Pat Cummins and Nathan Lyon have done everything they could have, and still find themselves fighting a losing battle. It is not ability that alone is helping them hold fort in the ruins, there also seems to be cognitive dissonance at work. The sort of experience champion cricketers often suffer from when playing for mediocre outfits…….
Till now, Pat Cummins and Nathan Lyon have survived almost 15 overs in a last bid of defiance. They have added 43 runs, that will in all probability, barring a miracle or vagaries of the elements, go down in the record books as inconsequential.
This is the longest stand in the innings from the point of view of balls consumed. Occupation of the crease will not play a role in the outcome of this match at this stage, unless, as mentioned, there is major weather intervention. But, the association between these two gallant warriors just underlines how the rest of the Australian batting has short-changed their stupendous efforts for most of the series.
These men are not picked for their batting.
Yet, Lyon, made a desperate attempt with both bat and ball to win the Adelaide Test almost single-handed, and was disconsolate thereafter. He was the Man of the Match at Perth. He heads the batting averages for the Australian side in this series. He has been dismissed just twice, and averages 41.
He has put a hefty price on his wicket, which is visible from the batting cards. Well, he has also bowled more overs than anyone else in the side and has taken more wickets (17), but one may argue that he is expected to do that. He is not expected to do the job that frontline batsmen are picked to perform. And he has done his best to do that as well. To a great extent, he has done so. Barring Travis Head, who has 217 runs in the series at 36.16, none of the other Australian batsmen have managed to score at more than 30 runs per innings. Lyon, as mentioned, has an average of 41.
And Pat Cummins. What can one say about his efforts here? Through the series, he has bowled impeccably. One of the rare bowlers in the world who holds an edge over Virat Kohli. Not once has the Indian skipper, for all his greatness and genius, been able to negotiate Cummins with a reasonable degree of comfort and fluency, let alone master him.
Here, Cummins ran in as a man possessed. Picked up 3 vital wickets in the first innings. Then he had to come back in with the bat with the score reading 102 for 6, played a gritty knock of 17 before being done in by an almost unplayable Mohammad Shami in-dipper.
Following that, with Australia trailing by 292, he charged in again. He got four Indian batsmen in quick succession, within 4 overs of a dream spell, including the cream – Pujara, Kohli, Rahane with one solitary run between them. If Australia were down and out in desolate darkness it was Cummins who let some light of hope shine through with his accuracy and the strategy of having a man behind square on the leg side.
This morning he got Mayank Agarwal with one that kept low, and Ravindra Jadeja with a ball that kicked up. 6 for 27 off 11 fiery overs, with hardly the time to rest between innings. 9 for 99 in the match.
And he had to stride in again with the bat, with the match all but lost, 6 down for 157 with the target of 399 a faded unattainable dot in the distance.
Cummins, however, was not ready to surrender. After all that he had done in the match already, it somehow did not register that the Test was lost. He has played 103 balls till now, and is unbeaten on a dogged, logic-defying 61. 101 runs have been added after his entry, for the loss of two more wickets. The situation is still hopeless. But, perhaps because of what he has done single-handedly, much like Lyon in the first Test, he is suffering from cognitive dissonance. He is just not prepared to lose.
Cummins bowled with venom, pace and accuracy, and got rewards in this Test which perhaps eluded him in the previous matches. He has 14 wickets in the series now, just behind Lyon in the tally among the Australians. His average, 20.57 is the best of the lot. But, then, that is what he is expected to do, is it not? Getting wickets.
He has also scored 136 runs in the series so far. His average of 27 is as good as any in the Australian line-up, except Lyon and Head. All the top order batsmen have managed averages between 27 and 29. Except, of course, Mitchell Marsh and Peter Handscomb, who have done worse.
Significantly, Cummins has been most difficult to dismiss among any Australian batsman barring Usman Khwaja and Head. He has lasted 78.2 balls per dismissal, to Khwaja’s 84.8 and Head’s 83. If only a couple of more top-order men had taken a leaf apiece out of his book, things could have been a lot rosier for Australia. They can even ignore the statistics and look at his game. Simple, straight, uncomplicated, solid defence and firm drives.
But more than that, it is not the ability with the bat that has pitchforked Lyon and Cummins to the top of the batting table. It is the sheer inability to accept defeats lying down. They have done their utmost to win it for Australia, and they cannot quite comprehend that they are still ending up on the losing side.
In spirit, they belong to the champion sides the country has kept producing over the years. In reality, they are saddled with a vulnerable unit, with massive holes in the structure left by the absence of Steven Smith and David Warner.
Their batting defiance seems to be a tale of not being able to accept the unfortunate reality.
As I said, it is cognitive dissonance. The sort of experience champion cricketers often suffer from when playing for mediocre outfits.