Pat Cummins has improved his already glowing reputation as an extremely competent captain of Australia.
In a series where the pitches have been a somnambulist’s dream, Cummins has done what can only be expected of a good captain. Mostly by virtue of declarations, he laid the foundation for victory in the final two games against Pakistan, though the win was only achieved in the last Test, giving Australia a result they had been valiantly seeking for about ten days.
Cummins has consolidated the theory – characteristically put forth by Mark Taylor – that the best Australian captains don’t crave the task; rather, it falls into their lap. Some queried Cummins’ captaincy credentials but they overlooked two important factors: he was always a player who understood bowling, and he was easily the most influential team member.
In the second aspect, Cummins has once again excelled, being the joint-most prolific wicket-taker, and doing it with Australia’s best average by far, on really tough pitches.
Importantly, Cummins the leader ran the team and established a spirit where the side was prepared to go into battle for him. They remained competitive all through the final two matches despite the punishment it took to keep the opposition on edge.
Australia were able to eventually find success thanks to the magnificence of Usman Khawaja’s batting and the continual search for wickets that allowed Cummins’ team to finally claim all 20 in a match. The batting, which held sway for the bulk of the series, was dominated by Khawaja, who Pakistan were unable to find a way to dismiss cheaply.
In this demanding series, the quest for a suitable method to swing the old ball reached the level of obsession. It wasn’t until Nathan Lyon eventually unearthed a method for consistently dismissing batters on the final day that spin bowling took a front seat.
The effort put into swinging the old ball – strident shining and hiding of the delivery – posed the obvious question: why not use a similar effort to provoke the new ball into moving? Any successful efforts to swing the new ball consistently can help dispatch top-order players, which is surely the primary objective in the search for victory.
While Australia have had a couple of standouts when it comes to swinging the old ball, in Cummins and Mitchell Starc, there was little progress in the search for a second spinner to complement Lyon. Australia’s inability to produce anyone who has come close to replicating anything like the success of the late Shane Warne highlights a weakness in the system. Warne’s strength and ability to bowl long, probing spells played a large part in his success.
Australia, who used to be the envy of the world for their ability to produce good wrist-spinners, needs to revise their vision in order to take more Test wickets rather than rely heavily on containment.
While it’s difficult to achieve much in this regard before the next tour of India, a subtle change in Cummins’ approach will benefit Australia’s newfound confidence overseas. India at home have the best-balanced attack, where they rely on spinners R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja to complement a strong pace-bowling line-up.
If Australia rely too heavily on swinging the old ball to the detriment of seeking more traditional dismissals, it will become a hard series to win.
While Mitchell Swepson displayed potential, more has to be done to encourage his wicket-taking instincts if he is to achieve success in India. The wrist-spinners are in demand in T20 games, where batsmen are expected to keep the scoring rate moving. Captains like Cummins must expect good spinners to remove Test batters who are attempting to play a long-innings.
Cummins has shown he’s a good captain who learned fast in demanding conditions in Pakistan. He’ll be facing a much tougher team with a more cagey captain in Rohit Sharma when Australia tour India. That series will be a searching test of Cummins’ leadership and a good guide to what Australia have learned under a Test captain on the rise.
Note: This article is written by the former Australian skipper Ian Chappel and has been published at ESPNcricinfo