Pat Cummins, The Innocent Driving Force Australia Need
You know you are doomed when one bowler takes 5/83 and the opposition ends up making 488.
Pat Cummins walks in for the last three overs of the day. Australia seem devastated, lost and hit by a hurricane (possibly named “Markram”). They are 96/6 after South Africa put up close to 500 runs in the first innings. Their best batsmen are back at home watching the match on television glumly. Cummins is unwavered. He walks out with the confidence of a 10,000 runs behind him. He doesn't have 300. The first ball from Keshav Maharaj, increasingly appearing like the saviour to spin bowling in the Rainbow Nation, is flicked from outside off-stump to mid-on wristily. Woah! sub-continental-ish! Maharaj flights the next one slower. Dead bat. Ball on wood and down on pitch. It's a classical defensive shot. Third ball. Moves across and back, glides the bat and nearly steers the ball. Cummins is up and rolling…..
Day 2 ends without much of a fuss. Cummins five-wicket haul is the least discussed amongst the achievements of the day. Aiden Markram was blistering, Temba Bavuma was a tortoise stuck in its shell before walloping out of it and competing in a 100m race and Keshav Maharaj had tonked a few for fun like at the nets.
Australia conceded 488. Cummins 83. The other three seamers conceded 194. Cummins has five wickets. The others combined have two.
You know you are doomed when one bowler takes 5/83 and the opposition ends up making 488. But let's turn the arrows a bit towards the man who steamed in and bowled ball after ball, immune to the pandemonium surrounding him and his team.
Australian shoulders are dropping. Cameron Bancroft just can't seem to know what hit him yesterday after the press conference. Steven Smith is stunned by the backlash against him from the public and is wondering if he shouldn't have gone about confessing. David Warner, hard-nosed always, looks like he hit a barrier. There is nothing beyond. He could have chosen to walk back from the precipice. He went and jumped. The crowd are violent, noisy, enthusiastic..atleast one section of it. South Africa are creating history here. Not since 1970 had they beat Australia at home. Faf du Plessis is seen content. He isn't smiling yet. The situation demands him to appear grim and empathetic for his counterpart. Cummins steams in and bowls a 140 kmph bouncer that takes AB de Villiers aback for a bit…..
Australia were sinking. The ship had been broken, albeit by one of their own men, and the shambles are strewn about unceremoniously. Pat Cummins isn't one of them. He is a captain’s go-to-man. He always was. But seven years back the fast bowling sensation at 18 came with a fragile body. That isn't true any longer. He withstood the heat in the sub-continent and bowled spell after spell, tireless, relentless and right on the money nine out of ten times.
India beat them, Bangladesh drew against them, but Cummins wasn't beaten. He had Virat Kohli and Tamim Iqbal dancing to his tunes. He returned to destroy the Englishmen and their annoying Barmy Army at the Ashes back home. 24 wickets in the series. He led the bowling charts. He had even posed for a photo with Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood with an attempted 'Mo’ to ward off England's batsmen. The warning went unheeded. England played anyway. But they lost. They lost to Cummins the bowler and Cummins the batsman. They lost to a hungry pack of wolves. The head of the pack walked around behind the popular destroyers. Nobody saw him coming.
The cherry is rough, the shiny new ball has lost its sheen. Cummins looks around the vast ground that the MCG is. He feels clumsy. His stomach isn't well. Smith wants him to bowl but he wants to take the trip to the dressing room another time, a pretty long walk mind you. The sun is at its peak and the surface is dry and hard and lifeless. England are driven by Alastair Cook's un-elegant class. Cummins can't take it any more. He comes in and goes out several times. Smith gives him the ball making sure to ask if he's alright to bowl. Of course he isn't. He takes the ball anyway and sends down 11 overs under the scorching sun……
The Bangladesh tour had weathered out the Aussies. Not Cummins, though, who was in the eleven as their sole pace bowler. He lost 6.5kgs in one day to the Chittagong heat. But a career had been resuscitated. No one expected Cummins to last. He is the strongest of Australia's seamers now! That in itself tells a tale. He weathered the English storm, ran through them breathing fire and made them weep with his due diligence with the bat. This was a team man on a mission, secure in his role in the side, subtly confident of his oodles of talent that were starting to leak. Mission Ashes was conquered.
Cummins steams in yet again. His captain has changed, his teammates have changed. The batsman is still AB de Villiers. Will Australia ever see the last of him? The ball seams in from back of a length. Oh, it's moving in further. de Villiers , for once, seems cluless. He sticks his bat out, changes his mind and takes it back, but the glove doesn't give way. The edge is found and Tim Paine the captain pouches the catch and jumps up in joy. Cummins is smiling. Australia are smiling. The Superman is back in the hut. The lead is 361. Australia aren't winning this. But winning has taken a backseat in the past one week. They have a broken reputation to mend, broken trust to bond and need more jaffas like these. They need Cummins and more men like him….