Sometime in January this year, Australian fast bowler James Pattinson was restlessly awaiting his best friend Pat Cummins at a Sydney cafe. Among other topics, they planned to discuss their remodelled actions. A patient transfer vehicle rushed in, and Cummins jumped out of it.
Pattinson was shocked, but Cummins explained: “CA has a stipulation that I take every precaution to stay fit. Reckon I should do all my comings and goings in one of these. I even have to lie on the stretcher,” he said. A few months ago, Cummins chimed in, they had him chauffeur-driven in a customised hearse. “I’d have to lie in a coffin wrapped in cotton wool and straw. Just to be on the safe side,” he said.
It can’t be for real, for sure. It was not. It was part of a rehearsed spoof-script by an Australian media-house in which they were simply acting. But it won’t be too surprising if Cricket Australia, in the future, sought such extreme measures to look after the perpetually injury-prone fast bowlers. Especially Cummins, whom they should preserve as if he were a piece of art.
His catalogue of injuries reads thus: a bone stress injury in his foot, stress fractures of the back, then back injuries and then, again, stress fractures of the back. Even Cummins has lost count of the number of times his body was subjected to the surgeon’s scalpel. These are enough reasons to ponder over quitting the game.
For six years since a supersonic blur of limbs and arms sped, compressed into a corkscrew action and snapped the attention of the world, Cummins hasn’t played another Test. In fact, he has featured in only three first-class games, two for Australia A and one for New South Wales.
Just to put his absence from the longer format into perspective, Ricky Ponting was still there when he took six-for-79 in a match-winning effort against South Africa on debut. Between then and now, Australia lost the Ashes, then reclaimed it and then lost it again. Between then and now, 27 more Australians have won the Baggy Green. Had he not missed a single match since then, he would have been a 62-Tests veteran and not a one-Test wonder.
Understandably, his world came crumbling down and those same people who had swooned about him as the next Aussie pace bowling sensation had consigned him to obscurity. But Cummins was no quitter. His passion to continue playing for Australia kept burning. He contacted Dennis Lillee in the middle of last year, as had Mitchell Johnson before his most intimidating years. There wouldn’t have been a better legend to resort for advice, for few other could have grasped the doubts of a severely injured fast bowler as Lillee, who himself had endured the dark years of self-doubts when struck down by a career-threatening vertebrae injury.
By that time, Cummins had remodelled his action at the academy, and after watching several footages of his new action, Lillee fathomed it wasn’t action that troubled him, but he was bowling with new action too soon. “He unfortunately got talked into trying to bowl too fast too soon,”Lillee said.
So, the rehab began with him underarm-bowling, and from there he gradually began to bowl gentle medium pace and then with outright pace. “He now realises that and he’s trying to hold together that remodelling and not get talked into bowling too fast until his body is ready and his motor-muscle memory changes to the new action,”Lillee observed.
More than the technical adjustments, it was the workload aspect that they talked in depth. “He understood that the main thing about fast bowlers is realising the body. And if he continues to bowl with this in mind, he can play another 10 years for Australia and can be the No 1 bowler in the world,” said Lillee.
But several other former cricketers were less convinced of Cummins being hastily fast-tracked into the Test circuit. For apart from a few T20Is and ODIs, he has bowled in just one Shield match, wherein he bowled 36 overs and picked up eight wickets. Former fast bowler and NSW bowling Geoff Lawson was one of those cynics: “They have already broken him last year by making him play too early. This is his third comeback from these stress fractures and they’ve picked him against the plan which was to let him play Shield Games.” The biggest concern would be what if breaks down in the middle of a match. Australia will be with one bowler less.
But the selectors obviously saw something distinct in him. It’s, as Steve Smith once said, the X-factor. Add aggression, bounce and pace to it, and he has several qualities that Jackson Bird can’t furnish. On a supposedly low-slow track in Ranchi, his pace could be lethal, the bounce precious and aggression indispensable. A few glimpses of it were seen on the dead practice wickets, where only he made the ball hop to the batsmen’s rib cages.
Cummins, if indeed he plays in Ranchi, would call this a second debut. If his second debut can be as a stunning as his debut, or even half as good that, Australia can begin to swoon on him again.