Cummins declares readiness for second debut
Pat Cummins has declared his readiness to be unleashed for what he feels will be a second beginning to his Test career, should he play for Australia in the pivotal third Border-Gavaskar bout in Ranchi, more than five years after his memorable debut against South Africa in Johannesburg.
Though Cummins had been quietly placed on standby for the India tour in January, getting a visa to travel to the subcontinent among other things, a second Test appearance was the furthest thing from his mind when he was claiming eight wickets for New South Wales last week - in his first Sheffield Shield appearance since March 2011. He had expected to be playing for NSW in Western Australia, as they sought the victory they require to make the Shield final. Instead, Cummins is highly likely to be sharing the new ball with Josh Hazlewood in Ranchi, after the national selectors gambled on his pace and penetration ahead of other candidates with far more cricket behind them.
"I knew I was on standby for the tour a couple of months ago but really I thought the bowlers weren't going to bowl too many overs so hoped they weren't going to be injured or anything like that," Cummins said in Ranchi. "So yeah, I hadn't really thought about coming over at all.
"I think for a couple of months, I knew I was going to be [in with] a chance; I had to sort out visas and everything like that a couple of months ago. So, I think it was always kind of part of a plan, along with playing a couple of Shield games. But I think over here they're not great, bowler-friendly wickets for quicks, which actually means I won't bowl too many overs. So from that point of view it was always going to be a plan that was pretty comfortable along with playing some Shield games.
"In some ways it does [feel like a second debut]. To be honest, it's not very fresh. It feels like so much has happened in those five or six years. But I think since that day this is easily the most prepared I have been for a Test match in terms of body, form and the length that I have been playing the last few months. So, in some ways it feels like my first game. But being part of the Aussie squad with ODIs and T20s, it is a pretty familiar surrounding."
Cricket Australia's management of Cummins has been extremely conservative over the past few years, designed to get his body to a point of maturity without any further instances of the foot and back injuries that humbugged him in the years after the aforementioned Test at the Wanderers, where he was Man of the Match in a rousing Australian victory.
As recently as NSW's Shield fixture in Wollongong, Cummins was fit and free to play but not risked in order to give him as many training sessions as possible to steadily build up his workload and avoid the "spikes" that CA's sports science division judge the greatest risk factors for injuries to fast bowlers.
The NSW bowling coach Geoff Lawson has questioned the wisdom of taking Cummins to India for matches where he will by definition have to push himself, but Cummins reasoned there would be little difference between a Shield match in Perth and a Test in India. "I was probably going to play the last game for NSW and hopefully the final which would have entailed a lot of overs," Cummins said.
"It's no different, being over here or playing the Shield game. Having the last six months I've had, I am really comfortable. I felt like I tried to bowl with a bit more rhythm in the Shield game [against South Australia] than potentially what I have done in an ODI or something, where I run in and try to bowl as fast as I can every ball. So, I felt like I could bowl six or seven overs in a spell pretty easily and the pace felt like it was coming out pretty good."
Even so, Cummins admitted his eyes had always been on vying for a berth in Australia's Ashes XI at home next summer, rather than playing a role in the bid to wrest the Border-Gavaskar Trophy from India away.
"I'd set myself little steps of getting back into the one-day side, and from that hopefully getting back into the Test side," he said. "But I didn't think it was going to happen this quickly. I'd always had an eye on the Ashes next year, just thinking that I had to play three or four Shield games to put my hand up for selection. It has certainly come a lot quicker, but I always thought I'd get back here."
As he made abundantly clear at the Wanderers, Cummins is an intelligent cricketer, and he is well aware of the history that may yet be made in Ranchi. Victory in the third Test, in the most difficult conditions imaginable against the world's No.1 Test side, would be the sort of achievement to set up a young Australian team for years of sustained success under the captaincy of Steven Smith.
"Being at home for the first two Tests, I really appreciated how much passion is in this tour and how much Test cricket means. A big Indian tour like this can really identify a team and Steve Smith's captaincy," he said. "I've just been pumped watching it at home and to be over and potentially being part of the series is really cool.
"India is a tour that really brings the team and the squad together, it doesn't feel like a tour where there are one or two stand-outs. Everyone in the eleven needs to contribute. Winning over here is just one of those things that can bring a team together. And bring them together for the next 10 years or so."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig