Pat Cummins finds the going tougher than usual after shoddy no-ball display

Pat Cummins talks in the huddle involving Marnus Labuschagne, Steven Smith, and Alex Carey
June 10, 2023

Shortly before leaving for this tour of England, Pat Cummins posted a short promotional clip on social media of him bowling in the nets in Sydney. Alongside how the boys were all "buzzing" for the tour, he also wrote: "P.s. Yes I know this is a no ball" as the side-on shot showed him overstepping.

There were no consequences on that day, but that was not the case at The Oval a few weeks later. Cummins cost himself two lbw decisions that were given on the field - against Ajinkya Rahane on the second day and Shardul Thakur on the third - with replays also showing an appeal that was aborted against Ravindra Jadeja due to a no-ball call would also have been out if given or reviewed.

There was plenty of threat in the 20 overs from Cummins but it was an unusually messy performance from him. Moments after the Thakur decision had been scrubbed off, followed by a wasted review when the ball hadn't been nicked, he kicked the ball past the stumps at the end of the opening session, even though Mitchell Starc later claimed there had been no frustration, he just spotted the batter out of his crease.

Either way, the errors were not just Cummins'. Early in the day as he was working Thakur over with some brutal short deliveries, Cameron Green spilled a regulation chance at gully. David Warner was later unable to hold an edge high to his left at first slip off Rahane, perhaps distracted by Alex Carey's initial movement.

For Green, though, redemption came in stunning fashion when he pulled off an unbelievable grab to end Rahane's hopes of a comeback century, using all his reach and reflexes to pluck the chance high to his right. There might have been a few apologies in the subsequent celebratory huddle; Green for his previous lapse and Cummins for his misplaced boot.

"We made a bit of a meal of it in the morning but I thought our bowlers were exceptional after lunch, after we addressed that we were quite poor," Marnus Labuschagne told Test Match Special. "Not much needed to be said. Pat just addressed it, said we weren't good enough and we've all played enough cricket to know that was fair."

Cummins has never had the reputation of someone with a significant no-ball problem, although like a number of bowlers, he has been called much more frequently since the advent of the automated front-foot technology which has taken the job away from the on-field umpires.

The six no-balls he was called for here was the most he has served up in any international innings. Ricky Ponting largely put it down to having not played since the end of February when he left the tour of India early. It would be interesting to know how many uncalled no-balls Cummins (and the other Australian quicks) sent down during their training days in Liverpool and Beckenham.

Still, Cummins being the champion cricketer that he is, still ended up having a significant impact on India's innings, having pinned Rohit Sharma lbw the previous day then cleaning up Umesh Yadav after Green's wonder catch. However, his economy rate of 4.15 made this his most expensive outing in Test cricket where he had sent down more than eight overs.

"We all came into the game feeling pretty good," Starc said. "Obviously the game-time rhythm is a little bit different so we all struggled slightly yesterday, think we felt a bit better today. The fact we've still taken 10 wickets and created more than 10 chances throughout the first innings is a good sign but we've got plenty of room to improve. We'll be better for the run."

Without wanting to move on too quickly from what is a World Championship final, the other interesting aspect to what was a rather lacklustre period of cricket from Australia before lunch is how they responded to the counterattack of Rahane and Thakur. In case you had not clocked it yet, they are about to come up against Bazball. "I'm intrigued to see how it goes against our bowlers, I've said that all along," Steven Smith said the previous evening.

As India's seventh-wicket stand rollicked along at more than five an over, it was likely a little preview of what the next seven weeks will have in store for Australia's attack. They may very well be good enough to counter the aggression - this is a bowling group that ticks almost every box and will likely leave out either Josh Hazlewood or Scott Boland at Edgbaston - but there was still a sense that they had been knocked a little off course.

Early in the tour, assistant coach Daniel Vettori had been asked about the challenge posed by England's batters. He cited an example of an innings from Niroshan Dickwella last year in Galle which put the pressure back on Australia's bowlers who had been in control.

"For us as a bowling group … that is one of the key points, we can't allow that to happen," Vettori said. "The game gets away from you quickly, even though you think you are on top and I think that is why England are so good."

In Galle, Australia regained control and later won the match, and at The Oval it never felt their grip on the contest was completely loosened. An Australia win seems very likely. But that pre-lunch period was a reminder that keeping calm will be key in the weeks to come.

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