Cummins called up to replace Starc
Australia's intent to fight the Border-Gavaskar series to the finish has been made clear by the calculated gamble of selecting Pat Cummins to replace the injured Mitchell Starc for the last two Tests in India.
Most of the focus on Cummins has been about ensuring he is fit to be considered for next summer's home Ashes series, but a head-turning display for New South Wales on his Sheffield Shield return at the SCG this week has encouraged Trevor Hohns' selection panel to call-up the fast man ahead of that more conservative schedule. Provided he acclimatises quickly he is every chance of being slotted straight into the team for the third Test in Ranchi.
Starc had picked up a stress fracture in his right foot during the second Test in Bengaluru, and his exit has opened a path for Cummins to return to the Test squad for the first time since his memorable debut against South Africa in Johannesburg in 2011.
That week Cummins bowled with high pace and precision to earn man of the match honours at the age of 18, also striking the winning runs to help the Australians secure a tense, two-wicket victory over the Proteas to level the series. He has returned older and wiser but once more at a juncture of high significance for the national team.
Cummins took eight wickets on his return to Sheffield Shield this week, nearly six years after his last first-class appearance in the 2011 Sheffield Shield final. Figures of 4 for 57 and 4 for 47 in the Blues' eight-wicket win over South Australia helped convince the newly reappointed selection panel that his ability to make an impact with speed and movement made him the ideal substitute for the explosive Starc.
"In selecting Pat, we were looking for a strike bowling replacement option," Hohns said. "Pat has impressed in his return to cricket this summer with consistent performances in his ODI, Twenty20 International and Big Bash matches. He has also had a very good Sheffield Shield return for New South Wales, after six years off, where he made a notable Shield best 4-57 in the first innings, before bettering those figures in the second innings with 4-47 in his man-of-the-match performance."
A raft of foot, side and back injuries in the wake of the 2011 Wanderers Test match caused Cricket Australia to take a longer view of Cummins, holding him out of Sheffield Shield and Test cricket while making use of him in the ODI and Twenty20 teams. His only first-class matches between 2011 and this year were for Australia A.
Late last year, Australia's captain Steven Smith was quizzed on whether it was feasible that he could be working with Cummins during the India Tests. While saying such a scenario was "possible", Smith reserved judgment by saying "he's obviously got to play some Shield cricket first and see how he goes". One Shield match, and an unexpected chance to push India all the way on the current tour, have turned possibility into reality.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig