JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA – NOVEMBER 21: Pat Cummins of Australia turns for a second run with Dale Steyn of South Africa looking on during day five of the 2nd Test match between South Africa and Australia, at Wanderers on November 21, 2011 in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo by Duif du Toit/Gallo Images/Getty Images)
Patrick Cummins running in and bowling his heart out on a weary pitch on day 5 of a test match is a sight to behold, isn’t it? The tall, dreamy blue-eyes quick from New South Wales with movie-star looks is the talk of the cricketing world these days. And I think he deserves all the praise he gets and more. Even in the recently concluded series between India and Australia, where the bruised but stern Indians beat the Aussies in their own backyard, Cummins was stealing headlines.
Every time he came on to bowl, you felt something was gonna happen. And most times, the number 1 test bowler in the world made it happen. When others failed to break through, he hustled and bustled until he rattled the opponent’s resilience. Resilience is a strong word that defines him as a cricketer and as a person. To know the reason behind his nature and the story of his perseverance we need to go all the way back to his initial years as an international cricketer.
The year was 2011 and Pat Cummins’ career was in the fast lane. Having just come off a great Big Bash season and a good start to his Sheffield Shield career, the young fast bowler was creating murmurs in the Australian cricketing fraternity. Aged just 18, he became the youngest player to win a central contract with Cricket Australia. Such was his raw ability and promise that greats like Greg Chappell were touting him to be the next big thing in Australian Cricket. With the benefit of hindsight, it seems like a good call. However, with the challenges he faced in the coming years, the future never looked that certain.
A few months after receiving the contract, he flew to South Africa to play his first international series. He made his international debut in a T20I match on that tour. Having impressed in the two T20Is with five wickets, he also made his ODI debut and was selected for the Test squad. Everything was happening at a rapid pace for Cummins.
Just a few months after making his Shield debut at 18, there he was in November of 2011, standing alongside the likes of Ricky Ponting on his test debut at Wanderers. It was a dream start to his Test career as he took 1/38 and 6/79 in the two innings and also played a crucial knock of 13 runs with the bat to guide Australia to a series leveling win. He had also been adjudged the man of the match in that game. It was a perfect debut.
The shy and wide-eyed boy from the Blue Mountains had laid his claim on the Australian side. He was on the brink of something special. He had the world ahead of him to conquer wearing the famous baggy green. But destiny wasn’t so kind on the tearaway quick. He wouldn’t play another Test for six years.
A great start to his international career led to a nightmare. His troubles began with a bruised heel after his debut test series. That was just the start. A side strain in mid-2012 and soon after that, the first of multiple back stress fractures would plague him in November. These injuries were brutal on his body and frustrating for the bowler who was still a teenager. As the injuries piled on, the second test looked further and further away. Cummins was growing more and more pessimistic. He himself recalls thinking, what if he wasn’t cut out to withstand the rigors of international cricket.
But credit to Cricket Australia as they nurtured and helped Cummins rehabilitate through his injury-ridden years. But the road to recovery wasn’t easy, neither on his body nor on his mind. He helped himself to maintain balance in his life by joining a university while still centrally contracted to Cricket Australia. He was regularly hit by injuries when he tried making his return and Cummins believes that his studies helped him stay grounded. And most importantly it kept his focus firmly on his ultimate goal.In those long six years between his first two tests, he hardly played red-ball cricket. However, he played in some T20Is and One-dayers. But two more stress fractures in August 2013 and September 2015 would limit his time even in the shorter formats. Injuries took their toll on his body over these years but he did enjoy some great moments in between this long layoff from the longest format. He was part of the Australian side that won the 2015 Cricket World Cup at home.
This joy was short-lived as he suffered the third of his back stress fractures just a few months on from the World Cup final. The struggle and the mental battle was real. He tried to take inspiration from other fast bowlers who made great comebacks after major injuries. But no matter how positive your outlook is, you are always bound to be pulled towards pessimism in this situation.
Especially in Cummins’ case who would rehabilitate and train well every winter but just when he would be rearing to go in the summer, his body would give in. He did not stop though, as resilient as he was. He worked with Aussie legend Dennis Lillee, who himself had an experience of overcoming back injuries. Lillee along with people at Cricket Australia, helped Cummins develop a new and improved action. He was slowly but surely recovering into a new version of that lethal pacer who the world had taken notice of in South Africa.
It was early 2017, Cummins was about to turn 24 then. Nearly six years on from his eventful test debut. He also hadn’t played a Sheffield Shield match in that time. After this long hiatus and injury-ridden years in the wilderness in terms of first-class cricket, in March of that year, he played his first Shield match in years. So it was time. Time to see if all the hard work off the pitch had paid off or not. To see if his body was ready to battle it out in red-ball cricket again. And ready he was. Cummins exploded back onto the pitch taking eight wickets in the match.
More importantly, his body held on great. Things looked up for the fast bowler. He looked towards the Ashes on home soil that summer and felt he could try for a comeback in that series. But he was skeptical as he knew all too well about his body and his luck with injuries. Along with that, new bowlers had risen in his absence and cemented their places in the national team.
However, fate had another twist in its tales. Just like the whirlwind rise to his test career six years ago, Cummins’ comeback was to be something similar. The Australian team was touring India when Cummins made his Shield return. He watched the first two tests from home. But with Mitchell Starc injuring his right foot in the second test, he was soon on a flight to India. Coming off on the back of just one shield match, this seemed way too hasty for Cummins. He hadn’t regularly bowled 25 overs a day consistently which you are generally likely to bowl in a test match.
And the fact that the tests were being played in the hot and humid Indian summer didn’t help either. However, he knew all those years of rehab and maintaining his body was all leading up to this very moment. And he wasn’t about to let this go.On a flat deck in Ranchi, Cummins made his return to test cricket. He took four wickets in the first innings and bowled 39 overs as India posted a mammoth 603 in their only innings. The match would end in a draw.
Cummins looked lively even in a dead pitch like Ranchi. His energy and hit the length hard type bowling was exactly what the Aussies needed. The final test was just four days from the third one. But Cummins’ body felt great and he bowled another 38 overs in the test played at Dharmasala. He took four wickets in the match but that came on a losing cause as India won the match and clinched the series 2-1.
Regardless of the result, the series was a milestone in Cummins’ career. His perseverance, character, and his resilient personality had shone through. He was playing test cricket for Australia again. After facing the worst possible luck that any bowler is ever likely to come across, he was finally back. And he looked right at home again. He was bowling into the high 140s and his new, efficient action allowed him to hit the deck and move the bowl off the seam beautifully. Along with this his slower balls and cutters were perfect weapons in between the barrage of awkward relentless bouncers.
The protègè had returned. He was rearing to go, better than ever. His stubbornness and resilience had given him a second chance. And with all the heartbreaks and misfortunes behind him, he was ready to take on the world. Take on the world and go to the very top like he was always destined to.
After the India series, he played two tests in Bangladesh where he took 6 wickets in two test matches where he bowled a total of 63 overs. The writing was on the wall. He was ready for the continuous rigors of test cricket. He had passed all the trials that life had thrown at him at the young age of 24. Now he looked to recover the time he lost. And what better way to start than by playing your first test series at home. To top it all off, it was the most important series of them all, The Ashes.
An Australian always dreams of playing the Ashes series and it was no different for Pat Cummins. He was about to play his first test on home soil and also get to taste the feeling of facing the arch-nemesis. All the world had eyes on the new fearsome bowling trip of Starc, Hazlewood, and Cummins. The whole of Australia was keen to watch the returning Cummins on his homecoming. Expectations were high.
Boy, didn’t he live up to them? Taking 23 wickets at an average of under 25, he was instrumental in Aussies winning the series 4-0. It was a sign of things to come. Patrick James Cummins has announced his comeback in style. With all this positivity of sweeping aside the Englishmen, the Australians then went on to tour South Africa the same year. The place where Cummins had made his debut all those years ago.
However, the return to South Africa would turn into one of the darkest moments in the history of Australian Cricket. With the infamous Sanderpapaer-Gate, doubts were cast on the ethos and integrity of the Australian side. Three players were disgraced and sent home after the Scandal. While those who remained were left to face guilt and demolition at the hands of the Proteas in the fourth Test at Wanderers, the same ground where Cummins first wore the proud Baggy Green.
In the aftermath of the series, where Cummins impressed with the bowl, huge changes were in the dressing room. Because of his “good guy” character and irrepressible attitude, Cummins was made the vice-captain of the national side. Along with coach Justin Langer and captain Tim Paine, he has led the Australian side towards new culture and identity. With this change, on and off the field, Cummins hasn’t looked back. And with his relentless and never give up the attitude with both bat and bowl in hand, he has helped his team usher towards new dawn after the darkest of hours.
The numbers speak for themselves. Since his return, he has taken 157 wickets in 33 Tests at an average of 21.81. Moreover, his strike rate stands at an outstanding 47.5. In the ongoing ICC Test Championship, no bowler has taken more than his 70 wickets in 14 matches. He finished as the world’s number 1 test bowler in 2019 and 2020. He also has the fifth-highest ratings ever for a bowler in tests in ICC rankings with a rating of 914.
Along with his phenomenal test record, he has established himself as the premier all format fast bowler for Australia with 111 wickets in 69 ODIs and 37 wickets in 30 T20Is since his debut. The raw numbers are astonishing by themselves but in my humble opinion, he also is the bowler most likely to bowl you a peach of a delivery. Not just his unrelenting line and length but I believe he bowls the rarest of unplayable wicket-taking balls more than any other bowlers currently. And I think Indian star Cheteswar Pujara and English Test Captain Joe Root can back me up on my claims here.
Pat Cummins’ return has been nothing sort of extraordinary. With his determination and consistent work, he not only survived the scarring injuries but came back from it better than ever. He is an inspiration to come back from any setback either in cricket or life. His rise to the top of the world will always be looked at in awe. And with Cummins at the prime age of 27, there are many years to look forward to this 6 foot 4 pacer running in and giving it everything he has.
Personally, for me him charging in and giving batsmen troubles is a different vibe. Something that reminds me of how I felt while watching my favorite fast bowler Dale Steyn bowl in his glory days. Like the hopeless romantic that I am, I can’t look past romanticism in cricket too. And as I read Melinda Farell’s beautifully written interview and article on Pat Cummins from November 2019 while researching for this article, I came across something fittingly beautiful.
Image Courtesy: The Cricket Monthly, espncricinfo.
She writes, ” In the penultimate over of Cummins’ glorious Test debut, he faced Steyn, then the world’s No. 1 Test bowler. Steyn charged in towards the precocious newcomer in his ferocious way and let fly a full delivery at off stump. Cummins drove hard but a touch early and the ball rocketed back through Steyn’s outstretched hand and to the boundary. The world’s best bowler had just dropped the teenager who would eventually wear his crown.”And on this note of finding a connection between my favorite fast bowlers of this generation, I would like to end my take on the story of Pat Cummins. Thanking him for all the joyous memories he has given to me as a cricket fan and wishing him the best for many more years of the same.
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