The making of Pat Cummins: From men's cricket aged 13 to Australia's Ashes skipper... via a severed finger

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  • Pat Cummins
    Pat Cummins
    Australian cricketer
Pat Cummins then and now - The making of Pat Cummins: From men's cricket aged 13 to Australia's Ashes skipper... via a severed finger - PA/GETTY IMAGES
Pat Cummins then and now - The making of Pat Cummins: From men's cricket aged 13 to Australia's Ashes skipper... via a severed finger - PA/GETTY IMAGES

“You’re going to like this, I’ve done your research for you,” says a smiling Craig Batty, the secretary of Glenbrook-Blaxland Cricket Club where Pat Cummins started his journey to the Australia Test captaincy.

He reaches into his bag and pulls out a copy of the coach’s end-of-year report for the Glenbrook under-10s in 2001-02 after spending the previous evening delving through club archives.

It reads: “Patrick Cummins: Our tearaway fast bowler, who worried our wicketkeeper as much as the opposition batsmen.” It also mentions the nine-year-old’s “swashbuckling batting” and how he took the most catches in the season and scored more runs than anyone else.

So a star was born on the cricket fields of the lower Blue Mountains where we are watching the current Glenbrook-Blaxland under-14s at the Ched Towns Reserve, a park featuring two cricket ovals, intently playing a 40-over game, the mixed teams of boys and girls only disturbed from their concentration by a flock of cockatoos swooping across the pitch.

“This is it, this really is grass-roots cricket,” says Batty, surrounded by cricket bags with parents on deckchairs watching the game. Between matches, Glenbrook store their cricket kit in a shipping container and hold their committee meetings at the local bowls club. It’s a classic Australian community cricket club, with 140 children across all age-ranges hoping to win the Pat Cummins Shield, awarded each year to the top junior. Cummins still remembers his roots, posing recently in a Glenbrook shirt to help the club promote its junior programmes; and he revisited the club after his Test debut ten years ago, signing over a 100 mini cricket bats to give out to the kids.

The Pat Cummins Shield is awarded each year to the top junior at Glenbrook - NICK HOULT
The Pat Cummins Shield is awarded each year to the top junior at Glenbrook - NICK HOULT

He remembered his Glenbrook days in an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald’s weekend section on Saturday, his recollection chiming with his coach’s report.

“There was this one guy in junior cricket, every time I played him I hit him, and he retired hurt three times in three years,” Cummins said. “His mum came up to me, pleading, ‘Please stop hurting my little boy.’ And I was like, ‘I’m sorry, I’m not meaning to hit him.’”

Cummins' name is etched on the club’s slightly battered trophy for the under-11s allrounder of the year - which he won twice in a row - and club president Richard Minton remembers a skilful kid he captained in the men’s senior side, aged just 13. “It would have been seventh or eighth grade and we were short of a player. We have a policy in that case of giving a junior a game so we picked Pat. He was only a little bloke and there was not much of him. He was not express pace then but he had good control and even at that age could swing the ball. Anyway he got a five-fer and won us the game so I was happy.”

Cummins' name can be found twice etched on the club’s trophy for the under-11s allrounder of the year - NICK HOULT
Cummins' name can be found twice etched on the club’s trophy for the under-11s allrounder of the year - NICK HOULT

He scored 118 in one innings as an 11-year-old, quite the achievement at that age, and just seven years later he had gone from playing at Glenbrook’s Knapsack Oval to a Test debut.

His father Peter and brother Tim both played for Glenbrook, which is about a 15-minute drive from Mount Riverview, a small town on the fringes of the Blue Mountains where Cummins grew up. Cummins, a little like Sam Curran, was driven by being the youngest brother, the one who had to stand up for himself in competitive backyard cricket matches.

The rough and tumble of family life with five children in the house led to the childhood accident that lives with Cummins now. Aged four, the top of the middle finger of his right hand was severed when it was trapped in a door. "I still get my sister in tears... she slammed the door on it,” he once told the Cricket Australia website.

There are no photographs from his Glenbrook time, or if there are they are in a box gathering dust in someone’s attic. “Nobody would have thought of taking them in those days,” says Batty. It was a time before camera phones and digital photographs charted a child’s every move.

But there are plenty of pictures of Cummins at Penrith, just down the road from Mount Riverview. Glenbrook is a feeder club into Penrith, the local grade cricket side, which is where Cummins soon became recognised as a prodigy heading for the top.

When you walk into the NA Hunter Pavilion at Penrith’s Howell Oval, almost the first sight is a huge framed photograph of Cummins, which also contains a signed shirt from his Test debut. On the opposite wall is a framed jumper and photograph of Trevor Bayliss in his 80s pomp; the former England coach is a legendary Penrith figure, still often seen at the ground watching his son play for the first-grade side.

Speak to anyone at Glenbrook or Penrith about Cummins and they all recall a humble, quiet boy who was seriously skilful for his age. The personality attributes remain and are why Cricket Australia, ever aware of its image, has risked appointing its first fast since 1956 to lead the Test side.

“It was 12-13 years ago that we first saw Pat. I just remember this skinny, rangy kid with a mop of hair who could bowl fast and also bat quite well,” says Paul Goldsmith, the Penrith president. “What is a little-known fact is that the year he played in our Green Shield team (junior cricket) he was captain and that was his first captaincy experience. He was the leading run-scorer and we could see at that age he was going to be a pretty good bowler, but he was a rounded cricketer as well. He was an athlete at a young age, albeit just skin and bones.”

Within three seasons, aged 17, he was playing first grade and had already been picked up by New South Wales. After one year of grade cricket and three Sheffield Shield games for New South Wales, he was making his Test debut.

“I have seen players with ability get ahead of themselves but Pat was not like that. He was quiet, humble, a good listener and just a very nice person to be part of a group,” says Goldsmith.

Cummins still occasionally turns out for Penrith when coming back from injury; the bond between grade cricket and the Test team still remains strong in Australia. “Normally there is a man and a dog watching grade cricket but when Pat comes back it always helps shift a few more burgers and beers,” says Goldsmith.

In 2017, he starred as Penrith won their first title for 16 years, Cummins bowling the last over in a limited-overs final and successfully defending five runs to win. There is a photograph of him jumping in the air celebrating with the same passion as if he had just knocked over Joe Root. “It is a good indication of how he views club cricket,” says Goldsmith. “I remember before the game he said he was quite nervous because of the expectation that came with it. It meant a lot to him. He gives so much to the team. He comes back, is humble and expects to be treated like a normal club cricketer - and he is, and he treats his team-mates like that, too. He is a natural leader.”

It was spotted all those years ago in the Glenbrook end-of-year report. “Patrick was always encouraging others,” it said - the first hint of the skills needed to make him Australia’s 46th Test captain.

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