Neither were particularly difficult ones. They happened at a time when Australia were fighting to ensure that India did not streak past 450,after being corralled for so much of their innings on an MCG pitch that seems to be both meeting (it is slow and low) and confounding (it is deteriorating) the expectations of players and ground staff alike.
What was most remarkable about these misses, was that anything involving Cummins could be seen as an error at all. So exemplary, resourceful and intelligent had his bowling been, and so consistent his threat despite the meagre assistance the surface provided him, that it was a genuine surprise to see him put a foot or a hand wrong.
The value of Cummins to Australia as an overall cricketer and not merely a pace bowler was to be underlined in the closing overs of the day. After Virat Kohli finally declared, Cummins spent barely a minute resting up in the cool of the home dressing room before padding up to serve as nightwatchman in the event that Aaron Finch or Marcus Harris fell before stumps.
If this sounds like cruel and unusual punishment for Cummins, after he had been the chief reason for most of India’s uncomfortable batting moments over the preceding two days, then it was hard to imagine him complaining in anything but the most light-hearted of ways. In the way Cummins bowls, plays and carries himself, he is perhaps the closest thing Australia currently have to an archetype of the “it’s your game” mantra being repeated at every available moment of this summer.
“I think the way that Patty keeps fronting up and coming back is a real testament to his fitness, the amount of work he’s done off the field to get himself into the condition he is to back up Test after Test,” Finch said of Cummins. “He probably didn’t get the rewards he deserved in the first two Tests, but you’ve heard every coach say it, you can bowl a lot worse and get a lot more wickets.
“I’m sure his rewards will come, the way he’s bowling is outstanding. There’s pace, there’s bounce, when there’s not a lot happening he seems to be the guy who can make something out of nothing. That’s really exciting for Pat, especially how long he’s been back on the park, and touch-wood that continues for a long time.
“He’s a super player, talent with the bat, with the ball, in the field, although he dropped one today that’s beside the point. He’s just a super package as a cricketer and an even better bloke. He’s just a bloke who’s great to play cricket with.”
The sort of cricket Cummins plays is fierce without being nasty, intimidating without being abusive. He has searing pace, a steep trajectory seemingly devised to hit gloves and bat handles, and the ability to move the ball in the air and off the seam. But he is also highly intelligent in his use of these elements, adjusting lengths, lines and angles on the crease to adapt to conditions as quickly as about any fast man in the game.
All this was summed up by how on Boxing Day he was able to conjure a steepling bouncer to pin Hanuma Vihari just as the first obituaries for the MCG pitch were starting to be composed after an hour of featureless cricket. Any further confirmation was to be found in the sequence he put together to dislodge Cheteshwar Pujara, after India’s No. 3 had pieced together another sterling occupation that had some wondering whether he might challenge Alastair Cook’s similarly steely 244 this time last year.
Resorting to cross-seam bowling is something Cummins does often, dating back to his early experiences of lower pitches in Sydney, and over time has become increasingly adept at. With the second ball of the 126th over of India’s innings, he fired down a delivery that grabbed the tumbling seam and lifted up into Pujara’s bottom hand, taking the same index finger he had already been jammed on during day one. The delay for treatment did not affect Cummins’ focus, for two balls later he was able to find a similar line and length, but this time the ball skidded off leather rather than seam and scuttled under Pujara’s bat.
“When you bowl cross-seam things happen, don’t they?” Finch said. “Obviously not what you want to do all day, but Patty’s a very skillful and resourceful bowler, so he’s using all the tricks he’s got there to undo a guy who when he gets in and anchors down is so hard to remove, Pujara. He’s a world-class player for a reason, so to knock him over after hitting him on the gloves as well is really quality bowling from Patty.”
Quality was applied not only to the bowling, but also Cummins’ recognition of what had just taken place. As Pujara looked forlornly at the spot on the pitch from where he had been tunnelled under, Cummins offered only a restrained reaction and a grin, redolent of his innate cricketing sense, but also memory of being defeated by a similar delivery in Perth during the second Test. While Cummins can get fired up, his restraint in this case was admirable, the sort of thing opponents will remember fondly and respectfully for years afterwards.
So far in this series, Cummins has tallied eight wickets at a tick above 32, but done far more in terms of the sorts of unstinting, crafty but still powerful spells that Allan Border once elicited from Merv Hughes. As Finch remarked upon Cummins’ bravery in immediately padding up for nightwatchman duty, he might also have noted that so far this series, it is the latter who has also faced more balls in total.
Right from the start of his Test career as a teenager in 2011, Cummins looked to have the character and wit for hard days in numerous of the game’s disciplines. Blessedly for Australia, he now has the sturdy chassis to sustain the Ferrari engine.