An 18-year-old Pat Cummins had the most unique and memorable Test debut that only hit him back with bitter consequences. Cummins impressed New South Wales with the white ball and was handed his First-Class debut towards the business end of the 2010-11 Shield season. His first match was against Tasmania where he finished with figures of 2-80 off 24 overs in one innings. Two games later and he was playing in the final against the same side. He was given heavier workload of bowling 65 overs in the match; 48 of those in the first innings. Not only did New South Wales lose the final, but the teenager also struggled with back problems for the next few months.
He was granted a Cricket Australia contract in June 2011 and four months later he made his Australia debut. He was roped in the XI for the two T20Is against South Africa. He impressed the selectors with figures of 3 for 25 and 2 for 26 and earned a Test call at such a young age. His maiden Test was going to be his only fourth First-Class game. The selectors made a huge gamble but eventually, that paid off. With a wicket in the first innings followed by exceptional figures of 6 for 79 in the second innings, Cummins announced his arrival, in style, in the Test arena. He even scored 13 runs in the second innings which was included the winning four he smashed before he was crowned the Player of the Match.
It was initially discovered that Cummins suffered a heel problem in his maiden Test but later on a bone stress fracture was discovered too and 2011 would be the first and the last time Cummins would wear the Baggy Green for a very very long time. Cummins, who just had a fairy-tale debut, struggled to get in terms to the fact that he would be out of action for an entire year. From there on, his career was no less than a see-saw with two incumbents – injuries and rehabilitation.
Cummins’s wait to wear the Baggy Green again was stretched to six long years. In between, there were several occasions when he could make a comeback but unfortunately, an injury struck him and wrecked all the hard work he would have put in for that comeback.
Fast bowlers are the biggest victims of stress fractures and Cummins is their leader in that case. Which is why not one person in the team or management had noticed a hidden talent in the youngster. Cummins possessed something Australia have been desperately looking for.
The mystery would soon be solved. For whose good? Australia’s!
In March 2017, he played his second and third Test in India and his performances ensured he would sit on the plane to Bangladesh after that. By missing the T20I series against India allowed him an extra rest of two weeks before the start of the New South Wales’ new season and that took him closer to his dream. If Cummins managed to keep injuries away, there was no one who could stop him from starting the first Ashes Test in Brisbane. With that, he would finally make his debut on his home soil.
In the early hours of November 23, 2017, when both the teams walked into the Gabba field for the national anthems, Cummins surely would have fought a threshold of emotions. Mitchell Starc made an early breakthrough but Australia found themselves in trouble when freshers, James Vince and Mark Stoneman played them with absolute ease. There stepped in Cummins and broke that stand by removing Stoneman. He went on to give England a major blow when he dismissed their skipper Joe Root. Among the fast bowlers, he bowled the maximum overs and ended the first innings with figures of 3 for 85 in 30 overs.
Drifting from the bowling topic, let’s look back at Australia’s all-rounder conundrum since Shane Watson’s retirement. A value of an all-rounder in modern day cricket weighs very high and a batsman who can chip in all the departments is more valuable than any other player in the team. Australia, for decades, have been in the hunt for a quality all-rounder in Tests. They temporarily ended their hunt when they found Watson. Although his numbers did not back him as the best-ever option, but, he has been the most successful one for Australia.
The likes of Mitchell Marsh and Hilton Cartwright have been used. Offspinner all-rounder Glenn Maxwell has been used in the subcontinent. While the first two have miserably failed, Maxwell somehow with a performance here and there manages to find a way back into the team. Every time during the summer, the Australian selectors have two concerns to give attention – the all-round woes and what should be done about Maxwell?
Leading up to the Gabba Test, the selectors would have discussed all possible all-rounder options for the Ashes and eventually they went with an extra batsman.
However, they missed the name, that was right under their nose!
At the end of Australia’s first innings in the Gabba Test, one thing seemed very clear. While everybody did not get tired appreciating Captain Steven Smith for an incredible unbeaten 141, they must not ignore the fact that Smith’s extraordinary innings was not possible had Cummins not stood like a rock on the other end.
Yes, the same guy, who smashed a boundary as winning runs in his Test debut, six years back.
Pat Cummins is Australia’s STAR! Bowls fast, bats like a batter & super athletic! #Ashes
— Kevin Pietersen? (@KP24) November 25, 2017
His several injury setbacks have finally given him a reason to smile. When he was not allowed to bowl during the lengthy periods of injury breaks, Cummins had worked hard on his batting, former Australian Captain Michael Clarke revealed in the commentary box. He even reckoned that Cummins should be sent ahead of Starc, who has a best Test score of 99 and was suggested as an all-round option in the past.
Although Cummins’ First-Class batting average of 26 is only just shy of keeper Tim Paine, who averages 29 having been in the domestic circuit for 12 years, he was backed by the commentary panel of veteran cricketers. Mark Taylor said, “He’s got plenty of power but he has balance. No doubt he could be an all-rounder. I reckon he’s good enough to get a Test hundred.”
— Andrew Wu (@wutube) November 25, 2017
Cummins bats at No. 6 in the Big Bash League and is well aware of the situations down the order for the batters. There is a vast difference between a T20 format and Test cricket but Cummins’ knock of 42 off 120 balls had glimpses of a talented batsman, who could solve issues down the order for Australia. He made smart choices of shots and showed excellent defensive skills. His maintained his innings to be flawless all 138 minutes before he put one wrong foot and gave away his wicket that could have gone big.
It is arguable considering his injury history but someone who has a sound technique (something which his skipper also doesn’t have) and his drives are as good as a specialist batsman), surely deserves a chance. Especially, during crisis times when the team anyway has been struggling to find a stable all-rounder; they might as well try an existing member. He put up a crucial 66-run stand with Smith for the eighth wicket and revived the Australian tail. Those crucial runs will play a huge role as Ashes 2017-18 goes ahead.