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An ‘exceptionally proud’ Pat Cummins has given his Australian teammates a glowing review after his first Test in charge, a nine-wicket win over England at the Gabba to start the Ashes series on a perfect note.
Cummins also addressed the injury woes which could impact the line-up for the second Test in Adelaide, which begins on Thursday. Quick Josh Hazlewood (side strain) and David Warner (ribs) are both in doubt for the match, but the captain is confident that the important pair will be right to take their places in the XI in the city of churches.
Here is everything Cummins said following Australia’s first Test triumph.
On the team’s performance
Cummins was full of praise for Australia’s performance at the Gabba, both in setting up the victory with both bat and ball on days one and two, and recovering from an England fightback led by opposite skipper Joe Root on day three.
“It was a good reminder that it’s Test cricket, there’s going to be tough days out there, good partnerships,” Cummins said of the 162-run partnership between Root and Dawid Malan in the third session of the day, which briefly reignited hopes of an English resurrection.
“You’re playing against the best players in the world. They’re gonna have good days.
“I was really happy with how we stuck at it. I thought we put a lot into yesterday, and we were really calm; turned out this morning still focused and calm and ahead of the game, so there was no panic.
“Then we got our rewards this morning for the hard work from yesterday.”
It was a virtually complete team performance from Australia, with all five frontline bowlers, including all-rounder Cameron Green, chipping in with wickets; while Marcus Harris made up for his low first-innings score by hitting the winning runs in a fourth-innings run chase of just 20.
The evenness of the effort delighted Cummins.
“I was really happy that just about everyone fired,” he said.
“I thought the bowling unit together bowled really well, and just about all the batters got going into the game.
“I’m really happy with where we’re at.”
However, Cummins was wary of overconfidence despite the great start to the series. Australia had a similarly comfortable win over India in the first Test of last summer, including routing the visitors for just 36; only to go on and lose the series 2-1.
The new captain is keen to avoid a repeat, and insists Australia’s record of 10 Test victories over England in their last 11 Tests on these shores doesn’t make any difference to what will happen for the remainder of the summer.
“It’s really early on in the series,” he said. “History is great, but it doesn’t count for too much.
“We’re going to Adelaide, to a place we love playing. [The] pink ball, it’s a little bit different to the traditional red ball match. A few more unknowns each time we play.
“It’s a format we enjoy. Adelaide Oval is a great place to play cricket. Couldn’t have asked for a better start, but still a lot of work to do.”
On Hazlewood and Warner’s injury concerns
Australia’s victory wasn’t without a cost. Opener David Warner was unable to field in the second innings, and was surplus to requirements for Australia’s run chase, after copping a blow to the ribs from Ben Stokes while batting on day two.
Then quick Josh Hazlewood suffered a reported side strain which saw him handled with care by Cummins in England’s second innings, bowling only eight of 68 overs on day three as England clawed their way back into the match.
Despite the twin concerns, Cummins is confident both will be fit for the second Test, despite just a four-day turnaround between games.
“It’s rib – little bit of rib,” the captain said of Hazlewood’s injury. “Nothing too serious but didn’t want to turn into a huge injury.
“He [Hazlewood] came out today and was able to bowl, and got through a really good spell, but yeah, he’s a little bit sore.
“We’re just managing him through. It’s obviously a five-Test match summer. He’s key for us, so we don’t want to blow him out of the water on day two or three.”
Cummins admitted there was still plenty of uncertainty around Hazlewood’s fitness immediately following the Test, with his availability to become clear in coming days.
“I think we’ll wait till he wakes up on [Sunday] morning,” he said.
“I think the key is, we don’t want to put him in jeopardy for the whole series. So we’ll take our time.
“He had a scan last night [Friday night], so we’ll kind of work through that. He bowled out there today.
“No plan yet: sleep on it, see how he pulls up tomorrow.”
Cummins also downplayed the severity of Warner’s injury, saying the dynamic opener, who scored a valuable first-innings 94 to bat England out of the match, would have batted if required in the fourth innings.
Having spent England’s entire second dig off the field, the left-hander would have had to bat at number seven or lower had the Aussies suffered a dramatic collapse.
“We actually came in when we needed 20 to win – we couldn’t find him anywhere in the stadium!” Cummins remarked.
“We just chose not to risk him. I think he had a hit in here earlier and got through it.
“[He’s] still pretty sore, but he should be right for Adelaide. We’ll monitor him, but I think he’ll be fine.”
Should Warner miss the Adelaide Test through injury, the Australian selectors will have a conundrum on their hands. Many pundits clamoured for Usman Khawaja, who averages 96.80 as a Test opener, to partner him at the top of the order at the Gabba ahead of Harris; but a century for Australia A against the England Lions by Queensland opener Bryce Street, plus twin failures for Khawaja, have muddied the waters.
“In terms of replacements, ‘Uzzie’s’ in the squad… no idea,” Cummins said of Khawaja’s chances of a recall.
“Ask a selector! It’s above my pay grade.”
On Nathan Lyon’s long-awaited milestone
Having spent the better part of a year stranded on 399 Test wickets, Nathan Lyon was the most relieved man in Australia after getting Malan caught at silly point early on day three, to become just the third Aussie to take 400 scalps.
The other two? Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath. Pretty handy company for the GOAT, the one-time Adelaide Oval groundsman turned one of the most successful off-spinners in history.
However, Cummins admitted even he was beginning to have doubts whether Lyon would actually get over the line.
“I said to him [Lyon] last night, forget about it – you’re never gonna get your 400, so it’s nice that he got that done this morning!” he joked.
“I said maybe next summer! I’m really happy for him; I thought he bowled really well yesterday without luck.”
Bowling like a man with the weight of the world lifted off his shoulders after achieving the milestone, Lyon would quickly run through England’s lower order and tail to finish with figures of 4/91, a badly needed return to form. According to Cummins, the surge is good news not just for the spinner, but for the entire team.
“I think he’s just about our most important bowler,” the captain said.
“A wicket-taking option, but also the amount of overs he bowls. I think even yesterday, he bowled without luck, but he went at two and a half an over for 20-odd overs on a hot day, which is a huge asset for us.
“He came out today, and showed why he’s one of the greatest of all time.”
On Cameron Green’s bowling improvement
Without match practice and carrying injuries, Green ambled through 44 overs last summer against India and never looked like taking a wicket.
That all changed against England: touching 140km/h, the all-rounder was a constant threat with ball in hand, culminating in the crucial scalp of Root early on day four.
“It’s just a great way for him to get into his career as an all-rounder; I thought he bowled beautifully all game,” Cummins said of the talented Western Australian.
Green’s remarkable rise as a batter at Sheffield Shield level, where he has scored eight centuries in just 30 matches at an average well north of 50, belies the fact that he broke into the WA as a bowler first.
While admitting his knowledge of Green the seamer is limited, Cummins maintained that Green has the capacity to be one of the most dangerous all-rounders in world cricket.
“There was a lot of chatter a couple of years ago that he was one of the next-best quicks… then he started churning out hundreds,” Cummins said.
“It’s huge for us having that; not just an all-rounder that bowls a bit, he’s a genuine fourth quick.
“Last summer was tough in that it was literally straight after a stress fracture, so [we] didn’t want to put too many overs into him on the ground… little things like preparing for games and getting overs into you, and working on things in the nets, he just didn’t have a lot of bowling behind him.
“He’s had a really good pre-season, bowled a bit more in Shield cricket. He’s back to probably what he was bowling a couple of years ago.
He’s just a huge asset: bowls 140 [km/h], bounce, can swing the ball. He’s away now… he’s still firmly in our top six batters, but to have someone like him that can give us genuine wicket-taking overs… great.”
On taking down Jack Leach
Australia’s savage treatment of England spinner Jack Leach played a major role in the eventually comfortable win. With the left-armer hammered for 102 runs from just 13 overs, captain Root was forced to turn back to his quicks repeatedly on days two and three.
It eventually led to the team being fined 100 per cent of their match fee, and being docked five World Test Championship points, for glacial over rates throughout the day.
“When the Aussie cricket team is playing at its best, it has a real presence against, particularly spin bowling, and that was really all we spoke about,” Cummins said of the team’s plans to target Leach.
“I think they [the batters] sensed an opportunity. It’s a tough ground sometimes to bowl here, short straight, and the batters capitalised.
“Really really brave, fearless; it’s one thing talking about it, but to go out and play that way, I thought was really impressive.”
On Alex Carey’s record-breaking Test debut
With the gloves at least, Alex Carey’s first Test after taking over from Tim Paine couldn’t have gone any better. Immaculate behind the stumps to both the quick bowlers and the spin of Nathan Lyon, the South Australian pouched eight catches for the match, setting a new record for the most by a keeper on Test debut.
Cummins described his performance as ‘without any flaws’, but maintains he’s ‘not surprised’ by Carey’s excellence, having seen him in action in limited-overs cricket for several years.
“I thought he was tremendous,” he said. “Really clean against ‘Lyono’ as well.
“He’s played a lot of international cricket; we knew he’d slot straight in and be high quality. I’m really happy for him.
“Eight catches… great start for him.”
While scores of 12 and 9 with the bat weren’t as spectacular as his keeping, Cummins was equally impressed by the debutant’s moxy in this facet. With Warner unable to open, the team turned to Carey to partner Marcus Harris at the top of the order in Australia’s brief run-chase.
That he only managed nine wasn’t a concern for Cummins, who praised the gloveman’s team-first decision, having kept wicket for much of the previous day as well as the morning session.
“Putting his hand up when Davey wasn’t going to open – he said ‘Nup, I’ll open’ – shows a lot of confidence, and [he’ll] do whatever he can for the team,” the captain said.
On the pressures of captaincy
Any concerns about Cummins’ suitability for the top job have been all but alleviated, with the new skipper barely putting a foot wrong in his first Test at the helm. He said he felt his captaincy improved the longer the match continued, and he became more accustomed to the demands of the role.
“Out there on the field, I felt like I got a little bit better as the game went on, and just concentrating on my own bowling and trusting that everything else is going to work out okay,” he said.
However, the 28-year old has admitted the nerves occasionally got the better of him… but only in the change rooms, rather than out on the field.
“It felt a little bit harder than I normally do,” Cummins said of waiting for his turn to bat on day two.
“I usually sit down in the change room and watch, but there was like a two-second delay, and that was annoying me because the crowd were going crazy. I wasn’t sure it was a four or a wicket, so I had to go and sit up at the top probably more so than I would have done normally.”
However, Cummins also offered an insight into an area of the captaincy where he might be more suited than the usual batters that occupy the top job: his ability to relax when waiting for his turn in the middle.
“There’s not much I can do in a batting innings, so I try and sit back, use it as a time to recharge, like us bowlers normally do, and let the batteries do their thing.”