In the space of a brilliant six-over spell against India yesterday, young Australian quick Pat Cummins showed why the selectors rushed him into the Test team.
On a benign surface which offered nothing to the fast bowlers, Cummins used his underrated cunning to work over India’s most in-form batsman KL Rahul, who was threatening to canter to a big ton.
Analysis of the 23-year-old fast bowler tends to focus heavily on his unsettling pace and bounce, often overlooking Cummins’ impressive cricketing brain.
The manner in which he kept the Indian batsmen guessing during that six-over burst was as clever as anything I’ve seen from a Test paceman in recent years.
Cummins swiftly summed up the conditions. He recognised that simply bowling flat out and looking to burst through the batsman’s defence was not likely to bear fruit on this sleepy surface.
So he made his sharpest deliveries more surprising and therefore threatening by varying his pace and ball release. Using tactics ripped from T20, the format in which Cummins has the most experience, he employed a befuddling array of variations.
In between searing deliveries in the 145-to-148kmh range, he sent down off cutters, leg cutters, cross seamers, dipping, floating changeups, and slower-ball bouncers.
Rahul was patently unsettled by Cummins’ approach. When Cummins started that spell Rahul was flying along on 52 from 71 balls, and the opening stand was getting away from Australia.
Rahul was stopped dead in his tracks by Cummins’ trickery, scoring only 3 from 17 balls against him in this spell before falling victim to the young quick. In the end it was variation which undid Rahul, with Cummins rolling his fingers across a short ball which reared up at the Indian strokemaker, kissed his glove and lobbed to keeper Matt Wade.
It was just reward for Cummins who was the pick of the Australian bowlers. The wicket of Rahul was incredibly important on a surface which looks likely to break up on days four and five but right now is brimming with runs.
It should have come as little surprise that Cummins bowled so well, for his expansive talent has never been in doubt.
The questions, always, centre around his durability. There were encouraging signs in the way he powered through that long spell. At no point did Cummins look tired or straining for extra pace. His final delivery of that spell scorched through at 145kmh.
Any discussion about Cummins is littered with ‘ifs’. His immensely intelligent and skilful display yesterday underlined that, if he can stay healthy, he will quickly become a quality Test bowler. Australia will desperately need him to bowl just as well again for the remainder of this Test as they face a stern challenge to force a positive result.
At 1-120 India are well placed to match or surpass Australia’s good first innings total of 451. The hosts will draw confidence from the fact that, in their recent home series against England, they twice secured innings victories despite England making solid first innings totals.
In the fifth Test of that series, England made 477 batting first only for the hosts to pile up 7-759 and turn the match on its head. They will plan to do just that again here in Ranchi.
There are, however, two clear differences between that situation and this one.
Firstly, Australia’s bowling attack has showed in this series that it is far more threatening than England’s proved to be in India. Secondly, India’s fifth Test batting heroics against England came in the deadest of dead rubbers against a side whose spirit was broken.
Here, by comparison, India need to make 500-plus under immense pressure – they know that a poor batting effort could hand the Border-Gavaskar Trophy to Australia.