Handling pressure Cummins' biggest challenge - Craig
The youngest man ever to play Test cricket for Australia, Ian Craig, believes handling the pressure and atmosphere will be Pat Cummins' biggest challenge if he plays at the Wanderers this week. If Cummins makes his debut he will be the second-youngest player to win a baggy green, at 18 years and 193 days; Craig was 17 when he took the field against South Africa at the MCG in 1953.
Craig was a precocious talent and had played nine first-class games before his first Test, including a tour match against the South Africans in which he made 213. By comparison, Cummins has nine first-class victims from three games, but the selectors have been impressed by his potential, and after last week's loss in Cape Town they could rush him in for the Johannesburg Test.
"Pat Cummins has only had three first-class games and I think I'd had eight or nine," Craig told ESPNcricinfo. "It's a big change to go into a Test match. The pressure and the atmosphere is all much greater than anything he would have encountered in the past. It'll be a challenge for him if he does get picked. I'm sure the selectors will take that into consideration at any rate."
The Wanderers ground is nicknamed the Bullring and it can be an intimidating place for opposition teams. Cummins played a Twenty20 international at the venue earlier on this tour and picked up two wickets, and if the selectors choose him for the Test, which starts on Thursday, it will likely be at the expense of Peter Siddle or Mitchell Johnson.
Despite having played only three first-class matches, Cummins has impressed plenty of experts: Jason Gillespie, Brett Lee and Shaun Tait all said this week he was ready for Test cricket, while the former South Africa coach Mickey Arthur said he would have no hesitation in playing him. Australia captain Michael Clarke is also confident Cummins could handle the workload required in Test cricket.
That is a very different requirement for a fast bowler compared to a batsman. While the pressures on Craig when he made his debut were largely mental - he had been labelled the next Bradman by the press - he said he hoped the selectors would not rush Cummins in unless they were certain he was physically up to the task.
"I don't know the boy but the selectors must have confidence that he's mature enough," Craig said. "I think probably the bigger issue is his physical condition. He's probably still growing a bit. To be a fast bowler bowling at that sort of pace is pretty demanding on the body. A lot of the young fast bowlers have had injuries.
"I just hope they don't rush him and they allow his body to develop properly. The selectors and people around him have obviously made that decision and I certainly bow to their greater knowledge and proximity to him."
Craig went on to become Australia's youngest Test captain but did not fulfil his potential as a Test batsman, and played only 11 times for his country. He said it was important Cummins stayed true to himself if he was chosen this week.
"Just try and be relaxed and do what you've been doing in the games to get there," Craig said. "It is about confidence. It's probably different for a bowler than it is for a batsman. The bowler at least gets the second opportunity, whereas a batsman can get out first ball. The pressures may be a little bit different. He's obviously got pace, it's just whether he can physically stand up to it."
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo