Cummins to travel with Australia A to England
At 18, Pat Cummins made his Test debut in Johannesburg and was Man of the Match. There could hardly have been a more exciting prospect in Australian sport at the time. Eighteen months later and Cummins, who turned 20 last week, has not only failed to add another Test to that eye-catching performance at the Wanderers, he hasn't even played a first-class match since then. The teenager who looked like the future of Australian fast bowling has become its forgotten man.
But slowly Cummins is making his way back. He will travel with the Australia A party to England later this month, although he will not be part of the official squad, and is hoping to make a full return during the Australia A tour of South Africa in July. If he makes it through those trips without any setbacks, he could press for selection for the ODIs in England that follow the Ashes. But it won't be exactly the same Cummins who startled South Africa as a tearaway Test debutant.
After a foot injury ruled him out of most of the 2011-12 summer and a back stress fracture left him a spectator in 2012-13, Cummins knew that his bowling action would need to be assessed. He is now at the Centre of Excellence in Brisbane where he has been put through three sessions a week of bowling with a streamlined action that he, the bowling coach Troy Cooley, and Cricket Australia's medical staff hope can keep him fit and firing.
"It's been trying to straighten everything out in my action," Cummins told ESPNcricinfo. "Through a running coach I've been trying to fix my mechanics and be a more efficient runner in my approach to the crease, and then when I get to the crease trying to straighten out all the alignments. Hopefully it gets me a bit more swing and consistency.
"It's going against everything I've done for the last 20 years and trying to do something totally different. It's certainly been a little bit foreign, but at the same time I want to nail it down because I know it's going to turn me into a better bowler. It's exciting but at the same time it's challenging. You get a lot of satisfaction out of seeing improvements after every session.
"It should mean I can bowl the same pace, if not quicker, but hopefully I'll just be more efficient, which means I'll be able to bowl more consistently and for longer in a game. Hopefully I can turn my swing into more consistent swing instead of having some days where it's not swinging for me. It's about having a less injury-prone action but also about enhancing the performances."
Not surprisingly, Cummins is itching to bowl with the red ball in a match situation again. That opportunity could come in England; although he won't be part of the Australia A squad he might be used in their warm-up matches and he hopes there could be a chance to test himself in some league cricket during the trip. Of course, given his injury history, everything that Cummins or Cricket Australia says about his plans is prefaced with a "depending on..." or a "hopefully".
It had been hoped that he could return to the first-class scene at the start of the 2012-13 summer for New South Wales and that he would be in contention for the Tests against South Africa. He was building his workload back up during September and October as part of Australia's squad for the limited-overs games against Pakistan in the UAE, the World Twenty20 in Sri Lanka and for the Sydney Sixers in the Champions League, but a stress fracture in his back ended his season.
"I really enjoy playing one-day and T20 cricket and I'd never want to give that away, but playing it for a couple of months made me realise how much I missed bowling with a red ball and building up a bowling innings," Cummins said. "At the end of it I really just wanted to try to get back to that.
"I think I played almost 20 Twenty20 games in a couple of months. I love playing it but I was really looking forward to playing Shield cricket after that. Unfortunately it didn't happen. The long-term goal is definitely to get back into the red-ball game with Shield matches for New South Wales and down the track Tests is the goal."
First, he'll have to keep himself fit enough to add to his 16 wickets from four first-class appearances. And having already experienced the thrill of Test cricket once in his short career, Cummins knows that sitting out of last season, even if his back soreness felt manageable, was the right decision in the long run.
"It's not acute pain but it's just something that's there," he said. "The nature of a stress-fracture injury is that there's a little crack and if you keep bowling it's going to turn into a big crack. It's one of those injuries that could turn into a massive injury if it's not managed."
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here