Patrick Cummins. The kid can bowl fast. Very fast, in fact. It's just that he can't bowl very fast for very long. The pace he generates matches the hype and excitement he has generated in Australian cricket circles, but perhaps his road to Damascus needs to be the old-fashioned sort, paved not with diamonds but with grit and stones. Given this latest injury setback, it is clear that modern science doesn't agree with him. While his talent is too rich to be spurned, his body clearly doesn't respond to "cotton-wool" treatment, so what's the next step for this likeable young man?
To put it into context, Cummins has played all forms of international cricket with virtually no interstate cricket credentials. Not unless you count Under-19 cricket. His meteoric rise is despite his bowling action. The twisting forces he generates to produce extreme pace have proved counter-productive to him staying on the park for any prolonged period, despite the best efforts of a highly qualified medical team, which is still unable to come up with a programme that works. There is no suggestion of negligence or blame here - just making the observation that if the lad is to make a career for himself, he may be best advised to switch strategies.
Built light and slim, my body needed to bowl and bowl and bowl. I went from fifth grade to first grade in a single season, largely down to a huge workload. I learned to read my body and know when to ease off
When his injury is healed, he may have to learn to bowl long spells in match conditions and do it for a few seasons in domestic cricket before his body "learns" endurance. With his pace, it is tempting to want to rush him back into the Australian team but it is blindingly obvious now that being in that environment, even with the best professionals tracking his every waking (and likely sleeping) moment, they are unable to build him up to the point where he can last more than a few consecutive games.
In another era, extreme pace or not, Cummins would only have earned an international cap based on consistent performances in Shield cricket. Yes, the world has moved on from that era, but in the case of Cummins, there is an argument to suggest that we need to return to this system. He needs to bowl long spells at good pace, even if it means having to learn to operate in the 135-145kph range for sustained periods, with the occasional 150-plus effort ball. He's young and has perhaps never bowled a long spell in his life, so his body simply doesn't know what to do.
As the parent of two young sons who try to bowl fast and are coming through the junior system, I have a particular interest in the modern methods for budding fast bowlers. In the formal environment, in nets or in matches, they are unlikely to ever bowl long spells until they are grown men, possibly when they are in their twenties. I remain utterly unconvinced that this will produce a cricketer who can not only bowl fast but bowl fast for long enough to make a career for himself.
The medics will tell you that young, growing bodies cannot be overworked and I'm not going to quibble with their research, because they are infinitely more clever than I am. But by the same token, one quick look at most fast bowlers around the world who were weaned on this diet of minimum workload/maximum monitoring proves that modern medical science has not produced the dividends that justify the massive investments.
I look back to my own career during my teenage years. Built light and slim, admittedly the polar opposite to the Cummins prototype, my body needed to bowl and bowl and bowl. The more I bowled, the better I got. I went from fifth grade to first grade in a single season, largely down to a huge workload where I learned to read my body and know when to bowl faster or ease off when I was mildly sore. I played many years of league cricket in England as the overseas pro, often bowling 25 overs unchanged and then opening the batting. I was not the exception. Far better cricketers than I, who went on to play internationals, were brought up on a similar diet of a heavy workload that taught our bodies to cope with a few niggles and made us stronger for the extra work, rather than despite it.
Cummins has played all forms of international cricket with virtually no interstate cricket credentials
I can hear the howls of protest already - Cummins is a thoroughbred sprinter, built for speed not endurance. Fair enough too. But unless we are prepared to enjoy him in tiny doses, his will be a brilliant star that shines brightly for a few days a year. Are we prepared to trade a yard of pace for a longer career? Don't forget, he can bat too. What's so unattractive about a Cummins who consistently bowls in the early 140s, swings it away and scores useful runs at No. 8? Is that worse than the bowler who plays two to three games a year and spends the rest of his time in the gym or in the rehab lab?
For my sons, built like their dad, big on desire and low on raw talent, my method will fly in the face of modern science. By the time they reach adulthood, they will have bowled long spells, if only in the nets, because no competition in Australia will allow them to harden their bodies under match conditions. I can only hope that by then, Patrick Cummins' career would have been more than the brilliant shooting star that lit up our galaxy all too briefly.
Michael Jeh is an Oxford Blue who played first-class cricket, and a Playing Member of the MCC. He lives in Brisbane