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SK Elite: Pat Cummins's debut performance against South Africa

Cummins was only 18 when he made his Test debut and he repaid the faith shown in him with a fearless performance.

ANALYST
Feature 29 Mar 2018, 18:32 IST

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Pat Cummins had a debut to remember, playing a stellar role in Australia's 2-wicket victory

"Yatra Pratibha Avsara Prapnotihi" - The Sanskrit inscription on the IPL trophy means "where talent meets opportunity" and when a player manages to make that chance count, greatness is born.

That's exactly what Pat Cummins managed to do on his Test debut at the age of just 18 when he ripped through the South African batting line-up at the iconic Wanderers stadium in Johannesburg, picking up six wickets in the Proteas' second innings.

As someone who could bowl regularly at 145kmph+, Cummins was earmarked as a future Australian international right from a very young age but to say that his rise to the top was anything but meteoric, would be an understatement.

When Cummins took the field against the Proteas in 2011, he was playing just the fourth first-class game of his career.

But the then teenager repaid the faith placed on his shoulders with an outstanding performance, not just with the ball but with the bat as well, that earned his side a victory by two wickets and himself a Man-of-the-Match award.

The background

Since South Africa's 2-0 loss to Sri Lanka away from home in 2006, the Proteas were sensational in Test cricket, winning all but one of their next ten Test series. The only time they didn't manage to come out on top was against an all-conquering Indian side in their own backyard.

The South African juggernaut was brought to a halt by Ricky Ponting's Australian side in 2008/09 when they beat the Proteas at home 2-1 in a three-match Test series.

In 2005/06, Australia had made a clean sweep, winning the series 3-0 and so heading into the two-match Test series in 2011/12, South Africa were desperate for a avoid a third straight Test series loss against Australia at home.

They got off to a brilliant start, winning the first Test at Cape Town by eight wickets and heading into Johannesburg, Australian skipper Michael Clarke had a couple of decisions to be made with Shaun Marsh and Ryan Harris struggling with injuries.

Usman Khawaja replaced Marsh while the 18-year-old Pat Cummins, who would have been drafted in regardless of Harris's injury, made his Test debut.

Cummins's vigour brings life to the timid Australian bowling attack

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Cummins' youthful energy brought life into the Australian bowling attack

The Wanderers typically offers plenty of assistance to the faster bowlers and it was the perfect timing to unleash the fiery Pat Cummins as far as Australia were unconcerned.

Australia's youngest Test cricketer since Ian Craig in 1953, Cummins showed little sign of nervousness as he put on the baggy green with South Africa winning the toss and electing to bat first.

Cummins opened the bowling alongside Mitchell Johnson in what was described as a good batting pitch by Allan Donald with the conditions hot and sunny with a few clouds.

Cummins bowled a tight opening spell, conceding just nine runs from five overs, but for someone of his pace, short spells were going to be the order of the day. He bowled three more overs before lunch and continued bowling into the second session of the day as well.

Heading into his twelfth over of the innings, all the Australian bowlers, who were tried by skipper Michael Clarke, barring Cummins, had managed to pick up a wicket.

However, the teenager was bowling impressively and at a good pace, putting in a work-man performance. He was finally rewarded with the prized wicket of Hashim Amla.

It remained Cummins's only wicket in the first innings but his performance and attitude had surely brought some much-needed life and energy into the Australian bowling attack.

The hosts were dismissed for 266 after losing their final six wickets for just 25 runs and in reply, Australia scored 296, thereby earning a vital 30-run first innings lead.


Cummins early breakthrough sets Australia on its way

With a slender lead in hand, Australia needed their four-pronged pace attack of Johnson, Cummins, Siddle, and Watson to be at their best to help them reduce the target required in the fourth-innings of the match.

It was the youngest of the lot who stood out with a tremendous spell of bowling that left even the best of batsmen, looking for answers.

While Cummins bowled with plenty of heart in the first innings but with little to show for his efforts, the second innings proved to a different story as he ripped apart the South African batting line-up with his pace and accuracy.

Rudolph, who had raced to 24 off 22 balls, was the first to go as his ploy to hit Cummins out of the attack backfired as he top-edged a short ball from the pacer back to the wicketkeeper's gloves.

With Shane Watson ruled out of bowling for the remainder of the match, the workload on the pacers was increased but Cummins was up to the task when he returned for his second spell with the hosts at 79/2 after skipper Graeme Smith joined Rudolph back in the pavilion.

Working out the great Jacques Kallis

Jacques Kallis Pat Cummins Australia South Africa Cricket
Cummins jumps in delight after getting rid of Jacques Kallis

Batting at the crease were Jacques Kallis and Hashim Amla but Cummins was undeterred with the prospect of bowling at the experienced pair and bowled a devastating spell of fast bowling that was perhaps the highlight of the series.

He was bowling at serious pace to someone nearly twice his age and made Kallis uncomfortable with a couple of bouncers that had the South African struggling.

Cummins mixed it up with balls outside the off-stump and while Kallis was happy to let them go, the hint of away movement was certainly making him think.

An attempted yorker was followed by yet another bouncer from Cummins and it was shaping up to be a very interesting contest between bat and ball.

Cummins finally got his man in his next over with a peach of a delivery that pitched outside off-stump and threatened to come in before moving away, as Kallis nicked it to Clarke at first slip.

Cummins wasn't finished for the over as he welcomed AB de Villiers with a toe-crushing yorker that the South African managed to get a bat on but not without the play being held up as he was attended by the physio.

The young Australian was certainly in no mood to let go.

He nearly had De Villiers caught off his own bowling in his very next over after an uppish on-drive by the South African and had had a DRS call for an LBW against Amla turned down by the TV umpire.

The duo survived Cummins devastating spell of fast bowling as well as the rest of the day, with South Africa finishing Day 3 at 229/3.

Cummins tears into the South African batting line-up

The partnership between Amla and De Villiers was threatening to take the match away from the Australians before Cummins got the all-important breakthrough, dismissing the latter by enticing him forward with a full-pitched delivery that swung away.

The ball flew off the outside edge to Clarke who was fielding at second slip and Australia had managed to get a key wicket, and Cummins his third, just before the second new ball was due.

Ashwell Prince's innings didn't last long as a miscommunication with Amla saw him short of the crease and the latter followed soon after with Johnson getting rid of Amla with the second new ball.

Nathan Lyon got into the act as well dismissing Mark Boucher cheaply as South Africa were reduced to 266/7 before Clarke brought Cummins back into the attack for his latest spell.

However, Vernon Philander and Dale Steyn stood firm, with a solid 48-run partnership for the 8th wicket as the players proceeded to lunch on the fourth day.

But Australia were back on top soon as Cummins, once again got his side the breakthrough right away, dismissing Philander and then Morne Morkel with the first two deliveries of the post-lunch session.

With Imran Tahir joining him in the middle, Steyn had a few swings, even managing to hit a boundary and a six off a Cummins' over. It was the Australian who had the final laugh though as he had Steyn caught behind thereby completing a six-wicket haul on his Test debut.

Cummins led the Australian team off the field with the visitors requiring 310 to win the Test but the debutant's job was not done yet.

Hitting the winning runs

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Cummins chipped in with the bat as well hitting the winning runs to help Australia level the series

Australia had a terrible start to their run chase, losing both their openers with just 19 runs on the board. Khawaja and Ponting's 122-run stand got them back on track before a couple of quick dismissals once again swung the contest back in favour of the hosts.

Khawaja was the first to go for 65 while Clarke followed soon after. Ponting's dismissal with the score at 165 was a crucial blow with the target still 145 runs away.

Australia still had plenty of batting to come though and they delivered but not without a scare. Brad Haddin's half-century and Michael Hussey's 39 brought Australia closer to the target but Siddle's dismissal for 4 meant that Cummins had to come into bat with 18 runs still required to win and 2 wickets in hand.

Johnson was batting confidently in the middle with 36 runs to his name but it was Cummins who had the say in their ninth-wicket partnership that saw Australia to victory.

Cummins had luck on his side as he was beaten outside off-stump, had a catch dropped by Steyn before surviving a DRS call for an LBW decision.

With five runs required to win, skipper Graeme Smith took a gamble by bringing in leg-spinner Imran Tahir into the attack. The plan backfired though as Cummins who hit the winning runs with a boundary to mid-wicket off a short-pitched delivery from Tahir.

Cummins's 13 runs proved crucial in the end and obviously did his match figures of 7/117 as well, earning him the Man-of-the-Match award.

What lies ahead

Injuries have restricted his Australian career to just 13 Tests, 39 ODIs, and 18 T20Is but at 24, Cummins still has plenty of time on his hand to achieve the greatness that he is destined for.

His workload needs to be managed no doubt but he is making steady progress, having recently broken into the ICC Top 20 rankings for Test bowlers for the first time in his career following his seven-wicket haul in the controversial Newlands Test.

Cummins was also the leading wicket-takers in the 2017/18 Ashes series with 23 wickets and great things await this talented cricketer with his former skipper Michael Clarke even predicting that he could be a future Australian Test captain.

Extra Cover: Under the SKanner: Pat Cummins

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