Pat Cummins exceeded expectations of even Australia's coaching staff by snaring three wickets on the third day in Ranchi, to add to his one from Friday. Cummins finished the day with 4 for 59 from 25 overs, bowling with pace and venom on a good batting pitch. Among his victims were Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane, two key batsmen who fell cheaply.
Sending Cummins to India to replace the injured Mitchell Starc was always going to be a gamble for Australia's selectors, given his history of significant injuries. Although he was Man of the Match on his Test debut in Johannesburg as an 18-year-old in 2011, Cummins has spent such long periods in injury recovery that this Test is just his 10th first-class match.
Earlier this month, he completed his first Sheffield Shield game in nearly six years. That game was also his first first-class game of any type since mid-2015. But with the series locked at 1-1 and a historic series win in India up for grabs, Australia risked rushing Cummins in for the Ranchi Test, and his efforts on day three have given them hope.
"It's superb. I thought last night he bowled particularly well, but today he backed that up and to produce some of the balls he produced to get wickets is pretty exciting," David Saker, Australia's bowling coach, said. "Hats off to the selectors to go with him. Ball speed in India is a big thing because the wickets don't generate any pace. But he was way higher than the expectations we had."
Cummins has sent down the fewest overs of any of Australia's four frontline bowlers so far in this Test, but has looked by far the most dangerous. Saker said no restrictions had been placed on Cummins' workload in this Test, but they did not expect him to have too much to do over the next two days.
"It's a really important Test match for us," Saker said. "If he ends up bowling more overs than first expected, then so be it. It's tough cricket over here and because he's bowling so well the captain will want to keep going to him. I can't see him bowling too many overs tomorrow and maybe if we do have a bowl on the final day, I think it will be more a spinning wicket."
The return of Cummins at Test level has also coincided with a strong domestic comeback from James Pattinson, another injury-prone fast bowler who has thrived when available. Their respective returns will leave Australia's selectors salivating over the prospect of having Cummins, Pattinson, Starc and Josh Hazlewood all available at the same time.
"It will be a bit of a headache for the selectors when it does happen," Saker said. "It's really good to see. Patty [Cummins] today going really well, Josh and Mitch had a fantastic summer. Then we've got Jimmy Pattinson, the way he's come back in the last few Shield games and he's got another chance in a Shield final, so that's really good for him and good for Australian cricket.
"To be strong in world cricket and especially the Australian team you need a good crop of fast bowlers and we've got that at the moment. But we've had a lot of problems getting them on the park. There are still other back-up bowlers.
"Jackson Bird is here, he does a fantastic job when he's called upon. Peter Siddle's been outstanding for long periods of time. Chadd Sayers again, probably one of the unlucky fast bowlers in Australian cricket. We've got a good crop so that's exciting for me and the Australian cricket team."