Pat Cummins was picked in to replace Mitchell Starc when the latter suffered a stress fracture on his right foot. He had recently picked eight wickets in the Sheffield Sheid and had earned a call up after representing the national colours 1946 days ago. Many called this a brave move to replace a solid seamer with someone who hasn’t played in a very long time. But on the first proper full day to showcase his talent, Cummins has shown his best and validated his selection in the team – let alone the squad.
The last Test he played was in 2011. And as he officially held the ball for the very first time in a Test on Friday, the feeling of euphoria can only be felt by a few. The feeling of coming back into the profession you love after nearly six years. To add to his joy, Cummins would go on and pick up the wicket of India’s highest scorer in the series – KL Rahul. A slow bouncer has Rahul trying to sway out of the line but the ball cuts back in to find his glove and it lobs for an easy take for keeper Matthew Wade.
The plan was clear as far as Cummins was concerned. Keep the bowling moving or try to keep it swinging in the air and then also chip in with some bouncers here and there to keep the batsmen guessing.
That strategy continued on the third day’s play of the third Test. This combination and variety of balls engulfed three more wickets in the day and two of them were the big fishes of Indian batting. The New South Wales bowler started off with the wicket of Virat Kohli in the post-lunch session with a delivery full and outside the off stump which eked out a thick outside edge which flew to Steve Smith at second slip. It was almost a case of Cummins replacing Starc to get Kohli. Starc had done the same trick in the opening Test and this time Cummins had got the job done.
A few overs later, Rahane fell to a Cummins bouncer. The field setting made it awfully clear that a bouncer was the intention with two fielders in place for a hook. As the ball jumped on Rahane, the India batsman tried to play it over the slips and wicketkeeper but could only get a slight edge that fell neatly in Wade’s gloves.
The bouncer-glove-wicket keeper catch strategy was repeated to get R Ashwin. The bouncer was aimed right at his head and with Ashwin trying to move away from the line of the ball, throws his hands in front of his face in defence. But it takes the glove as it passes and the validation is achieved on a successful review by Australia.
There is an interesting aspect to Cummins’ bowling. The middle finger for a seamer is pivotal to generate out-swing but for Cummins, that’s the story – he doesn’t have one. Or not a complete one. The seamer lost the top of his middle finger when he was a child when his finger was rammed into with a door by his sister. “I lost the top of my finger when I was about three or four (years old),” a baby-faced Cummins recalled. “It got slammed in a door and I lost about a centimetre off the top of my finger. It doesn’t really affect me because (the finger) is about the same length as the other one (index finger). I still get my sister in tears … (because) she slammed the door on it.”
Such is his ability to create an impact with the ball that Glenn Maxwell publicly acknowledged that he doesn’t face him in the nets. “I’m not surprised he was able to get that (pace and bounce) out there. He’s awkward. He’s got a high release and he’s able to hit a length where he reacts differently. He’s a guy who can get that variable bounce with the way he digs the ball into the wicket. That extra pace is hard to adjust to when it is doing something different height wise off the wicket.”
“He just brings that little bit of life, almost a little bit like what Starcy (Starc) was doing for us. Just that little fast burst of pace and a couple of short balls — and all of a sudden it can change the game,” he added.
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