Everyone has a crush on Pat Cummins. If someone says they don’t have a crush on Pat Cummins, they are either deluded or in denial. You can’t put it down to one factor. There’s the inherent romance of bowling fast, the warmth of his comeback story with hardship overcome, and the glamour of rocketing to No 1 in the world.
And let’s be honest: there’s the bright white smile, bright blue eyes, bold facial features just asking to be carved into a mountainside. The swept-back hair doing an 80s wind-tunnel move as he runs in, the immaculate presentation in pressed creams and a cable-knit cricket jumper for the English autumn. You watch him play and he’s decent and respected and respectful, you hear an interview and he turns out to be personable and funny as well. You’ve got no chance.
Australia retain the Ashes after England fail to save fourth Test at Old Trafford
But all the things that already made Pat Cummins lovable were no longer at the forefront as Australia retained the Asheswith a win at Old Trafford. If you wound back your focus from the tight twilight finish to the morning and evening that preceded it, this was in a way his first defining performance in an Australian series win.
When Cummins won a match with bat and ball aged 18, Australia drew 1-1 in South Africa. On his return six years later he bowled his heart out in India and then Bangladesh, but Australia lost one tour and drew the other. He did star in Australia’s Ashes win of 2017-18, but was still the junior bowler in an even attack. He was one of the only players to stand up when things fell apart in South Africa in 2018, and was again outstanding in the 2018-19 home loss to India.
By the fourth innings at Manchester that started early on Saturday evening, Cummins was clearly already Australia’s bowler of the series, the only quick to have played every Test. He vindicated that with the new ball, taking only half an over before jagging out Rory Burns with a ball that moved to take a leading edge, then bowling a genuinely unplayable delivery that seamed and swung to take out Joe Root’s off stump.
His first three overs on the following morning monstered Joe Denly and Jason Roy, constantly cutting in to take them on the pad or body, or sometimes moving away to beat the edge. Tim Paine wanted to try Mitchell Starc with the newer ball so Cummins was rested, but his third spell after the drinks break did the job immediately once again.
First it was Roy, finally losing his run of luck with the ball coming sharply back in, this time smashing out off stump. Then it was the most key of key wickets, Ben Stokes, the miracle man, who was given a standing ovation all the way to the crease. Trying to do the sensible thing and get himself set as he did before his hundred at Headingley, the left-handed Stokes wanted to leave a ball angled across him. But it was just too close, too accurate, moving back off the seam too much. It cut through him and took his inside edge.
In the end Cummins bowled 10 overs in a row, with the lunch break in the middle. It matched the 10-over spell he had bowled either side of tea in the first innings. That time, his relentless hostility and tightness of line helped build the pressure that Josh Hazlewood took advantage of with three wickets immediately afterwards. This time, the tail end of Cummins’ spell saw Nathan Lyon pick up Denly at the other end.
At five wickets down with hours left in the day, Cummins should have been able to leave it to his teammates to close it out from there. They ended up making heavy weather of it, forcing him to come back with the second new ball. It was there that the workload began to show, with Cummins starting to lose his cool after England’s block-out specialist Jack Leach called for a new helmet and a physio check after a glancing deflection to the lid.
After a few too many bouncers when wickets were needed, Paine replaced Cummins as part of a carousel of bowling changes, which eventually drew success via the part-time leg-spinner Marnus Labuschagne.
If the most fitting narrative had played out, it would have been Cummins taking a fifth or sixth wicket to close out a Test win and seal the Ashes. In the end it was Hazlewood bowling out of the exact same playbook, having already used a ball that jagged a mile into the right-hander to get the important wicket of Jos Buttler, then the same to remove finally the stubborn Craig Overton. But those later strikes wouldn’t have been possible without the early incisions, opening up the game enough for others to get it home.
In the end that final innings should be viewed as Cummins’ work, the key precipitant in breaking an Ashes drought. Just another entry on his list of accomplishments, and looking good while doing it. The worst part is, he’s so bloody likable that you can’t even hate him for being perfect.