MELBOURNE: The six years since James Pattinson last bowled against England have been a soul-crushing treadmill of injuries, rehab and dashed expectations but the patched-up paceman is again daring to dream on the verge of the Ashes.
In a career of cross-roads, the 29-year-old feared he had reached a dead end some 20 months ago, when he suffered a fourth back stress fracture that ruled him out of the 2017-18 series on home soil.
As Steve Smith’s Australia celebrated a 4-0 demolition of Joe Root’s England, 17-Test Pattinson was laid up after a surgical procedure that helped extend the career of New Zealand’s injury-prone Shane Bond.
Pattinson knows well not to take anything for granted but after three productive months with English county side Nottinghamshire, the Melbourne man may be on the verge of a remarkable comeback that many would have hoped for but few would have believed.
“I knew that if I was up and running, string a few [games] on the pitch, that I would have every chance of getting picked in an Ashes team,” he told reporters at Australia’s base in Southampton.
“Going back to a year-and-a-half ago when I was contemplating whether to get back surgery and whether it was going to work, there was a month there where there was a bit of unknown and conjecture around whether I would get back to playing cricket.
“Sitting here now after going through all that is quite pleasing that I am here and bowling and putting myself in position to get picked in an Ashes series.”
The world has changed since Pattinson’s last Test against England in 2013, when he was forced out midway through the second match of the Ashes at Lord’s.
Australian cricket has been through a volatile period, scaling glorious heights and plumbing unimaginable depths since Michael Clarke’s side were thrashed 3-0 in that series.
Pattinson has mostly been a reluctant witness through it all, adding only five Tests to his record, the last against New Zealand in 2016.
His six-wicket haul against Brendon McCullum’s side in Christchurch helped Australia claim a seven-wicket victory and revived memories of his explosive entry into Tests when he claimed 14 wickets in his first two matches against New Zealand in 2011.
Then, the 21-year-old firebrand whose brother Darren played a solitary Test for England in 2008, appeared set to bowl 100 for Australia.
Eight injury-blighted years on, Pattinson has a few lines creasing his brow and a reserved manner in public but no less determination to realise the promise of an unfulfilled career.
With fellow seamers Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood among the first picked in the Test side in recent years, Pattinson may yet be denied the romance of an Ashes comeback.
Just making the squad to be named on Friday would be a small triumph, however.
“You go through your career, you try different things, you get setbacks, you go through strategies and theories and you work out what’s best for you,” he said. “If my body holds up I think I can challenge them over here.”