Now don’t get your budgies in a bunch, I’m not bagging Pat Cummins.
He had a very good summer and had Australia won the Border-Gavaskar trophy, his award for player of the series would most likely be warranted. Even if the series had been drawn he would have been a reasonable choice.
But Australia did not win the series.
Pat Cummins was the leader of the attack that failed to dismiss the Indian side twice in two Tests on day five pitches with big leads.
I’m not blaming Pat Cummins. But if he had been able to make just a couple more breakthroughs on one of those day five wickets and turn the match, then that would have constituted a great individual series.
He showed he is capable of such feats on the morning of Day 3 in Adelaide when he almost single-handedly won the game for Australia. Cummins took 7-69 in that first match. In the remaining three games he took 14 wickets for 352 runs at 25.14.
Now 21 wickets in a four-Test series is nothing to sneeze at, but someone has to collect the scalps, and as the series wore on it became less and less likely that Mitchell Starc or Nathan Lyon would pick up wickets.
Cummins’ performance was brave in a beaten side, but not series defining. What may have been series defining was the amount of overs he was asked to bowl, 162 overs in a four-Test series played back to back to back to back. This workload seriously blunted his strike power. Cummins was a man of steel, yes, but man of the series, no.
When a player from a losing side wins an award like man of the series, or a Clive Churchill Medal, or a Norm Smith Medal, it usually leaves a sour taste for the majority of fans. It also feels quite empty to the recipient. It’s like an albatross around their neck, and they often receive the award to a chorus of boos, meant for the judges, but felt by the recipient.
Yet too often the people who judge these awards are forced to choose the recipient well before the final and decisive act. Or maybe they just don’t get it. There should be an unwritten rule that the best player award should go to a member of the victorious squad and therefore not chosen until the conclusion of a contest.
After the exhilarating finish to the series when India come from the clouds to defeat Australia, I tuned in to the presentation ceremony and pondered who would win the player of the series award.
A strong case could be made for Rishabh Pant with his tally of 274 runs at 68.5. His batting exploits helped save a match in Sydney, and then win the series in Brisbane. Not to mention his ability to unsettle some Australian batsmen, without even saying a word to them.
It could have gone to Shubman Gill for his stunning debut series as opener. After being selected to open in the second Test at the MCG he scored 259 runs at an average of 51.8 with a strike rate of 60.65 runs per hundred balls. He made important contributions of 45, 35 not out, 50, 31 and a scored a vital 91 on the last day of the series to set the stage for India’s successful run chase. His consistency at the top of the order set a platform for India on all but one occasion, preventing any further top order collapses after their capitulation in Adelaide.
You could even give it to the Wall, Cheteshawar Pujara, whose series-high 928 deliveries faced was possibly the most telling factor in blunting the vaunted Australian attack.
The old school Test match grinding innings should never be underestimated. Of course he couldn’t win the award with an average of only 33.87, but his concentration and commitment to his team’s cause may well have had the greatest influence of any player in this series.
I guess you would be hard pressed to make a case for any of the Indian bowlers. None of them lasted the full series and the wickets were shared among them.
Ravendra Jadeja topped their averages with seven wickets at 15 in two matches. Second Test debutant and fourth Test hero Mohammed Siraj topped their tally with 13 wickets at 29.53 in three matches.
Ravichandran Ashwin took 12, Jasprit Bumrah took 11, Umesh Yadav took four and three of their net bowlers – Navdeep Saini, Washington Sundar and T Natarajan – chipped in together for another 11 vital wickets. Hats off to the Indian bowling unit for manufacturing so many wickets under such difficult circumstances.
The player of the series award should have gone to Rishabh Pant. His fourth innings scores of 97 and 89 not out in Sydney and Brisbane defined those matches and decided the series.