Pattinson celebrates taking the wicket of NSW batsmans Moises Henriques in the Sheffield Shield final. Picture: AAP

 

"He brings so much to the table, not just his bowling, but his batting, his fielding, his aggression.

"When you play with James, you are playing on a different level because he just brings you along with him, with the energy he brings, that's before you even get to his skillset."

There's a fear factor with Pattinson and it's a quality that can't be taught.

"You see him at the top of his mark and by the time he's next to the umpire he looks like he is seven foot tall, and he's on top of you when he lets it go. Combine that with his speed," White said.

"You also know he's from Doveton and he's a Pattinson. He could do anything."

Every element was on display in this year's Sheffield Shield final at Junction Oval. It was the game that signalled he was truly back.

Pattinson had a presence and he took 7-71, which gave him 17 wickets in three back-to-back Shield matches.

And he was pretty much locked in for the Ashes on the spot.

"I'm just hoping his body stays fit, we get him in the Ashes and get him on a roll. When he's up and about, taking wickets, yelling and screaming, in their face, everyone is rolling with him," White said.

"I couldn't put a percentage on it, but Australia is absolutely a better chance with him than without him."

 

 

 

 

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