Pacer’s beguiling mix of aggression, control and intellect ads potency to the bowling armoury
Since carrying the drinks during the 2015 Ashes series, Australia paceman Pat Cummins has been counting the days until his chance to launch himself at Joe Root's England on their home pitches.
At 22, four years after his brilliant debut against South Africa, Cummins was still waiting to play his second Test when he found himself drafted into Michael Clarke's Australia squad following a career-ending injury to Ryan Harris. Both Cummins and Australia were ultimately disappointed, with the seamer missing out on selection and Clarke's team falling 3-2 to Alastair Cook's England.
Four years further on, with 20 Tests to his credit and 94 wickets at an outstanding average of 22.02, Cummins is the top of the ICC bowling rankings and looms as Australia's main weapon as they look to win in England for the first time since 2001.
"Being on that tour in 2015, I just remember being really excited," Cummins said at the Australia team camp in Southampton recently. "It felt like I was close to playing a test towards the end but I felt like that would have been a bonus, just being over there I was pretty excited. After winning the series last Ashes, this is the next thing to tick off, playing an away series. It doesn't get much tougher than this, so it's been in the diary for a long time. I'm glad it's here."
While left-arm quick Mitchell Starc has been Australia's menacing merchant of pace and swing with Josh Hazlewood providing metronomic line and length, Cummins's beguiling mix of aggression, control and intellect may make him the most feared of the three with the Dukes ball in hand.
Even when an Australia team shorn of top batsmen Steve Smith and David Warner lost their first Test series at home to India over the New Year, Cummins emerged with his reputation enhanced after a slew of lion-hearted displays with bat and ball. Cummins has been marked for greatness since his seven-wicket haul on debut against South Africa in 2011 but it was another five-and-a-half years before he would play his second after overcoming back stress fractures and other breakdowns.
The team staff's caution with his body has since been vindicated, and he claimed 23 victims in the 4-0 victory in the 2017/18 Ashes, making him the top wicket-taker in the series. Should Cummins claim another six scalps in the opening Test at Edgbaston, he would be the fastest Australian bowler to 100 wickets since the 19th century.
Getting back into red-ball cricket has been an adjustment for Cummins, as for all bowlers following the World Cup, but he said he was already feeling at one with the Dukes.
"I think the last six months we've bowled with the white ball, knowing that once we get the Dukes ball hopefully it will swing a bit more and be able to adjust to that," he said. "And after a couple of sessions, I feel like I am where I want to be."