Pat Cummins loses cool but not threat as Australia’s attack excels again

<span>Photograph: Ryan Pierse/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Ryan Pierse/Getty Images

You really don’t see Pat Cummins lose his rag. His whole deal is staying level, taking the Rudyard Kipling approach to triumph and disaster. Quick to smile and to recommend the perspective that cricket is a good time, not a cause for grievance.

Take his Pakistan trip in 2022. A month guarded by an army. Fifteen days of Test grind, still 0-0 into the final day. Cummins reminding his team about carrying on with patience, about resisting frustration on moribund pitches. Then, on that 15th day, the pace and energy of his final spells, his three wickets vital to making that drawn score a win.

It stood out, then, on the third day of the World Test Championship final in London, when Shardul Thakur played a forward defensive stroke to end the 60th over, and Cummins booted the ball towards slip. Enough close calls and enough riding on them, and frustration can break through.

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You can understand why. On the previous day, Cummins had India’s No 5, Ajinkya Rahane, lbw, then had it overturned for overstepping the crease. Rahane was not out at stumps. Cummins didn’t review a not-out lbw favouring Ravindra Jadeja, but that one would also have hit the stumps and was also found to be a no-ball. Jadeja was on four and went on to 48.

In the first over of the third day, Scott Boland smashed up KS Bharat’s stumps with a perfect delivery off the seam, then had Thakur dropped at third slip. Cummins started his work at the far end by jagging balls inwards, then straight, then short, beating Thakur in one over, beating him up in the next. He hit India’s lower‑order smasher twice on the arm, once on the glove, and beat his edge again. It looked as if Thakur’s day would be done shortly.

On cue Cummins’s third over brought the length ball, the edge to gully … and Cameron Green dropped it cold. One of those inexplicable ones – straight in, straight down. Cummins’s fourth over saw Rahane nick four and top‑edge six. Cummins took a break but couldn’t switch off as captain, as Thakur kept riding his luck with swishes for runs.

In his second spell Cummins immediately saw David Warner drop Rahane at slip. Shardul smoked four through square. The third over of the spell was the kicker. Again, slanting into Rahane’s pads at pace. Again, the batter reviewing in hope. Again, the bowler’s front foot over the line.

Umesh Yadav of India is bowled by Pat Cummins of Australia (not pictured)

Follow that up two balls later with a wasted review against Thakur for caught behind and it’s no wonder the over ended with a spot of football. Rahane and Thakur thrashed a hundred partnership by lunch. For some people watching and thinking of the Ashes to come, that will be the lesson: that the Australians dropped their bundle in those two hours, that they might again under pressure.

More relevant is what happened after lunch. With the break to clear his head, Cummins hit Ctrl+Alt+Delete. Started again with Boland and himself. Hit his length to Thakur. Then his first ball to Rahane was a tempter, slashed to gully. Green’s reach reeled it in. Cummins then went solo to knock out Umesh Yadav, a literally perfect delivery that shivered away from the bat after angling in, tapping the top of off-stump. Green and Mitchell Starc finished the tail, India 173 behind.

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If we are looking for omens for the weeks to come, it’s less about rusty catching and errant front feet. It’s more about Cummins relentlessly hitting dangerous spots on the pitch throughout a session when things weren’t going well. It was the bounce past the body and the bounce past the edge, with India never in control, never settled. It was Australia producing so many wicket-taking deliveries, no matter what happened next.

And it was about an attack that did not even need Nathan Lyon, using the spinner for four token overs, shifting from Boland to Cummins to Starc to Green, all of whom offered something different without the intensity dropping.

In the coaching speak of separating processes from results, most of the process worked. With a sporting pitch providing a proper contest, what stood out was how dangerous the bowling looked.

With the variety and quality of that attack, somebody is always likely to have a good day. The Australians are in fair shape if what happened at the Oval was their bad one.