South Africa v Australia, 2nd Test, Johannesburg, 3rd day November 19, 2011

Cummins is going places

Pat Cummins has been Australia's best bowler in this Test

In Barbados in 1992, the locals were so upset at the non-selection of their home-grown fast bowler Anderson Cummins for a Test against South Africa that many boycotted the match. "No Cummins, no goings," read one banner that summed up the mood.

Ahead of the two-Test series against New Zealand, Australian fans might share a similar sentiment, for over the first three days in Johannesburg, Pat Cummins has been Australia's best bowler. In all fairness, he hasn't had much competition.

Mitchell Johnson even went so far as to change his run-up on the third day in a desperate bid to regain his form and confidence. It didn't work, and he ended the day with series figures of 2 for 231 and a serious question-mark over his place in the side.

Peter Siddle kept running in hard all day and was difficult to score off, but rarely looked like taking a wicket. Nathan Lyon was impressive early and removed Graeme Smith, but bowled only 11 overs, which seemed too few on a day when someone needed to fill the quota of the injured Shane Watson.

That Australia took only three wickets during the day showed how much they missed the accuracy and swing of Watson, who is unlikely to be able to bowl in the first Test against New Zealand as well. And when he can bowl again, Watson, like the 18-year-old Cummins, who is still getting used to the requirements of five-day cricket, must be handled with care by Michael Clarke.

Cummins' longest spells were five overs, and later in the day he was puffing hard. But at times Clarke must have felt like giving Cummins just one more over, such was the chasm in the threat level between him and the other fast men. He finished the day with 2 for 46 from 17, but nearly had both the not-out batsmen, AB de Villiers and Hashim Amla, in the over straight after lunch.

Amla survived an lbw review by a whisker, appropriately enough, and de Villiers drove a chance back at Cummins, who got a fingertip to the ball but couldn't cling on. Earlier, he had surprised Jacques Rudolph with pace and bounce, and the batsman top-edged a catch when he tried to pull.

But the highlight was the way Cummins worked over Jacques Kallis, a man twice his age and with 59 times as many first-class games to his name. Few sights in cricket rouse the senses like that of a quick bowler roughing up a batsman, all the more so when the batsman is of the quality of Kallis, who on the first day brought up his 12,000th Test run.

In his first over to Kallis, Cummins sent down a bouncer that was ducked, unconvincingly. In his next over he nearly bloodied Kallis' chin with an accurate 145kph bumper that the batsman just managed to fend away from his throat. Kallis scored one run from 18 balls against Cummins and duly edged to slip.

"I thought he was very impressive for a young guy, to see him working over a legend of the game in Kallis," Watson said after play. "He was very impressive. The way he mixed up his bouncers with his pace and bounce and swing away from him, was very impressive. To be able to do that to Jacques Kallis shows a serious amount of talent.

"I thought he bowled nicely throughout the day and in the first innings as well. For an 18-year-old to show that much control, he just seems like he knows the right ball to bowl at the right time. For a young guy, it's very impressive."

He didn't quite make Kallis bleed, like Johnson did with a bouncer to the chin on the previous tour. But there seems no chance of Johnson doing any such damage either, in his current state. Most perplexing was the significant shortening of his run-up, which South Africa's batsmen noticed.

"The fact that he was bowling with his new run-up maybe gives away a little bit of his headspace in terms of where he's at," Jacques Rudolph said. "I thought our batters capitalised really well."

Watson conceded that Johnson's confidence "is not totally high". That's a bit like saying Australia's 47 at Newlands was a fraction disappointing. Johnson looks uncertain of what to bowl and whether he can bowl it. He leaked runs at 4.52 an over and cannot function as a Test bowler unless he regains his self-belief.

"Both Johnson and Siddle bowl deliveries good enough to dismiss any Test batsman," Ian Chappell wrote in the Sunday Telegraph. "The problem is they also bowl plenty that could be hit to the boundary by a proficient club batsman. Johnson's problem is one of confidence. Consequently, he's often running up to bowl half expecting something to go wrong and is fighting a battle with himself as much as the batsman down the other end."

Over the next week, he'll be fighting a battle with his fellow fast men for a place at the Gabba against New Zealand, a contest that is complicated by the hip injury that has sidelined Ryan Harris. One thing is certain: Cummins will be going to Brisbane.

Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

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