Updated: March 27, 2017 8:56:58 am
Fifty three steps. Or roughly 48 metres. From the end of the follow-through to the top of his mark, it’s a long walk back for Pat Cummins. His body language and soiled trousers give you the impression that it’s not a walk but a trudge. Slow and reluctant. Fast bowling, at least the kind Cummins practises, is violence against the batsman, but this ritual of run, hop, land hard and release is an act against oneself too. You basically expend yourself physically and mentally on the pitch every single time, then pick yourself up and walk back to do it again.
On Sunday, Cummins did it over and over again in what was as riveting, and tragic, spell of sustained fast bowling as you will ever see on a cricket pitch in India. KL Rahul who faced the full wrath of Cummins — and, to an extent, that of Josh Hazlewood — gave voice to what everyone in the stadium, or watching at home, thought. “Josh and Cummins in the first session, I can say, is the toughest session I have faced in Test cricket so far. They put the ball in the right areas and they swung the ball, bowled with a lot of pace and venom,” Rahul would say after the day’s play.
Fast is not meant to last long. It’s junior high-school physics: Time is inversely proportional to speed. But ever since he returned to Test cricket after almost six years in Ranchi, the injury-prone Cummins seems bent on defying that. In the third Test, he bowled 44 overs, spread over three days, on his way to a four-wicket haul. That’s serious workload for any bowler. For an express pacer, that’s insane. In fact, Steve Smith had revealed on the eve of the final Test that between Ranchi and Dharamsala, Cummins had to undergo precautionary scans just to be sure.
Then on the second day in Dharamsala, as Australia probably found themselves a pacer short on the one wicket they shouldn’t have been, he sent down 21 overs. Twenty One! Going by the aforementioned 53-step or 48-metre estimation, he sprinted over six kilometres, and trudged six more to be back at the top of his run-up. But that’s not the most demanding part. For running in full tilt itself isn’t the “fast” in fast bowling. It’s the eventual act of compressing and recoiling. It puts enormous pressure on your back. And Cummins’ has been remade.
More Australian than Indian
On a wicket that was more Australian in nature, he bent his remade back and worked up serious pace and bounce. It was with such consistency it made you wonder if he was a human bowling machine. He was not, as evidenced by the anguish on his face towards the end of the day’s play after Matt Renshaw had spilled another catch of his bowling at slip.
Seven and half of his 21 overs Cummins bowled at one man: Rahul. The sheer amount of short-pitched stuff made you wonder if Cummins has forgotten the stumps and made Rahul’s temple the main target. It wasn’t so much cricket as it was a duel in the sun.
Off the first short ball that he bowled to Rahul, at 90 miles an hour, the batsman took his eyes off. The next ball was a 92 mph thunderbolt that climbed on him. The batsman dropped his hands just in time. A few overs later, a Cummins 91 mph delivery kicked off a length and took Rahul’s outside edge, but the speed and bounce also deceived Renshaw, who couldn’t latch on to it. In this intense battle, Rahul showed immense composure and technique as he swayed and dropped hands to remain on the pitch.
“I had to leave the balls outside off-stump, leave the bouncers – yeah, I was enjoying it,” said Rahul.
At lunch, when Rahul went back unbeaten, it looked he had ridden out the storm. The ball had lost its shine, and therefore it seemed that not only would there be less of Cummins, he wouldn’t be as he was in the first session. But when Cummins returned, he finally got his man, with a short ball that Rahul thought he could take on. It was a fatal mistake as he bottom-ended the hook to mid-off. “Having batted out there in the middle for a long time, I thought I could have taken him on as there were no fielders at the back. Horrible execution, the intent was right,” Rahul later said.
It is ironic that on a day when he looked like taking a wicket nearly every other ball, Cummins would end with the solitary wicket of Rahul. As he trudged back one final time on Sunday, towards the dressing room, his figures read: 21-5-59-1. 27 off those runs came between third man and fine leg, indicative of the chances Cummins created.
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