AS THEY CONTINUE their search – their obsession? – for an all-rounder, the Test selectors may have already found their man, writes RON REED:
THE WEEK THAT WAS: AUSTRALIA’S cricket selectors have again polarised fans by recalling Mitch Marsh for the third Test in Perth, not that they would be worrying too much about any criticism coming their way – the Ashes score is 2-0 and the controversial selections they have made for the first two matches have all paid their way to a significant extent. But still they continue to search for the so-called missing link – an all-rounder capable of batting six or seven and operating as a fifth bowler. Theoretically, it makes sense —but is it really necessary?
They actually already have the makings of a pretty good all-purpose combatant, he just hasn’t, perhaps, been in the team often enough yet to prove it. Pat Cummins has been picked for the raw pace of his bowling, but he certainly is no one-trick pony. In the first two Tests he has bowled superbly, batted impressively and fielded as well as anyone.
It has quickly become obvious just what a gaping void was left while almost six years passed between his Test debut in South Africa in 2011 and his next Test in India earlier this year. He was only 18 back then and when he took 6-79 against a powerful local line-up he looked like he “could be anything.” Still only 24, the sky remains the limit. The caveat, of course, is whether his body has now matured enough for him to stay fit.
He has still played only seven Tests, including two in each of India and Bangladesh, and in some respects the Ashes series is really a brand new beginning – it’s the first chance Australian fans have had to check out his prodigious talents in person. They haven’t even seen much of him in the Sheffield Shield, just 17 first class matches all up including his Tests.
Those Tests have yielded 28 wickets at 25.96 and a batting average of 25.87. They say that to be truly considered an all-rounder your batting average must be higher than your bowling average. Cummins’ is practically dead-level so he just about qualifies. In three hits against England, he has contributed 42, 44 and 11 not out, an average of 48.5 – much higher than any of England’s specialist batsmen and most of Australia’s for that matter. In all first class cricket, his average rises to 29.42. The two 40-odds were both under pressure as he worked with senior batsmen Steve Smith and Shaun Marsh to stabilise first innings that were both in danger of falling short of expectations. He has plenty of authentic shots, too, and there seems no reason why a hundred or two might not be possible before he is too much older.
No 9 definitely looks to be at least one slot below where he should be batting. Seven wouldn’t be out of the question and plenty of good judges are already suggesting he should move up ahead of the incumbent No 8, Mitchell Starc, who is more of a hitter than an innings-steadier. Starc, who has a Test 99 to his name, doesn’t disagree, saying on Twitter the other day that he would be happier at 9 himself.
But, of course, Cummins is a bowler first and foremost, capable of consistently bowling at around 145kph – or bloody fast, certainly a lot quicker than any of England’s four pace bowlers. He doesn’t generate as much swing as either Starc or opposition spearhead James Anderson – about 0.35 degrees less, according to analysis by website CricViz – but he can produce the unplayable delivery, such as the one with which he bowled Dawid Malan just as England were making a good fist of their long chase for victory in Adelaide. Shane Warne, a highly astute commentator, has taken to calling him “the dangerman”.
Cummins has described himself as “a different person, a different bowler and a different cricketer” since returning to full fitness, and is relieved to have people talking to him in terms other than, “How’s your body?” After repeated battles with, mostly, stress fractures of the back, the long periods of rehab have paid off, as have sessions working on his technique with the great Dennis Lillee, whose own career was plagued at one stage by similar problems. In the second of the two Tests against Bangladesh recently, Cummins lost more than six kilograms in a punishing last day in the field, which at least gave him confidence that his body could now stand up to anything.
No doubt watching the Sydneysider’s progress is his Victorian counterpart James Pattison, who is currently out of action for the umpteenth time because of similar fitness issues. Pattison, three years older, made his debut six months earlier than Cummins and was no less impressive, bagging five wickets immediately. He has now managed 17 Tests for 70 wickets at 26.15 and 332 runs at 27.66. That average is helped along by seven lots of red ink from his 17 knocks, but it still puts him into the all-rounder category.
Both Cummins and Pattison are, statistically, better bets than the younger Marsh brother but it remains to be seen when – or if – they will ever play together in the same team.
As for the Marsh brothers, will they ever play Test cricket together again? A month ago, that was the longest shot in sports betting. Now it’s even money. But most of us couldn’t bring ourselves to barrack for the longshot getting up.
WHAT’S worse than being drawn in the Group of Death at the soccer World Cup, as Australia was in Brazil last time when we were pitted against Spain, Holland and Chile? Answer: Being in the Group of Having a Remote Chance of Proceeding. Because then the expectation is ramped up far beyond the mathematical dynamics, and not to win a match becomes even more disappointing, frustrating and unrewarding, both psychologically and materially given the considerable difference in prizemoney between being an also-ran and a contender.
So, while the searing memory of a 0-6 result the last time the Socceroos played France, maybe Denmark and Peru can be converted into at least a genuine cause for hope and optimism. That said, you would scarcely suggest the lead-up is going smoothly, with the coach, Ange Postecoglou, walking away, no replacement in sight, and the most celebrated player, Tim Cahill, sacking his club without having any obvious place to go to continue his preparation for a fourth crack at the world’s most popular sports event. Cahill’s situation is curious. He is still considered Australia’s most dangerous player and yet he is a bench-sitter at club level, the coach declining to say – in public, anyway – why this is so. If the World Cup comes and goes with Cahill seen to be struggling to play his normal influential role, or not playing at all, there might be a few hard questions demanding answers.
CHRIS Froome, the world’s best road cyclist, will not return for a third crack at the Herald Sun Tour, which he won two years ago and elevated with his presence last year. Tour director John Trevorrow did not attempt to hide his disappointment at this week’s launch of the historic event, but he would not deny that he and the sponsor have been incredibly fortunate to have the British superstar and his high-profile World Tour team, Sky, on board for two years. Froome’s willingness to engage with fans and media and to race hard even though he was only in training mode was a huge boost for the event.
It won’t be the same without him, although the marquee name this time – Colombia’s Estaban Chavez — has plenty to offer on a route revamped to suit his specialist skills as a climber, which has seen him win multiple stages of the Italian Giro and the Spanish Vuelta riding for the only Australian team competing at the top level, Orica-Scott. Chavez is a terrific personality whose back story – fighting back from a career-threatening injury – became a huge part of the documentary movie, ALL FOR ONE, about the team’s six-year journey. However, after finishing second in the Giro last year, he was hampered by an injury and did not push on as he and his many fans hoped this year, so he will be taking the HS Tour seriously as preparation for a return to the business end of the peloton in Europe. Meanwhile, Froome will tackle the Giro in an attempt to hold all three Grand Tours at the same time. Good luck to him.
NEARLY every week is a big one for the women’s sport juggernaut. The last couple have been no exception. Tyler Wright, 23, won the women’s surfing world championship for the second time in a row, Sam Kerr was judged the best female soccer player in Asia and Ash Barty beat the blokes to claim Tennis Australia’s best player (of either gender) award, the Newcombe medal. Rugby league announced the introduction of a women’s competition and the Herald Sun Tour bike race did likewise with a two-day event. Hopefully the distaff expansion continues apace, although one does continue to wonder whether there is enough talent and commitment out there to keep all the sports viable financially.
Wright is a particularly good story. She has been a star since she was 14 when she became the youngest surfer to win a Championship Tour event. Two years ago, she almost gave up the sport when her brother Owen, also a star wave-rider, suffered a life-threatening brain injury while competing. He is now back in the thick of the action, much to his famous sister’s relief and delight. “It’s been a tough and rewarding journey just purely being here and almost watching him die and then coming back in hopefully the best form he’s ever been in,” she said. Tyler has won well over $1 million from a sport she took up just for fun, and which used to pay peanuts compared to the men. She is another example of why the girls in all sports have never had it so good.
SPORTS STAR OF THE WEEK
SHAUN MARSH’S determined 126no earned him the man of the match award in the second Test and was almost exactly the difference between the teams in the end – Australia won by 120.
WINNER OF THE WEEK
ADELAIDE cricket fans – just under 200,000 of them attended the second Test, a figure exceeded only in Melbourne and never by Sydney, and a record for the City of Churches, which has now cemented its status as the epicentre of day-night Test cricket.
LOSER OF THE WEEK
ENGLAND captain Joe Root cannot be completely canned for taking the attacking option of bowling first when he won the toss – his bowlers let him down by failing to strike the right length – but the result was a large defeat and he will be a long time living it down.
RON REED has spent more than 50 years as a sportswriter or sports editor, mainly at The Herald and Herald Sun. He has covered just about every sport at local, national and international level, including multiple assignments at the Olympic and Commonwealth games, cricket tours, the Tour de France, America’s Cup yachting, tennis and golf majors and world title fights.