THIS time last year the closest John Hastings was to a taste of Test cricket was the thought of buying a ticket and walking through the turnstiles. Recovering from a shoulder injury that made his entire summer a write-off, the Penrith-born Victoria fast bowler was a long way from fulfilling his ambition of an Australian call-up.
On Friday he came full circle well ahead of schedule, following a standout start to the domestic season, with a Test debut, and a wicket, as Australia's new fast bowling line-up tore South Africa's top and middle order to shreds at the WACA.
"You sort of have it in the back of your mind that you'd obviously love to be playing Test cricket or for Australia in any form, but for me it was all about getting my body right, getting back into it, feeling what cricket was like again and hopefully putting some good performances on the board," said Hastings, a former Australian schoolboys rugby representative. "But it's been a bit of a whirlwind these last six months."
Hastings, 27, was a surprise recipient of the new ball on day one in Perth, handling opening bowling duties from the Gloucester Park end, with Mitchell Starc steaming in from the Lillee-Marsh Stand.
He admitted he was affected by nerves in the first session but settled in after lunch. From then, his length was fuller and he obtained noticeable swing away to the right-hander, resulting in the deserved scalp of A.B. de Villiers as Proteas wickets fell in a heap after lunch. An over earlier he would have had Hashim Amla caught for 11 had Ed Cowan not put down a simple catch at short midwicket.
"I do it occasionally for Victoria when there is a big breeze or something like that," Hastings said of opening the bowling. "There was a fair bit of a breeze today and pushing up into it, it needed someone to do a job there and keep it tight from one end. Let the big hairy quicks come down from the other end.
"I was pretty nervous to start with actually, I wasn't into a rhythm at all for the first eight or 10 overs. Then I came out after the break and there was a little bit of swing there which was good. During the lunch break I ironed a few things out and put all the nerves behind me. To get that wicket of AB was really nice."
Hastings was included in Michael Clarke's XI at the expense of NSW seamer Josh Hazlewood, the 12th man, and was presented with his baggy green by Adam Gilchrist.
"Last night I had a pretty good sleep and I wasn't thinking about it too much," he said. "I knew my role already if I was to play. then it's just about getting out there, warming up and all of a sudden you're taking the new ball for Australia. It definitely is a boyhood dream."