It's a fair measure of Australia's investment in bowlers of high pace that the quickest stuff Steven Smith has faced all Ashes summer came in a Sheffield Shield match, from a young West Australian who is now part of the ODI squad to face England. Jhye Richardson clocked in the region of 148kph at Hurstville Oval, faster than Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood or Pat Cummins in the same fixture.
Unlike the New South Wales trio, 21-year-old Richardson is not particularly tall and still building strength around his 178cm frame. But fast-twitch muscle fibres and a rigidly locked front leg at the point of delivery have contributed to a whippy, slippery bowling method that now means Smith will have a different shot in his locker, both for this series and in other assignments for the future.
"It is something different, it's nice to have different bowlers so you don't get in a rhythm as a batsman, so he does bring something different, but he's very good as well," Smith said of Richardson. "He bowls with good pace, he swung the ball both ways in the nets, he's got some really good skills, and having played a Shield game against him earlier in the year I got to see those skills first-hand, which was really nice. I thought he bowled really well on a pretty flat wicket at Hurstville, so he's a bright prospect and he'll get his opportunity at some point throughout this series."
The impression Smith formed at Hurstville was definitely the kind that Richardson was trying to create, sustaining his pace late in the game to demonstrate durability and an appetite for hard work. Managed carefully like all others deemed "super fast" by the Australian set-up, he was equally notable for being able to get through four out of the first five Shield fixtures while scooping 17 wickets at 26.29, the most for his state.
"[Hurstville] was a pretty flat wicket, quite a slow wicket, so I think the plan was to try to bowl a few bumpers at him so I started charging in, as you do as a fast bowler, you want to get up someone when you're trying to run in and bowl short at them, so I ramped it up a little bit," Richardson said. "I like bowling fast and running in fast.
"When it gets hot, bodies are going to get tired, even the main fast bowlers will say they get tired at some point. So that's the struggle of fast bowling, being out there in 40C heat and you have to bowl a lot of overs at 140kph, it's a tough trade, but that's what we train to do, and I think I'll be quite equipped for it.
"We had a plan at the start of the year, which I completely understood. They explained it all to me and said 'our plan for you is probably to have a rest at some point' and I was completely okay with that. I understand what has to go on to get you through a Shield season, and I'm happy with how I played, being on the park. Having played the Big Bash last year I didn't play any Shield games, so to have played four or five already is awesome."
Batsmen have reported that Richardson's skid and swing make him an awkward opponent, with the extra pace adding further discomfort. There are certain parallels with a young Dale Steyn, and Richardson was not shy in saying he had been inspired to bowl fast by watching the South African, who has prospered with a similar height and wiry frame.
"Early age there was a lot of talk about how tall I was going to be, but I didn't really think about it too much," Richardson said. "Someone like Dale Steyn, he's proved to everyone that you don't have to be tall and you don't have to be a solid bloke to be able to run in, bowl fast and bowl well, so I think it just comes down to you being a different fast bowler. It doesn't necessarily mean you'll be better or worse, it just means you'll be a little bit different.
"I think [speed] helps, but being in the West Australian set-up quite early I think has been the main one, being able to develop with the coaches that we've got in WA, someone like Justin Langer, Adam Griffith when he was there and now Kade Harvey our bowling coach, they've been the key guys that have helped me to develop so quickly, I'm becoming more confident with my game, every training session and every game I play. Without those guys I wouldn't be here.
"Bowling fast helps, we have quite good wickets in Australia so that is definitely a help, but it's more of a development process and for me to be able to stay on the park and bowl good balls. I was still quite quick when I was young but being in the WA squad, being able to get in the gym and strengthen up, I'm still not a big guy, but being able to strengthen the areas that need to be from an early age has helped me to be able to bowl quicker, become stronger and stay on the park for a little bit longer."
With Hazlewood, Cummins and Starc all set to rest at various points of the series, Richardson can expect to play, and to be asked to fulfil numerous roles by Smith. One adjustment he will need to make is from the 24 balls required to bowl in a Twenty20 match rising to 60 in an ODI.
"That's something we have to sum up when we play," Richardson said of his role. "I could come in and need to play a different role than being the impact bowler. I could have to come in and try to tie up an end during a period where they're going really well. I'm ready for whatever challenge pops up, if I do get to play and I need to come in and do a particular job then I'm ready for it.
"You have to be quite disciplined, you've got 60 balls, not 24. In the Big Bash, you can go for a few boundaries but one dot ball out of 24 is [more important] than one out of 60. But having said that, if you go to the boundary more often in a one-day game, you've got 60 balls to do that, so you've got be quite a lot more disciplined in the sense that you've got a lot more balls to bowl, a lot more good balls.
"It's not all about pace, we get told that quite early. Especially at this level, you can bowl as fast as you want but if you're not bowling well it goes to the boundary just as quick."
Close observers of WA have noted that Richardson's progress appears to be trending sharply up, and he was one of the players who surprised Marcus Stoinis when he returned home to play for the Warriors between seasons. "He's really turned it up this year," Stoinis said. "Can bowl bloody quick and shorter, so it's quite skiddy. Super-talented, skilful. Looking to take wickets all the time. Then his batting has improved out of sight. I was quite surprised moving back to WA to see how well he was batting. And he's a jet in the field - so he's a good all-round package."