It was fitting that James Pattinson defined the Boxing Day Test in his hometown. (AAP: Michael Dodge)
There aren’t many sights more frightening than James Pattinson running into bowl. And I’m only talking about the view from the grandstand — not the middle. Anything so big that moves so fast conveys a sense of threat.
Here is the living embodiment of the large adult son, an online concept custom-built for this Australian fast bowler of childlike enthusiasm and impossible bulk.
Not to say he’s anything but muscle. There are no soft rounds to this silhouette. It’s just that his body somehow contains more human flesh within its limits than physics would deem possible.
We often speak about somebody having a different person inside them trying to get out. In Pattinson’s case, this appears to be literal.
Then the physical anomaly gets moving. The word bustling might first have been applied to fast bowlers in anticipation of this perfect use.
Pattinson sprints at the crease like it stole his wallet. He multiplies momentum like an avalanche.
That momentum breaks on the valley floor. And from within this bundling, bunching surge of energy emerges the ball at pace — rocketing forward at its target.
It isn’t just Pattinson’s body behind this pace. It’s the decisions he has made about how to use his body.
It’s a body that has broken down so many times, and a man at 29 years old choosing to hold back nothing, to go full tilt and hope that it has finally come good.
This was the Pattinson that hit New Zealand’s second innings at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.
The drop-in pitch absorbs velocity. Tom Latham had batted four obdurate hours in the first innings.
Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor are the engine and wheels of New Zealand’s batting.
Pattinson crashed through all three.
A bit lucky, was his self-deprecating assessment. Which was nonsense.
Pace forced all three errors. A full wide ball drew Latham’s drive, but it was through the left-hander’s shot early and drew his edge.
Williamson couldn’t edge a ball that similarly carved through the air and hit his pad. Taylor was thoroughly beaten on the cut, chopping onto his stumps.
After Pattinson’s spell, the match was only ever going one way.
A dozen overs down, a million runs behind, two days left to bat, three wickets lost for 35.
Watching a Boxing Day Test be defined by the Victorian quick felt like something of a Christmas miracle.
For years, Pattinson has been a presence in Australian cricket through his absence.
The litany of injuries, the constant waiting. A player who was only ever a possible future, not a concrete present.
Then in recent times, the phantoms have started to cohere.
Fit and ready for a full Sheffield Shield season, some county matches, a whole Ashes tour.
Ready and waiting as the Australian summer started, then stepping up for his hometown match as if Josh Hazlewood’s hamstring had been twanged by fate itself.
The act was poor, but his response was heartening; immediately apologising to those around him on the field, then publishing a genuine apology rather than an “if you were offended” cop-out.
Even in Pattinson’s generation, such slurs were a sadly routine part of growing up.
His response as an adult reflects a welcome social shift that they are no longer acceptable.
Had he not been contrite, it would have been hard to argue that he should represent his country.
Instead, Pattinson was there to show his exuberance on the biggest stage of all.
He had only twice been able to play in a Melbourne Test: his debut season of 2011 when India’s fading stars made their valedictory tour, then four years later against the West Indies.
Another four-year wait followed before this third chance arrived.
There was a joy to seeing it fully grasped. For those who love watching, and hopefully for the player, the pangs of all those lost years and lost matches felt a little less sharp.
And it was fitting that a hometown kid could thrill a crowd at the MCG, given that another fine Victorian player chose that day to announce his retirement.
There was an obvious passing of the baton from Peter Siddle to Pattinson: the senior bowler told his younger teammate about his decision before anyone else and described him as a little brother.
Siddle is one of those players who will be rightly admired, not just for his skill but for his personality and work ethic.
A tally of 221 Test wickets is impressive, but more so is the way that he carried the team early in the decade through some of its toughest times on the field.
When the bowling was thin, Siddle worked harder than ever, and when the bowling was excellent Siddle showed that he could match that standard.
Pattinson is a very different style to the long-spell specialist that Siddle became, beaming on the boundary line after every long day in the field.
Siddle’s lean frame is the counterpoint to Pattinson’s mass.
But in wholeheartedness and enthusiasm they are a spiritual match.
If body and soul hold together, Victorians might have one of their own steaming in for a few Boxing Days to come.