Off-colour Cummins needs to rise to the occasion | Cricket

ODI cricket would write an ode to Australia, if ever it’s speculated demise were to come true. In 12 World Cups, Australia have won five titles, twice finished runners-up and failed to make the semi-finals only on four occasions. Their exalted list of winning captains includes Allan Border, Steve Waugh, Ricky Ponting and Michael Clarke.

Australia's captain Pat Cummins looks on during the 2023 ICC Men's Cricket World Cup one-day international (ODI) match between Australia and Bangladesh (AFP)
Australia’s captain Pat Cummins looks on during the 2023 ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup one-day international (ODI) match between Australia and Bangladesh (AFP)

The more Pat Cummins looks at the past, the more likely he is to be weighed down by expectations. Mental coaches would advise him to stay in the present. But his personal form hasn’t been all that great, which might prompt him to go searching for inspiration. For inspiration, you generally look back at the past. It’s a conundrum.

Cummins’s most notable performance in the tournament has been his 68-ball 12 in the 202-run unbroken partnership with Glenn Maxwell against Afghanistan. As Australia get ready for yet another World Cup semi-final showdown – against South Africa on Thursday – Cummins’s bowling form would be a big concern. He’s been averaging 43 for his 10 wickets across the nine league matches. What’s even more worrying, during the powerplay phase, Cummins has had zero impact – bowling only 15 overs with no wickets to show.

That’s reflected in the team’s bowling performance too, during the powerplay. Australia’s wickets tally (11) while the field is up, is the worst among the four semi-finalists. Of all teams, only Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh have done worse in that phase. A lot of the heavy lifting for Australia has been done by Josh Hazlewood – averaging 27 for 7 wickets – giving Adam Zampa some foundation to work with in the middle-overs, which he has owned.

“We would obviously like to do some damage at the powerplay. It gets hard at the back end of the powerplay with two fielders out, if you haven’t taken many wickets. So, it’s something to work on for the next game,” said pacer Sean Abott on Saturday.

The onus to improve would be on Cummins, as the leader, not just of the pace pack, but being the only bowling captain in the tournament. Only five months ago, Cummins led Australia to their first World Test Championship title. But that’s more the format where Cummins-Starc-Hazlewood come into their own. With the white ball in ODI cricket, they have been unable to paint the same picture.

It hasn’t helped that Cummins hasn’t played ODI cricket consistently enough. In lead up to the World Cup, he played in only three matches in 2023. In the entire World Cup cycle itself (2019-23), he featured in only 18 matches.

Earlier in the year, with the Ashes approaching and the World Cup still a few months away, chief selector George Bailey even said that they were open to more leaders in the ODI set-up, should Cummins’s workload become an issue. “In our one-day team, we’ve got some strong leaders and some developing leaders. So regardless of Pat being there, I think we are moving away from this concept of a captain taking over and their leadership being all-encompassing,” he had said.

Cummins said things to similar effect, pointing out that bowling was his primary role. Surprisingly, while a lot of other pacers have found ways to price wickets on Indian pitches, Cummins has struggled. India’s fast bowlers have thrived not just under lights but also been able to summon the right skill set to pick wickets while bowling first.

Ponting, during commentary has picked up some technical chinks in the Australian pacers, which has led to them to not extracting movement off the surface.

The Australia captain now has gone wicketless for two matches, including the last one against Bangladesh. There, the idea behind bowling first was to try and find the right lengths under the sun, should that be required in the semi-finals.

While Australia won their seventh consecutive World Cup match in Pune, it came on the strength of another powerful batting display; the pacers failed to impress again. Cummins and his pace pack have four days to find solutions.

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