The phrase “delicately poised” is used far too often in sporting media. Far too often. We may say the same for “club culture”, “cohesive unit”, “110%” and “Richmond are abysmal”.
But it’s pretty hard to describe the Test Series in India any other way.
Given a snowball’s chance in hell, the Australians came to Pune and gave the cricketing world a wake-up call the equivalent of a Mick Malthouse spray. They hosed the home side off the park, absolutely mauling a team that for years had made a habit of enthusiastically paddling tourists who dared to set foot on their turf.
The Australians should’ve had Bengaluru in the bag as well, but a final innings collapse saved India’s bacon, thanks to R. Ashwin and friends.
It’d be hard not to give Australia the points after the first half of the tour: their spinners have proved more than serviceable; their pacemen comfortably outstripping India’s; their batsmen, for the most part, showing the application that is required on ant-nest pitches. With Australia only needing to tie the series in order to retain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy, the possibility of an away series victory is definitely a possibility.
It will be harder, substantially harder, without pants-browningly quick Mitch Starc in the side.
Starc’s bowling – and his swing-for-the-fences clubbing of the Indian attack – gave the tourists an invaluable boost. Consequently his injury brings a possibly catastrophic scenario.
The Indians can cater to spin in the final two Tests – just water the pitches, and with no Starc to worry about, batting becomes a helluva lot easier. With Starc out, Hazlewood and Bird wouldn’t do much to unsettle the Indian batsmen. Mitch Marsh is gone too, although his gentle seamers aren’t exactly what Australia require either. Marcus Stoinis, his replacement, won’t do much to dent the home side’s confidence, which after knocking the Aussies over cheaply in Bengaluru, won’t be too low.
Put simply, the Australians need pace; a like-for-like replacement for Starc; a bowler who can bomb batsmen out at one end while Hazlewood works methodically at the other.
And here is where a young man named Patrick Cummins comes in.
For those who are unfamiliar with the 23-year-old tyro’s young career, Cummins was drafted into the Test side as a teenager, a scarily quick right-armer who proceeded to wreak havoc in Johannesburg, nabbing a lazy six-fer and winning the game off his bat as well.
Following that, Cummins proceeded to hurt himself. A lot.
He played his first Sheffield Shield game for New South Wales in six years just the other day, taking a pair of four-fers and helping the Blues to an eight wicket win over South Australia.
He’s featured in the shorter formats of the game frequently, for the Sydney Thunder in the Big Bash League and for Australia in recent 50 and 20 over series’. This will be the first time he is in contention for a Test match in quite a while.
Whether the paceman form Penrith fires or not may decide the series. He’s seriously quick but, like Mitch Starc, capable of wayward spells that can go for runs, a bit like Matt Renshaw at Pune last fortnight.
It’s a gamble, certainly, to bring him over instead of the likes of Chadd Sayers and even James Pattinson. If he breaks down yet again it could have serious implications of the upcoming Ashes series. And India are a step closer to victory.
But there’s also a chance he could rip through the Indians like he did the South Africans years ago. And if he does, Australia win the series. Simple as that.
Batten down the hatches everyone, because this is about to get interesting.