Pat Cummins and the value of small building blocks for No1 ranked Australia star

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  • Does Pat Cummins ever have a bad outing in Australia’s Test whites? The No1 ranked red ball bowler was at the heart of battle as usual in Adelaide as Australia stunned India into submission with a bowling display for the ages.

    While Josh Hazlewood’s brilliant figures of 5-8 in India’s epic collapse took the headlines, Cummins wasn’t far behind with a four-wicket haul. The seven wickets across the two innings saw the pacer take his Test tally to 150 wickets in just 31 appearances.

    It was befitting that Cummins’ 150th dismissal of his Test career was that of Virat Kohli as the India skipper perished at the hands of the Australian for the fifth time in 10 innings.

    No Australian bowler has attained the milestone in quicker time, while only three fast bowlers, including Dale Steyn, have done it in fewer Tests in the entire history of the sport. The 27-year-old does not have the searing pace of someone like Mitchell Starc, neither does he possess the prodigious swing of a James Anderson. So what makes Cummins tick?

    We look at the best Test bowler in the world’s strongest attributes.

    Surgical precision

    What Cummins lacks in raw speed, he makes up for with accuracy. That is not to say that he is a slouch either because the Australian is capable of hitting the 150 kph mark when he puts his back into it.  However, he is smart enough to sacrifice speed for precision when it comes to bowling long spells in the five-day format.

    A nagging top of the off-stump line, coupled with the ability to bring the ball into the right-hander makes him a constant menace.

    The iconic Glenn McGrath possessed the same quality and was a terror for batsmen to handle, Cummins is more than following his predecessor’s footsteps.

    In fact, the Sydney native is putting in much better numbers than McGrath at the same stage of their respective careers. While McGrath had chipped away 137 dismissals after 31 Tests for Australia, Cummins has managed 150 at a better average (21.26) and strike-rate (46.3).

    McGrath’s average and strike-rate in the same period were 23.89 and 53.8 respectively. Notably, both the Australian pacers had reached the top of the ICC Test rankings at the same stage.

    Consistency at home and away

    Pacers who excel both home and away are a rare breed, with even the likes of James Anderson and Stuart Broad struggling to put up similar numbers when playing abroad. Cummins, though, is different animal in this regard.

    There is an even split between his wickets at home and overseas, with 72 of the 150 scalps coming abroad. His average at home (20.72) is only marginally better than his stellar average away (21.86) from Australia.  Contrast this with the dichotomy of Anderson’s numbers, and it is clear to see why Cummins is held in such high regard already.

    The veteran English seamer’s overseas average rises considerably to 32.06 overseas, compared to just 23.84 in the comfort of home conditions. In this aspect, Cummins is once again akin to McGrath who was the master at excelling in every condition. McGrath’s home and away averages were 22.43 and 20.81 respectively.

    What’s even more impressive about Cummins’ adaptability is that he has fared well in both India and Bangladesh. In his two tours to these countries between 2016 and 2018, the Aussie averaged less than 30 with the ball in both series. Each of these series were dominated by spinners, with Cummins’ displays as a fast bowler standing out for all the right reasons.

    The quick naturally excels in conditions present in Australia, South Africa and England with his pace, swing and bounce. Ironically, his worst Test series display so far came at home against Pakistan last year. Even in his ‘worst’ career display, Cummins claimed eight wickets across 80 overs at an average of 32.13.

    Rare off days and small building blocks

    Unlike Broad or Anderson, Cummins is not the type of bowler who will run through batting orders and collect wickets in heaps on his day. He doesn’t need to do that either, with the likes of Josh Hazlewood, Mitchell Starc and Nathan Lyon present to share the wicket load.

    What makes him special is the ability to consistently chip away innings after innings. In 59 Test innings for Australia so far, only five times has Cummins gone wicket-less. He is the type of pacer who will always put in an eight out of 10 display at minimum for Australia.

    While five-wicket hauls are taken as the benchmark of a good bowling display, Cummins is showing the value of up picking up three or four wickets on a consistent basis.

    In 32 out of 59 occasions, the Aussie has claimed three or more wickets in an innings. Interestingly, only four of these performances translated into five-wicket hauls. In 22 innings, he has ended up exactly with a three-wicket haul.

    He is not the man for the grand displays, but he is one who will guarantee his captain important wickets each time he steps on the field.