As he plots a path towards fitness for Australia’s Test appointment with Pakistan in October, Pat Cummins has admitted to pondering whether it is possible for fast bowlers to maintain a place in the national team’s plans across all formats, following a 15-month stretch in which only Kagiso Rabada bowled more overs in international cricket.
Cummins (back), Josh Hazlewood (back) and Mitchell Starc (right leg) are all at varying points of their rehabilitation stress-related injuries picked up towards the end of last summer, with recent results in England and Zimbabwe showing how much the “big three” are missed. After early injuries and then careful preparation to ensure he reached fast bowling maturity without chronic problems, Cummins said he had taken time to consider how sustainable it was for him to turn out for Australia across all three formats.
There will be a hefty ODI emphasis for Australia over the next 12 months, with series against South Africa, Pakistan and India ahead of the World Cup in England. But there are also two Tests in the UAE and six at home against India and Sri Lanka, before the rapid transition from the knockout stages of the World Cup to an Ashes tour of England. Cummins, 25, reckoned it’s going to be “really hard” for him and his pace bowling colleagues to do it all. Having not played a T20 match for Australia since February last year, the shortest format appears to be the sacrificial one.
“I think it’s really hard. Especially for Australian bowlers it seems like our Test matches always go for basically the full five days and the bowlers are bowling lots of overs,” Cummins told ESPNcricinfo. “I think certain tours, like India last year, in some games the pace bowlers didn’t bowl heaps of overs, Bangladesh the same. I feel like the Australian summer is pretty brutal, there’s lots of pretty flat wickets, hard wickets and it’s a lot of bowling.
“It’s about finding that balance, you want to play as much as you can, you also need to keep bowling, you can’t just play a game and have a few weeks off. I’d love to play every single game for Australia, but realistically I think you get up for the Test matches and then make sure you’re 100% for the ODIs and then taking one series at a time. You’re making sure you’re 100% right to go but knowing if you’re not, it’s not worth it. There’s so much other cricket and so many other guys that are banging down the door, you can’t play unless you’re 100% right to go.”
What may change for Cummins is a pivot from 50-over matches to T20Is, after next year’s World Cup but before the World T20 hosted by Australia in 2020. “I know for example this year we’re playing a lot more ODIs leading into the World Cup and therefore the schedule allows us to really put an emphasis on that and play lots of ODI cricket leading into the World Cup,” Cummins said.
“I know Pat Howard, one of his big things talking about the schedule is trying to give us the best opportunity to perform in those big tournaments leading up. I’m sure for the T20 World Cup we’ll have the same, a bit more time where the T20 side can really play together, work out their combinations and have a good run in. Even now we’ve seen this tour [of England and Zimbabwe], its good there’s a big chunk of T20 cricket, getting five games in a few weeks with one team, one coaching staff all together. Hopefully we’ll see a bit more of that.”
The amount of cricket Cummins played, starting with the limited overs portion of the 2016-17 summer, then tours of India, Bangladesh, the home Ashes and limited-overs series, and then a traumatic tour of South Africa, dwarfed all his previous international experience. Having played one Test in six years, he then played 13 in a row. Mentally, Cummins said this made a huge difference in terms of feeling like he had a strong record to call on, rather than “faking” the confidence of a young fast bowler.
Alongside Starc and Hazlewood, Cummins is on course to return to bowling by the end of July, then building gradually towards a level of fitness and confidence that will be hardy enough to withstand the likely challenge of flat pitches and scorching temperatures in the UAE, where Pakistan trounced the Australians on their previous Test tour in 2014.
“We’re still hoping to make the UAE,” Cummins said. “Hoff and Starcy and I are all on a pretty similar programme, we’re all hoping to start bowling by the end of July and that’ll give us a two or three-month lead-in to the Tests. We’re all on track for that, just got to get a final scan in a few weeks and get the final sign-off that my back’s alright.
“It’s one of those weird injuries in that you feel fine and I’m pain-free, don’t feel my back at all, but you’re basically dictated by a scan because it’s bone and a bit of a waiting game. You can try and rehab everything around it as much as you like, but you’ve just got to wait for it to be right. Still hoping to start bowling by the end of the month and be right for the UAE.
“A Test match is brutal, especially over somewhere like there, it’s high intensity and you can be out in the field for a few days at a time, so it’s not a matter of getting right and then starting to bowl and playing a couple of weeks later, you do need a good two or three months of build-up. A nice gradual build-up and then be flat out to go is the plan. You’ve always got to be pretty careful with it.”