ROHIT SANKAR | 20 DECEMBER, 2017
The Three Musketeers of Australian cricket
Mitchell Starc. Josh Hazlewood. Pat Cummins
Modern day pace bowling attacks rarely get more intimidating than that. All the pre-Ashes gossip revolved around the scary Australian pace trio, not surprisingly. The last time England toured Down Under, a certain Mitchell Johnson had decimated them, sending them back home with physical and mental wounds.
There was no reason this pace attack couldn't do the same. Instead of one Johnson with a Mo, there were three; each capable of inflicting severe lesions into the damaged English. To make things worse, Steven Smith decided to aggrandize his adored seam bowlers in the build up to the Ashes.
“It has been exciting watching them in the nets. Back to 2013-14 when Mitchell was bowling in the nets, these guys (Starc, Cummins) are just as nasty, if not more nasty to be perfectly honest. A couple of the net sessions I have had against Cummins and Starc have been quite scary so that is really exciting for us,” Smith was quoted as saying by cricket.com.au.
The beginning, as compared to Smith's aggravation, was feeble. Starc bowled nothing like he was supposed to, Hazlewood plugged away outside the stumps when he should have been bowling at them and Cummins bowled with venom at times and without it the other times.
Slowly, but steadily, the Aussie seamers started showing why they were labelled as monsters before the series. When Pat Cummins ran in from around the wicket and sent Mark Stoneman's stumps cartwheeling in the first innings to break England's fightback, you knew they had arrived.
Cummins then pulled his senior partners together and showed how to get rid of the magnanimous Joe Root. Land it on the stumps, full. It worked for Cummins in the first innings; it worked for Josh Hazlewood in the second innings.
You would think Joe Root would correct glaring fault like that by the second Test. He hadn't. But inside edged kept saving him until Hazlewood decided to revert back to his channel outside off-stump with England threatening to chase down the target. The move paid dividends as Root was stuck to his crease and wafted at the ball only for the edge to carry behind.
Then Mitchell Starc joined the party, doing what he does best. Intimidating the tail with his searing pace and full balls on the stumps.
The Three Musketeers had arrived.
Everytime England thought they were in with a chance, one of these three shunned them with a peach.
If Starc doesn't get you, Cummins will and if he doesn't, Hazlewood will. If the three cannot - which is pretty rare - they have a curator-turned-spinner-turned-chatterbox who can silence them with the ball and in the field.
Australia have been ruthless. That the World was talking of a whitewash after the first Test which wasn't won by humungous margins show the kind of intimidation this line-up possesses. It also shows the kind of stuff these three scintillating fast bowlers have been dishing out.
That a legend like Alastair Cook was stuck to his back-foot anticipating a bouncer has probably been Australia's biggest victory in this series. Craig Overton's words after the second Test probably sum up what the whole of England thought.
“I've probably not been peppered like that in first-class cricket before," Overton said. "You might come up against one fast bowler in each side in a county game, but to have three like that is tough work. But you have to expect that in Australia. I knew what I was getting into going out to bat in the middle. You could tell from the field; especially when Pat Cummins came around the wicket at me. I was pretty much waiting for it”, Overton said as revealed by ESPNCricinfo.
Most of England's batsmen were “peppered” too. Like Overton expressed, they were “waiting for it” too. But still had no answers.
That the final day of the second Test brought so much anticipation was because swing King James Anderson found a way to spoil Smith's follow-on blunder and Joe Root, a modern day legend, managed to survive the pace bowler's barrage. But it took less than ten balls on the final day to reveal which side was going to smile at stumps. The manner in which Hazlewood stuck to his McGrath-like lengths and Starc ripped through the lower order is enough to ponder if England would ever win a Test against an Aussie line-up boasting of these three tireless seamers.
Everytime a James Vince or a Joe Root or a Johnny Bairstow got going, the three pounded them down with relentless blows. It wasn't just plain intimidation. It was bowling of the highest quality and execution of shrewdly prepared plans. England's woes overseas is well known but the trademark of this series so far has been how three superficial seamers have ensured they barely put a foot forward.