Daniel BrettigAssistant editor, ESPNcricinfoClose
- Assistant editor Daniel Brettig had been a journalist for eight years when he joined ESPNcricinfo, but his fascination with cricket dates back to the early 1990s, when his dad helped him sneak into the family lounge room to watch the end of day-night World Series matches well past bedtime. Unapologetically passionate about indie music and the South Australian Redbacks, Daniel’s chief cricketing achievement was to dismiss Wisden Almanack editor Lawrence Booth in the 2010 Ashes press match in Perth – a rare Australian victory that summer.
Australia’s in-form fast man Pat Cummins admits the home side’s pace trio has spent time in discussion over why they have not been able to match India’s old-ball success so far in a series due to resume at the SCG on Thursday, but denied that reverse swing played a disproportionate part in last summer’s Ashes bout.
Statistics revealed by ESPNcricinfo have shown that the Australians are struggling to have anything like the same impact as India’s pace bowlers when the ball is aged 40 to 80 overs old, while also proving far less effective over the same period as they were during the home series win against England in 2017-18.
That series has been subject to plenty of questions in light of the subsequent Newlands ball-tampering scandal, and the Australian captain Tim Paine stated earlier this summer that he knew the team needed to be squeaky clean in terms of ball management given the amount of attention that would be on them. Cummins, who has been Australia’s leading bowler, said numerous theories had been floated as to why India have been more incisive at these times, from his choice of balls to use to the abrasiveness of the pitches and squares at various points in each Test.
“We spoke about it a little bit. The other two bowlers blame me because I pick the ball out of the box and they reckon I picked a bad one,” he joked. “But it’s just one of those things, I think on day one and two when we bowled the [MCG] wicket wasn’t as abrasive and that makes a big difference.
“We tried bowling some cross-seamers and it just didn’t seem to scuff up as much as a couple days later. Sometimes you get a ball that goes, sometimes it doesn’t, no doubt they bowled really well with it, present a really good seam. And probably more suited to those conditions. To be honest I don’t really remember getting too much reverse swing last summer in the Ashes. I didn’t feel like it played a massive part.”
By contrast, Australia have performed far better than India with the newer ball, gaining more conventional swing and movement off the seam when the ball is 0-40 overs old. “I know last summer, traditional swing, there was pretty much none,” Cummins said. “And we thought reverse swing was probably the only way we’re going to get side[ways] movement, and it didn’t really happen at all last summer either.
“So we know we’re going to be out there for quite a while bowling, it’s a really good team. The wicket’s pretty dry. So reverse swing’s a pretty big factor, especially I’d say for the other two, Joshy [Hazlewood] presents a really good seam, we know what [Mitchell] Starcy does, but it just hasn’t been a massive player so far.”
Ahead of the final Test in Sydney, where Australia must win to preserve a long-standing unbeaten record in home series against India, Cummins stated that the inclusion of Mitchell Marsh as a fifth bowler had made a major difference to the ability of himself, Starc and Hazlewood to be ready in time for the New Year’s Test. Marnus Labuschagne was the only addition to the squad, and looms as the equivalent option to Marsh should the pitch show signs of taking spin.
“A huge advantage,” Cummins said of Marsh. “It felt like a long few days out there, but when you’ve gone the whole Test match, I think I bowled 45, Josh bowled probably 40 and Starcy a little bit less than that, and to be honest that’s the same number of overs you’d budget for most Test matches. So having Mitch there played a massive role. It meant that we come into this Test not feeling too overdone, he was our most economical bowler the whole time which really built up pressure, and he could easily have had a couple of wickets. So I think he did his role brilliantly down there.”
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Beyond this series, Cummins, Starc and Hazlewood appear likely to be afforded a bigger break than they received after the Ashes, when they were pressed back into service for the subsequent ODI series against England where none looked to be near their best. In a year when the World Cup will be swiftly followed by the return Ashes bout, Cummins said that training adequately to prepare for format changes, when workloads were so closely monitored, remained a major challenge for him.
“I found it quite hard. It was the first time where I really bounced between Test matches straight into one-dayers,” Cummins said of January 2018. “The biggest thing for me is there’s only one or two bowling sessions I had before that [50-over] series, and just being able to practice your skills, mainly death bowling which you don’t do in Test match cricket.
“That’s a real area I feel I need to get better at, just adapting between the formats. It’s certainly hard, but it’s just the nature of us playing quite a few formats and not wanting to miss too many games. Something’s got to give, so I feel like I’ll be better for the runs and see what happens.”
Before that, however, is the SCG Test and Cummins said the team had been talking about preserving their record against India since before the series began. “We spoke at the start of the series about the record that we’ve got to try to hang onto,” Cummins said. “2-1 is a pretty fair reflection of how we’ve played the series so far, you can see why they’re the No. 1 Test side in the world. Not only at home but they also travel really well.
“We saw it in England, they played well over here, they just seem to adapt really well. If we can get a win up here and make it 2-2 in the series, I think that’s a pretty good result against the best side in the world, and what is a pretty inexperienced [Australian] side compared to previous years. Everyone’s desperate, everyone knows what the record is and can’t wait to try to rectify what’s happened so far.”