SA v Aus – Day 5: St Cummins Day

Australia has won the second Test at The Wanderers in Johannesburg by two wickets. In a tense finish, Pat Cummins secured the victory. He played with a freedom of spirit and nonchalance that made any old dog feel even more battered and confused as we watched in our own muck in the middle of the night. It was the performance of a true innocent. With Johnson looking like a pro at the other end, Cummins wafted and swung, playing and missing numerous times, but looking like a man the gods had chosen. Even the winning runs, a half pull off Imran Tahir, catchable, which bisected the gap between mid-on and mid-wicket had an element of fortune about it.

Or maybe it didn’t. Maybe he is such a talent. The way he handled the short ball to the ribs suggested he can bat as well. And he got plenty of those.

The final act started poorly for cricket-lovers. The expectation of the day was knocked on the head by persistent rain which looked like it had settles over all of Africa. The ABC programmers thought so. They moved to normal programming, which put former Kensington district opening batsman (and author) Barry Nicholls under a bit of pressure. He was now hosting a national program and opened with “great sporting let downs”.

We are the same age and have very similar memories. Sometimes I find this a little disconcerting, but on this occasion we were thinking of exactly the same moment: at Headingley in 1975 when Australia was chasing 445 (unheard of then when the ABC Cricket Book registered scores of over 250 in the fourth innings like they were acts of God). They had reached 3/220 overnight and were looking like making a good go of the chase with Doug Walters in the 20s and young Rick McCosker on 95. Some bloke dug up the pitch. I cried. We had been picking onions all day at Uncle Stan’s farm in the Lockyer Valley, and kept returning to the topic of cricket. “We can do this.” We couldn’t. I was inconsolable.

It was a nice surprise then to hear that play was to resume, and I was barely able to fire up the TV in time to see Philander get between Clarke’s bat and pad to clip the top of his off stump. Hussey looked scratchy. But the fight was on. Ponting looked a little better. The ball was moving around, but not prodigiously, and it was shaping into one of those fascinating contests where the crowd is focused on every single delivery: the sort of concentration which football (and a university Maths exam), not cricket, demand.

Of all the statistics relevant to the moment one of the most telling was that Johannesburg enjoys near-full employment from very loyal workers. The stadium was near-empty. This created a lovely effect: it was so quiet you could hear every comment from the centre of the ground. I have seen this before, most notably in the Final Test of the 1998-99 series against England. Australia led 2-1 and England were chasing a gettable target on the final day. S. K. Warne had returned to the side and was bowling in tandem with S.C.G. Macgill. It was so, so quiet you could hear the ball fizzing in its rotation and Ian Healy’s “Bowled Shane.” So quiet you could hear the birds tweeting in the rafters and remarkably from where I was sitting, right on the fence below the commentary box, you could hear Jim Maxwell without the aid of a tranny. The Australians got on top.

The silence of The Wanderers was broken by the clapping of the slips, and the encouragement of the skipper and the bloke at mid-on. It was punctuated with guttural roars of appeal and the oohs and aahs of the crowd. Tremendous cricket.

Ponting, who had fought admirably, knew there was a danger of falling into such a defensive mindset the bowlers would take heart and the pressure would build. He knew that he had to keep the runs coming and so he waited for the bad delivery. When it came, short outside the off-stump, he had a regulation put-away to, well, to wherever he liked square on the off-side. But the ball didn’t bounce and his shot looked a little lax, the path of the ball to second slip not helping the aesthetic at all.

Nor the scoreboard. Many in Australian lounge-rooms loosened the dressing gown chord and headed for the tooth-brush.

Hussey, although looking a shadow of the batsman of his early-30s youth, batted patiently while Haddin just kept being himself. They built a nice partnership of 50, taking the score to 215 before he was trapped LBW by Philander.

All over?

Johnson joined Haddin and both played like the modern cricketers they are. Like it was any time in any place. And the cheque would be paid anyway.

This worked in their favour. Runs came relatively easily, and the pressure returned to the South Africans.

Haddin lent on drives – some looked like they’d appear on the cover of cricket magazines, so perfectly constructed they were. Eventually Philander found his outside edge and he was caught by Boucher on 55. Still 23 to win.

The South Africans found renewed hope. Siddle was up for the fight. He whipped Steyn off his pads for a batsman’s boundary and then tried a similar shot only to chip him to mid-on where Imran Tahir took the catch.

Enter Pat Cummins. The next act of cricket took just 18 minutes but it seemed he was centre stage for much longer. They peppered him with short ones, but he didn’t flinch, fending capably from his ribs (which are still growing). He pushed the singles. He seemed to smile at all the frenzy.

Meanwhile Johnson was just Johnson. He might get out. He might not. Fortunately for his skipper he got onto a couple and the target was counted down.

Nathan Lyon looked more worried than I’ve seen a cricketer for a while and was even caught on camera, helmet on already, looking heavenward while saying, “Please.”

Loosely translated this was “Please get these runs because I’m not sure I can make my legs work.”

The commentary box was full of tense old cricketers, and their commentary lost form, and in doing so added to the mood.

Philander and Steyn moved the ball away like Lindwall but Cummins kept playing and missing, until Smith turned to his leggie. Cummins was struck on the pads, in front, but the question the umpire had to contemplate was whether he was struck outside the line of off stump. He said, “Yes.” The South African had to ask for a second opinion. The computer also said, “Yes.”

Cummins then nonchalantly belted Imran Tahir in the air between mid-wicket and mid-on and as the ball raced to the boundary the Australian celebrated.

It was a terrific, scrambling win, an exciting finish to an absorbing Test match.

Patrick Cummins will play in few like it. Although probability may work in his favour. He seems destined to play a lot of Test cricket.

 

 

About John Harms

JTH is a writer, publisher, speaker, historian. He is publisher and contributing editor of The Footy Almanac and footyalmanac.com.au He has written many columns and features for numerous publications. His books include Confessions of a Thirteenth Man, Memoirs of a Mug Punter, Loose Men Everywhere, Play On, The Pearl: Steve Renouf's Story and Life As I Know It (with Michelle Payne). He appears on ABCTV's Offsiders. He can be contacted j.t.h@footyalmanac.com.au He is married to The Handicapper and has three kids - Theo10, Anna8, Evie6. He might not be the worst putter in the world but he's in the worst three. His ambition is to lunch for Australia.

Comments

  1. Dave Goodwin says:

    I see Gigs’ brilliant suggested headline on the Almanac Day 4 report blog “Cometh the hour, Cummins the man” has been snaffled by The Age online. Make sure they pay you for that Gigs – subediting probably isn’t in your contract. My suggested headline is “Innings of the Damned”.

  2. Sydney Malakellis says:

    I never doubted Mitchell Johnson for a second. Is he better off being picked as a batsman? Never has there been a more apt description of him than, “He might get out. He might not.” Much like his bowling, “He might bowl it on the pitch. He might bowl it for four wides.”

  3. A great, fighting win by the Aussies.

    A couple of points/questions:
    1. This absorbing Test highlights the stupidity of playing two-match series against major
    Test-playing nations.
    2. The series will also be remembered for the batting collapses of both teams.
    3. In possessing such a superior bowling attack, on paper South Africa should have won
    the series convincingly (just shows that sporting contests are never won “on paper”).
    4. Let not the euphoria of this victory paper over the cracks in the Australian line-up.
    5. Day 5 Punter was the Punter of recent times (not the Day 4 Punter).

  4. John Butler says:

    Agree Smokie.

    Hard to call two tests a series.

    What this ‘series’ seemed to really demonstrate is the brittleness of both sides.

    Will the new selectors be open to late-run alibis?

  5. If we can avoid the usual tendency of Australia’s tabloid and TV sportswriters overhyping brilliant young players, we may have found a key component of Australia’s revival. Let’s hope John Inverarity is able to convince his fellow selectors and Cricket Australia in general not to destroy young Cummins by bowling him non-stop in every mode of cricket for 10 months every year. If he is restricted to Test, some Shield and occasional One Day cricket he just may lead Australia’s attack for a decade.

  6. David Downer says:

    One of the few benefits being bogged down with a 5-day gastro has been watching the replay on Foxtel the next day, allowing Zzz in the wee hours.

    I couldn’t muster it past Ponting being dismissed, but I echo (pardon the pun) JTH’s general thoughts re the empty stadium – it sort of adds to the purity of the contest.

    Woke to the pleasantly surprising news this morning. Courageous efforts from the guys under particular pressure. Whether they keep their spots, decision for another day. Have to celebrate the great wins while you can.

    Would have been one helluva dressing room to be part of last night. P.Cummins’ “Under the Southern Cross” initiation an absolute ripper I’m sure! The boy seems made of the “right stuff”.

  7. Given the similarity in seasons, why aren’t all South African tours, coupled with a couple of tests on home soil. ?

    Every 3-4 years it would be great to see a 4-test series between the two, split in each country.

  8. Test cricket is wonderful theatre. It was a gritty effort by Australia. Let’s hope more cricket in all its forms is played on wickets where there is something in it for the bowlers as there has been in these last two Tests. Cummins batted like the 18 year old he is – fear is for old men in their 20s and 30s.

  9. two years younger pal…and always perform under pressure!

  10. Andrew Starkie says:

    Superb win.

    Harmsy don’t you sleep? I think I’ve asked you that before.

    As I said last night. Good Test cricket is the best sport in the world. Nothings compares to a close finish in Test cricket. SO drawn out it’s excruciating.

  11. I was able to watch the thrilling finish Tuesday morning (about 6-10 am in the US) on the computer. I’ve only followed cricket about a year (prodded by an English buddy when the Ashes started), but I’ve found
    I’m captivated by the strategy and the personalities and the behind-the-scenes intrigue (though I doubt I’ll ever understand the archaic rain/light rules; why don’t cricket stadiums all have lights?). Fair to say the World Cup hooked me probably for life. While I think I like the ODI format the best, there is nothing like a great Test match (although so many are not).

    But one thing I heard Tuesday made no sense to me — early on one of the commentators said he thought the rain delay benefited the Aussies more than the South Africans. Other than imparting a sense of urgency to the chase (not easy considering the barrage of fast bowling at the start), what could that have been? Or was that just broadcast-booth babble (which we also have plenty of here in the States)?

  12. Actually Monday morning.

  13. Heard that too Glenn. Yaarpies are conservative and fragile. Witness what happened!

  14. GlennB. I think the thinking on that is that the wet ball is harder for the bowlers to make it deviate through the air. Therefore, while the Saffas had a bowling advantage in terms of experience/skill/talent, the wet ball reduced their effectiveness, allowing easier batting.

    That would be my two cents.

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