George Orwell’s dire predictions for 1984 may have seemed minor compared to what Australian cricket faced that year.
When Pat Cummins burst onto the Test scene in Johannesburg as a strapping quick who could bowl all day, the world was his oyster with a long and exciting career ahead of him.
At 18 years and 193 days, he was the second youngest baggy green wearer in history behind elegant batsman Ian Craig who debuted against South Africa at the MCG in 1953, at 17 years and 239 days.
But fate stepped in against both of them.
Craig’s severe bout of hepatitis ended his career at 26, but en route he had set records still not broken – the youngest at 16 to represent NSW, the youngest to score a double century at 17, the youngest to play for Australia and his country’s youngest Test captain.
Cummins was struck down with stress fractures and had to fight through 63 months of pain, surgeries, rehab and frustrations before he played his second Test.
That was mighty tough to take after a debut that saw him become the youngest Australian to capture 6-79 against the might of South Africa, the youngest Man-of-the-Match and to hit the winning run in the seven-wicket success.
Cummins opened the bowling in that Test with Mitchell Johnson, and in his comeback Test shared the new ball with Josh Hazlewood against India, at Ranchi.
In those two Tests, Cummins out-bowled his partner, as he did in the two Tests that followed against Bangladesh.
The last Ashes in Australia saw a change in direction that has been sustained ever since.
Mitchell Starc surfaced, and for some unfathomable reason, Pat Cummins was relegated to change bowler status despite being the most successful and the first-choice opening bowler.
The Ashes stats tell the truth:
Cummins – 23 wickets at 24.55
Starc – 22 at 23.54.
Hazlewood – 21 at 25.90.
Then it was off to South Africa, where Cummins was to again fill the role of change bowler:
Cummins – 22 at 21.45.
Starc – 12 at 34.41.
Hazlewood – 12 at 39.25.
Further proof surfaced in the recent four-Test series against India:
Cummins – 14 at 27.78.
Hazlewood – 13 at 30.61.
Starc – 13 at 34.53.
Why have the selectors, coach and captain so consistently ignored those facts?
Cummins, in all those examples, should have been first-choice quick, not bridesmaid third.
It’s a fair enough point that left-armer Starc as Cummins’ new-ball partner is coming from a different direction, but Hazlewood was the obvious change bowler.
Hazlewood has been described as the modern-day metronome Glenn McGrath, which is a disservice to the “Pigeon”.
His entire career worked on the “You miss, I hit” theory. Hazlewood has never been so accurate.
If scorers broke dot balls into two categories, those where a shot has been played and no run and those deliveries that passed aimlessly through to the keeper, McGrath had precious few of those, Hazlewood plenty, and a lot more than Cummins.
It stands to reason that Cummins, who is consistently faster and more accurate than Hazlewood, would be even more dangerous with the harder, shinier, new ball.
Hazlewood is out of the picture with stress fractures, so the Sri Lankans are about to face the really dangerous Pat Cummins.