Pat Cummins can bowl. Pat Cummins can also bat. In fact, he can do it all in an Australia team that is lacking experience. So much so, that Megan Schutt, an Australia women’s cricketer, called him to be the next Australian Prime Minister. Cummins’s brilliant haul of 6/27, combined with his gritty fifty ensured Australia not only frustrated Virat Kohli’s push for a 2-1 series lead but also dragged the Boxing Day Test into the final day, where some rain is forecast. The result could be headed one way, but Cummins’ splendid all-round effort helped Australia reach 258/8, still needing 141 runs for an unlikely win on Sunday.
Cummins’ sensational one-man army show offers Australia’s top-order batsmen and the bowlers the blueprint to dig deep and bring out the best in the business. After accounting for Hanuma Vihari (13), Cheteshwar Pujara (0), Virat Kohli (0) and Ajinkya Rahane (1) in a sensational four-over burst on day 3, Cummins took his maiden five-wicket haul in Australia and his third overall when he cleaned up the dangerous Mayank Agarwal for 42 with a full ball that stayed low and nipped back in further off the seam. Rishabh Pant struck a couple of lusty blows but when Cummins got his sixth by accounting for Ravindra Jadeja with a bouncer, he had career-best figures. When Pant (33) fell to a short ball from Josh Hazlewood, Kohli immediately declared and set Australia a target of 399 on a pitch which was becoming even more difficult to bat on.
Australia top order flounders again
If there has been one major problem area for Australia ever since the bans on Steve Smith and David Warner for the ball-tampering scandal, it has been consistent contributions from the top order. On a pitch which had variable bounce and facing up to a rampaging Jasprit Bumrah, they stood vulnerable yet again.
It was Bumrah, who took his career-best haul of 6/33 in the first innings who struck first. Aaron Finch (3), clearly struggling, guided a short ball to Virat Kohli at slip. Marcus Harris (13) showed inadequate technique to combat Ravindra Jadeja’s spin and gave Mayank Agarwal a sharp catch at short leg. Much was expected from Usman Khawaja, the only batsman in the side who had the potential to bat for long periods against both spin and pace. Many expected a repeat of his Dubai heroics in which he batted for long hours to give Australia a win. The left-hander struck some good shots and looked confident but when he fell to Jadeja for 33, it seemed the top-order would implode again.
Shaun Marsh, another experienced player from whom plenty was expected, played some attacking shots and looked in great touch to get a big score. However, he was trapped LBW for 44 for the second time by Bumrah and even the review could not save him. When Mitchell Marsh (10) drove Jadeja straight to cover and Travis Head (34) dragged a full delivery from Ishant Sharma back onto the stumps, the end seemed near. Tim Paine edging Jadeja for 26 added one more nail in the coffin. However, the hosts still had one factor which has bailed them out of trouble on more than one occasion in this series.
The tail wags… again
Cummins, fresh from a great performance with the ball, displayed his batting prowess as well by tackling both pace and spin brilliantly. He found an able ally in Mitchell Starc as they frustrated India’s push for a victory. After Starc (18) threw his wicket away by missing Mohammed Shami’s full delivery, Nathan Lyon gave him great company. The pair repelled the Indian attack for more than one and a half hours as prospects of a final day finish grew.
Kohli took the extra half an hour and also the second new ball. None of the factors could distract Cummins as he registered his second half-century. When play ended, there was mixed reactions. Indian fans were slightly nervous about the prospects of rain tomorrow. However, the Australians prayed for rain to come while some prayed for a minor miracle.
Cummins’ display in what was otherwise a shoddy display from Australia’s batsmen might not help the hosts going 1-2 down. However, it has given them enough momentum to push for a win in Sydney and level the series yet again.