Pat Cummins: If I'm bowling well, my actions need not be intimidating

The 26-year-old Cummins is just like what the 18-year-old Cummins was: mouth-watering potential and an unblemished match-winner.

Prize wicket: Pat Cummins celebrates the wicket of Ben Stokes in the Ashes Test at Old Trafford last year. Australia went 2-1 ahead and with only one Test to play ensured that it would retain the Ashes, the first time it had done so in England since 2001.   -  REUTERS

He doesn’t go through the motions of pulling the ignition cord to rev up something like Brett Lee. Neither does he summon a reign of terror like the marauding Mitchell Johnson in his prime. But the unassuming Pat Cummins is every bit as disciplined in approach and impervious under pressure. In the 2019 Ashes, Cummins was the only Australian fast bowler to play all five Tests and was the leading wicket-taker in the series, with 29 at 19.62.

Three months on, he made history in the 2020 IPL Auction, becoming the most expensive overseas player ever, when Kolkata Knight Riders signed him for a staggering ₹15.50 crore. “It’s good to see fast bowlers are sought after,” says Cummins. “A couple of early wickets, or a tight over at the end can be just as match-winning as a big batting score. I’m also excited to be back with KKR. I spent two seasons with KKR and loved my time there, they are a great big family.”

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The 26-year-old Cummins is just like what the 18-year-old Cummins was: mouth-watering potential and an unblemished match-winner. Nine summers ago, the New South Wales quick walked to the crease in Johannesburg, with Australia needing 18 to level the series with two wickets in hand. He hit a short delivery through mid-wicket to get the winning runs. At the turn of the decade, he has reaffirmed his Test credentials while consolidating his position as the No. 1 bowler in the world. In between, he didn’t play a Test for six years.

It was a seemingly interminable wait for the wunderkind who would go on to play a key role in reviving Australia in its time of turmoil and torment. Cummins has a history of stress fractures dating back to his momentous debut in South Africa when he revealed he carried a tender left heel home.

“Despite playing white ball, Test matches still felt a long way away. I would bowl 10 overs in an ODI and my body would be telling me it was struggling to cope with even that. There isn’t too much I could do about it so just tried to stay patient, and enjoy the little overs I could bowl,” he says.

A great start: Cummins made his Test debut in Johannesburg in South Africa in 2011 and got the winning runs for his side. He also bagged six wickets in the South African second innings.   -  AFP

 

Anyone who watched Cummins bowl in South Africa in 2011, would never have expected that seven years later, he would have played just 14 Tests. He did not play a second Test till 2017 when he made what he called his “second debut.” Against India in its backyard, a rejuvenated Cummins bowled nearly 40 overs each in back-to-back matches and took eight wickets before another back injury kept him out of a Test series against Pakistan in the UAE in 2018. “There were many bowlers such as Brett Lee, Mitchell Johnson who had a similar start to their careers and still had long careers so I tried to draw on that, and just enjoy the process.”

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Cummins was lucky that despite not playing any Tests, he could spend a lot of time around the Australian ODI and T20 sides. He couldn’t believe he was on Tour with the players he grew up idolising on TV. “I just remember that when I got my chance I wanted to not be timid as I knew I’d regret it later on. I think like most people as soon as you’re on the field competitiveness takes over and it’s a bit easier to relax... special to say I’ve played a Test match with some of the greats of the game,” he recalls.

While the art of sledging is nothing new, the Australians seemed to have championed it over the years with opponents preparing themselves for tough verbal encounters all the time: in parts, the duels brought to life the thrill and fear of express bowling. Cummins is a breakaway from the tradition of a kinetic portrait of machismo in fast bowlers. “I like to put all my energy into the actual act of bowling and keep my emotions in check,” he says.

“There’s nothing like a bowler and batter both trying to be aggressive taking the game on…it gets the heart rate pumping. I feel if I’m in control of how I’m bowling, I don’t need to try and be intimidatory with my actions.”

Hailing from the lower Blue Mountains, just west of Sydney, Cummins started playing grade cricket for Penrith when he was about 16, debuted for first grade when he was 17 and then within a couple of weeks, finished school and got a call-up from New South Wales. After just three Sheffield Shield games for NSW, he got a Cricket Australia contract and made his first tour to South Africa.

It has been a remarkable rise for a bowler who, despite his rapid passage through the ranks, risked being lost to injuries early in his career. But his off-field demeanour has held him good stead. “Probably not for me to say but I feel like I’m fairly relaxed, try to live a fairly normal life outside of cricket as we spend enough of our life on Tour! So just like the simple things like walking my dog, catching up with friends and having a day at the beach,” he says.

Phenomenal sum: Cummins has been acquired this year by Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) for a whopping sum of ₹ 15.5 crores, the most ever paid for an overseas player in the IPL. Cummins has been with KKR before. Here, in KKR colours, he sends back Chennai Super Kings’ Dwayne Smith at the Eden Gardens, Kolkata, on May 20, 2014.   -  K. R. DEEPAK

 

Former Australia Test skipper Michael Clarke believes Cummins is an Australia captain-in-waiting. “He is such a talent and someone I believe can go on and captain Australia one day,” Clarke had said. “There’s no definite reason why a bowler can’t captain a side,” Cummins says before adding, “I don’t think we need to talk about it now though with (Tim)Painey doing a fantastic job and we’re hoping we can have him around for another 10 years!”

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Australia’s Ashes glory was built around Cummins’ tearaway pace and Steve Smith’s insatiable hunger for runs. “It’s always good fun having battles with (Steve) Smithy. If you get him out he never thinks he is out though!”, Cummins says about the duels with Smith in the nets. “But it’s no fluke why he is as good as he his, he trains so hard at his batting and is always 100 per cent focused each training.”

Australia retained the Ashes on English soil for the first time since 2001, in a nail-biting finish at Old Trafford to achieve the victory that eluded it in the previous Test at Headingley; a win Cummins says will remain a career highlight. “We hadn’t brought the Ashes back to Australia for 20 years, so an amazing moment in Manchester after that Test,” he says. “We did a lot of things really well that tour. Added to that was how close we were to retaining the Ashes in the previous match and that made it that little bit sweeter."