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In the hours before Australia's critical World Cup encounter with Pakistan, Adam Zampa was not in a good way.
A stubborn back complaint, which had accompanied him through the early games, was exacerbated by gastro. When the team left their hotel for the M Chinnaswamy Stadium, he was on the bus but looking likely to sit out.
But as Cameron Green marked out his run-up as the team’s back-up, Zampa tried himself out with some initially ginger then increasingly limber warm-ups, and put his hand up to play.
His place was confirmed a few minutes before Pat Cummins walked out to the coin toss. Several hours later, Zampa's second consecutive four-wicket haul was pivotal to a victory that put Australia into the tournament's top four.
“Yeah, ‘Lazarus’ has been awesome,” a grateful Cummins said of Zampa after the game. “He’s been in the bed for the last week or two. He was fantastic, and he just showed his class. He’s a real wicket-taker in the middle. Babar Azam and Iftikhar [Ahmed] at the end when he was going – two big wickets.”
Zampa has, in an era when Australia’s white ball side lost profile and importance outside of global events, carved out a career that really warrants more garlands than it has so far received. He was the bowler of the 2021 Twenty20 World Cup, won by Australia in the UAE, plucking 13 wickets at 12.07 runs apiece.
Adam Zampa celebrates a wicket against Pakistan.Credit: AP
But in 50-over games, a format with greater history and means of comparison with previous eras, Zampa is as effective a spin bowler as Australia has ever produced in the 53 years since the MCG hosted the first ever ODI.
Eight wickets in two games against Sri Lanka and Pakistan leave him just six wickets short of surpassing Brad Hogg's tally of 156 wickets, the second most for an Australian spin bowler behind Shane Warne's 291. Hogg needed 123 games for his haul, Warne 193. Zampa has got more than halfway to his hero's total in just 89 matches.
More impressive, still, is that of the 10 bowlers ahead of him on the overall list of Australian wicket-takers, only Mitchell Starc and Brett Lee have taken their wickets at a better strike rate than Zampa’s 31.07 balls. While it is true that Zampa’s economy rate of 5.51 is at the high end, in a period of hyper-aggression among white-ball batters, it is more than respectable.
To be second only to Warne in ODI cricket is quite a feat, underlining how artfully Zampa has used changes of pace, subtle variations in spin and an unrelenting attack on the stumps to keep the world's best players guessing.
It was telling that a drought of wickets for Zampa coincided with Australia's dip in results in the weeks prior to the World Cup. Telling, too, that KL Rahul made calculated risks in late cutting Zampa in his first over of the opening game, so important did India deem it to ensure the leg spinner was not permitted to settle.
Australia, put simply, cannot win this tournament without Zampa and his knack for finding ways for wickets through the middle of an innings. It was reasonable to question Australia’s inclusion of Zampa as the sole specialist spinner in the cup squad after Ashton Agar was ruled out; less so to query Zampa’s ability to be up to his vital task.
Proudly, Zampa is his own man, choosing to evade the capital cities by living in Bangalow near Byron Bay, seeking out a sustainable lifestyle while growing his own food, and revelling in Australian cricket’s conscious move away from its former extremes of monocultural conformity.
“Fitting in as well, I was slightly different, I wasn’t a meat-eating, beer-drinking Aussie, which meant only seven or eight years ago you felt slightly isolated,” he said last year. “Whereas now it’s much more ‘you do you’.
“If you can sit there and say ‘I did this thing and I did it as myself the whole time,’ that’s important, and that’s where we are now in our team in particular.”
As a leader, Cummins has pushed for that very environment, and it is in making room for Zampa to be himself that Australia have gleaned some of the richest rewards of the team's spin bowling story.
It is unclear how much longer Zampa will carry on after this World Cup and the next in the Caribbean and United States next year. In Tanveer Sangha, he has a highly capable understudy. But for now, there is no single player more important to Australia’s World Cup chances. Lazarus, come forth.
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