• Sat. Oct 29th, 2022

Another peerless performance from Pat Cummins enhances his edifying summer, confirming his statistical pre-eminence, writes Russell Jackson.

Jan 9, 2021

There was an article from a real estate website doing the rounds a few days ago. You know the type; “Inside the homes of the rich and famous”. You think yourself too sophisticated to take the bait but end up clicking through anyway.
This one guided readers through the property portfolios of Australia’s cricket stars, all waterfront mansions, infinity pools, and relatable phrases like “building their forever home on a clifftop overlooking Lurline Bay after buying a dilapidated apartment complex” and “offloading a five-bedroom Mosman home for $5.95 million”.
There were two perfectly humble items among the jarring opulence. Of course Marnus Labuschagne had converted his three-car garage into indoor cricket nets.
And of course Australia’s congenial, no-nonsense vice-captain Pat Cummins lived in a mere three-bedroom unit.
At the first drinks break on day three at the SCG, Cummins had 2-24 from 17 overs. It was the main reason India had crawled painfully along for a return of 1-36 off 18 overs for the session.
A camera appeared in front of the fast bowler and he was asked to explain his bowling approach.
“Just keep it simple and bowl really straight,” Cummins replied, like if Bach had said he was just taking it one organ keystroke at a time.
Pat Cummins bowled beautifully on day three in Sydney.(AP: Rick Rycroft)
A little earlier, there was a captivating slow-motion replay that revealed the difficulties batsmen face dealing with the jagging short balls Cummins hammers into the splice of their bats.
From side on, we saw Indian captain Ajinkya Rahane shuffling onto his back foot and rising to fend off a ball whose impact just below the handle made the bat wobble and warp like one of those helium-filled rubber men that flap about at the front of car yards.
At that moment, Rahane’s calm handling of such a nightmarish delivery seemed another sure sign he was set for a long stay at the crease. But Cummins got him soon after.
Pat Cummins surprised Ajunkya Rahane with a bit of variable bounce.(AP: Rick Rycroft)
Starved of singles by the drip, drip, drip of pressure from Cummins and Nathan Lyon, forced by Cheteshwar Pujara’s stodginess into doing all the scoring himself, Rahane looked to glide a less threatening cutter towards third man and chopped it onto his stumps instead.
It is the sort of dismissal that doesn’t seem anything particularly special on highlight reels, just like so much of Cummins’ bowling the night before, and like so much of Lyon’s work in general.
The spinner ended up wicketless, no reflection of the quality of his bowling.
What Australia wouldn’t give for a couple more batsmen who can forge partnerships like Lyon does with the ball.
The most lethal bowling union of the day was Cummins and Josh Hazlewood after lunch, when little was happening for Australia.
Nathan Lyon gets to Josh Hazlewood after the latter’s remarkable run out.(AP: Rick Rycroft)
Pujara and Rishabh Pant’s partnership was approaching 50 from 15 overs, Pujara’s innings a dour vigil, Pant’s a typically cheeky hand with momentum-shifting potential.
The pacemen started working their targets over like Woodward and Bernstein.
For much of the foregoing, Cummins repeatedly hit an area the size of a 50-cent piece on a good length, dead straight. Now he adopted the shorter, awkward length that makes batsmen wonder whether they should be forward or back, ducking or defending.
His fifth delivery lifted viciously, beat Pant for pace and smashed into his right elbow a blow painful enough to prompt a five-minute delay in play and later, a trip to hospital.
Rishabh Pant (right) was the latest in a line of Indian batsmen to be felled by Australia’s quicks.(AP: Rick Rycroft)
In Cummins’ next over, another horror short ball ripped into the flesh of Pujara’s shoulder. The rest was ruthless.
Grimacing through Hazlewood’s next over, aware that Cummins had hardly bowled a loose ball all summer, Pant tried to break the shackles and edged a drive to slip.
Untrusting of the pitch’s uneven bounce, the body blows perhaps playing on his mind, a hesitant Pujara feathered an edge to Tim Paine in Cummins’s over following.
That double blow meant that India went from the relative comfort of 4-195 its sights on a modest first-innings lead to 8-210 and then 244 all out.
The tourists’ 94-run first-innings deficit became 197 by the end of the day, Australia amassing 2-103 in the third session.
Now India stares at a possible loss of match and series, its chances ruined again by Cummins.
It has been an edifying summer for Cummins, not just for anecdotal confirmation of his statistical pre-eminence.
Perhaps it is condescending to be surprised that a millionaire cricketer would take the time to absorb Bruce Pascoe’s Dark Emu and feel confident discussing his thoughts on it, as Cummins did in December. It is certainly heartening to hear a sporting role model discuss the world around him with humility and inquisitiveness.
If Cummins’s five-and-a-half-year absence from the Test scene taught us anything, it is to savour flawless displays like this one.
Pat Cummins has 14 wickets in the series so far.(AAP: Scott Barbour)
He finished with 4-29 from 21.4 overs, almost half of which were unimprovable maidens.
Thanks to the sheer variety of brilliant performances by him, Hazlewood and Jasprit Bumrah, and the cameos of Mitchell Starc and Mohammed Siraj, it has been a golden summer of fast bowling one of the best in recent memory.
On Saturday, there was one other wrinkle. Like tail-end batting, the fielding of Test pacemen has tended in the past to be viewed as a one-percenter.
Here, Hazlewood and Cummins made it a 20-percenter, each whipping out Indian batsmen with brilliant run-outs. Labuschagne joined in the fun three dismissals conjured out of nothing.
Those three moments were obvious signs of renewed application after Australia’s woeful fielding in the Melbourne loss. If its batsmen become so ruthlessly efficient, a formidable cricketing outfit could become unbeatable.