It was an outstanding display of superb spell of fast bowling at the fag end of Day 1.
It’s always special. The first Test match. The first wicket. The first instance when you lead your team to a Test win in overseas conditions. The very first Man of the Match award. Some players have to wait aeons for the fulfilment of their wishes, but if one is Pat Cummins, it all unfolded rather beautifully way back in the month of November six and a half years ago.
With one wicket in the first innings, the 18-year-old himself would not have anticipated the carnage that awaited in the second. With six wickets, including those of Jacques Kallis and AB de Villiers, Cummins had scripted for himself a fairy-tale that eluded many youngsters. Scoring the winning runs with the bat in a close 2-wicket win at Wanderers seemed the perfect end to a perfect dream and just when one was sure of the Man of the Match winner’s growth, a series of injuries and setbacks meant that he was sidelined and had to wait till 2017 for his second Test match.
Playing his twelfth Test match on the trot – an applaudable feat indeed for a bowler who attracted injuries like magnet attracts iron – the player in Cape Town, gave visions of that fiery pacer who had steamed in six years ago to change the game with a spell that changed the fortunes on Day 1 of the third Test match between the two countries.
Not much was expected from the bowler in possibly one of the most batting friendly conditions that have been produced in the series. With Dean Elgar in stubborn form and de Villiers in a charismatic one, South Africa were well on course to extend their batting for as long as they could. 34 runs had already been notched up in seven overs after tea and with Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Starc both looking anything but menacing, Elgar and de Villiers looked like men on a mission – unperturbed and unflinching.
With nothing much in the wicket for Nathon Lyon, it was only Cummins who managed to hold one end up. He had been accurate and economical. His five overs had fetched just three runs in the second session and Steven Smith, who is having anything but a grand series with the bat, turned to his young bowler in desperation. Wickets were the need of the hour and wickets was what was delivered.
Suddenly, without any notice, de Villiers nudged a fullish delivery with the intention of going for a drive straight of mid-off, but instead of allowing the ball to come to him, he poked at it to offer the simplest of simple catches to David Warner. With the big fish back in the pavilion, a wave of energy engulfed Cummins, who for the next few overs, bowled just as resiliently as he had when he caught the attention of the cricket fans for the first time six years ago.
Thirteen deliveries later, he had Faf du Plessis caught with a short of a length delivery that was bowled a few metres outside off-stump. With the batsman in a dilemma, a ball that should have been left alone was edged to second slip and the bowler was just getting in rhythm. Temba Bavuma was welcomed into the series with plenty of bounce and away movement and his short vigilance at the crease – that was defined by the batsman’s inability to connect bat to ball, came to a halt with a good length delivery that drifted away to Smith.
Five overs already into his spell, one would not have been surprised if the bowler had asked his skipper for a break. His job had been done; the South Africans were in disarray. From a well placed 220 for two, the scorecard now read a tricky 236 for five. But, unlike the Cummins of old, the Cummins witnessed at Cape Town did not prefer to be wrapped around in cotton wool.
“I quite like long spells because it normally means you’re into a rhythm”.
Pumped up with adrenaline and in no mood to relent, he kept going for two more overs. His fitness and large-heartedness paid rich dividends when he had Quinton de Kock mistime a pull shot to Tim Paine behind the wickets. In the end, it was a boundary from Vernon Philander that finally brought about a change after eight overs of uninterrupted bowling from one end. Conceding 12 runs while picking up 4 wickets in his spell, Cummins was a major reason why South Africa could fold up for 311 when at a stage they looked set to cross the 400-mark.
Many, who love revisiting the nostalgic by-lanes in the cricketing arena, will be forced to draw comparisons with the bowler one witnessed six years ago and the bowler on play in Cape Town. While Wanderers initiated his beginning, Cape Town will always be remembered as a venue that highlighted Cummins’ growth and his increasing maturity. If he was a potent cub back then, now he has emerged into a ferocious beast, hunting don his beast with great spirit and soul.