Cummins into Test squad
Australia is not gambling with the future of the young New South Wales fast bowler Pat Cummins by rushing him into the Australia Test squad for the tour of South Africa, the outgoing chairman of selectors Andrew Hilditch has said.
Still only 18, Cummins has enjoyed a meteoric rise, and will now stay on in South Africa for the whole tour after impressing all who have viewed him in the two Twenty20 matches between the visitors and South Africa. He has played only three first-class matches, the last of which was the Sheffield Shield final between NSW and Tasmania.
Cummins' 48 overs to return 3 for 118 in the first innings of the final was the probable source of a back complaint that kept him out of two winter tours - Hilditch revealed Cummins would have been a likely visitor to Sri Lanka if he had been fit. But it also demonstrated his ability to sustain his pace and discipline over long periods.
There has been something of a debate between NSW Cricket and Cricket Australia over the best way to handle Cummins' development, but Hilditch said there was not a trace of doubt among the selectors about his readiness for Test match duty.
"I don't think it's a gamble, we think he is going to be real good and it's definitely in our view the right time to bring him into the squad," Hilditch said in Adelaide. "We have got to be careful, we are building it up in the sense that he's 18 and he's in the Test squad for Australia so it's a massive thing, but we don't want to put too high expectations on him.
"He's certainly in our view one of the most exciting prospects that have come along for some time, certainly if we're going to get back to the top of Test cricket I would imagine he's going to play a big role."
The two T20 matches in South Africa provided confirmation of what the selectors had felt when they made Cummins the youngest-ever holder of a Cricket Australia contract. In those games, Cummins returned figures of 3 for 25 and 2 for 26, encouraging the call to keep him on tour and put him in line to be Australia's youngest Test debutant since Ian Craig was chosen as a 17-year-old in 1953.
"We thought in the Shield final he showed that he can produce in the longer form of the game, so it's a combination of things," Hilditch said. "He has obviously got explosive speed for a young man, I would expect he'd get bigger, stronger and quicker, but also execution under pressure has been exceptional in Twenty20 cricket and hopefully that is going to convert to Test cricket."
In South Africa, Cummins has made quite an impression on the Australian squad, earning high praise from Cameron White and Shane Watson after his T20 debut. Watson said Cummins' level head had been noticeable.
"There's no way he will let it get to his head," Watson said. "Deep down he knows that it's a really special gift that he's got, to bowl that fast at such a young age."
White said Cummins had bowled "like a seasoned pro" and was the difference between victory and defeat in Australia's first match of the tour.
There was a strong possibility that Cummins and Pattinson would be considered for the first home Tests of the summer against New Zealand, but Cummins' rapid progress has outstripped that scenario.
Cummins' selection in place of the young Victorian quick James Pattinson is the only change to the squad that enjoyed a 1-0 series success in Sri Lanka.
"James is very unlucky to miss selection," Hilditch said. "He is a very good young fast bowler who has done well in his limited opportunities at international level to date.
"We're sure he'll return to the Sheffield Shield and place plenty of pressure on those in the Test squad ahead of what is a very demanding domestic summer of Test cricket."
Squad: Michael Clarke (c), Shane Watson (vc), Michael Beer, Trent Copeland, Patrick Cummins, Brad Haddin, Ryan Harris, Phil Hughes, Mike Hussey, Mitchell Johnson, Usman Khawaja, Nathan Lyon, Shaun Marsh, Ricky Ponting, Peter Siddle.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo