A wicket-taking bowler like Cummins is a batter's nightmare and captain's pride

Trusting the process is all well and good but the ability to deliver when good batters are attacking is what separates fast-bowling greats from the herd

Ian Chappell
Ian Chappell
Pat Cummins wheels away in celebration after cleaning up Babar Azam, Australia vs Pakistan, 2nd Test, 2nd day, Melbourne, December 27, 2023

Pat Cummins wrapped up the second Test with a match haul of ten wickets, only the second Australia captain after Allan Border to do this  •  Getty Images and Cricket Australia

As Australia captain Pat Cummins cleverly dissected the Pakistan batting line-up to bring his team a tough victory in the second Test, I thought: what does it take to amass Test victims - lots of them?
I liken Cummins to the great former Australia fast bowler Dennis Lillee in both inspirational qualities and heart size. Lillee wanted to get batters out, to have their number. He says, "Fast bowling is a mental job as well as a physical one."
At the top of his mark, Lillee envisioned the ball flying through to keeper Rod Marsh, who'd take the delivery at head height standing back. That's what Lillee means when he talks about the mental side of fast bowling.
The spectacular delivery that Cummins produced to bowl Pakistan's Babar Azam - dismissing the opposition's best batter once again - reminded me of Lillee's greatness.
At the Oval in 1972 a firmly entrenched England wicketkeeper Alan Knott was displaying exceptional grit and determination. When England's ninth second-innings wicket fell for 356, we gathered to congratulate bowler Ashley Mallett. Lillee was having none of it and bellowed, "We can't let these ba*****s score any more runs."
At that stage England led by 241. Lillee then bowled the obstinate Knott for a well-compiled 63, leaving Australia to chase 242 for a famous victory. He didn't bowl Knott with pure pace - the delivery was nowhere near his fastest. Nor did he beat the bat with movement - the pitch by then was devoid of any green tinge. Lillee bowled Knott with sheer will power. He wanted the batter out.
Like Lillee, Cummins wanted Babar out.
It's terrific to bowl a top-class batter, but you also have to rely on the fielders taking catches. A good slip fielder's job is to catch the standard ones and occasionally add a blinder to his resumé . An excellent slip fielder should pouch around 90% of the catches that come his way.
Pakistan were never noted for their slip catching. I recall saying on commentary, "Inzamam-ul-Haq isn't at first slip because he's their best catcher." That applies to current Pakistan first-slip fielder Abdullah Shafique too, who has grassed eminently catchable chances in both Tests.
With the great improvement in modern bats it's not so much how you bowl - Test bowlers are skilful - but how you perform when a good batter is attacking. That's when the best bowlers come to the fore.
Then there is slip placement. If you are fortunate to have an excellent keeper, like Marsh, who had the widest range, both left and right, of any gloveman I saw standing back, then the slips can cover a lot of territory. That isn't the case in Australia with Pakistan or many other international teams.
At one point in their career the excellent Pakistan pace duo of Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis had claimed 60% of their Test and ODI wickets bowled or lbw. That's an outrageously high figure and suggests the two fast bowlers knew not to trust their own fielders.
With the great improvement in modern bats, it's not so much how you bowl - Test bowlers are skilful - but how you perform when a good batter is attacking. That's when the best bowlers come to the fore.
It's also when you need every bit of the mental fortitude that Lillee speaks about and Cummins exudes.
Occasionally I hear: "Adhere to the process and don't worry too much about the actual consequences."
Well, in Pakistan's case they beat the edge of the bat regularly at the MCG but also seemingly with resignation. And catches kept going down - chances that should have been taken and could have been crucial to the end result, because Pakistan had Australia four down and were back in contention.
Wickets are important. Just ask Cummins.
One of Lillee's great traits was that a batter had to overcome his enormous skill first, which was no easy feat. However, if he achieved that difficult task, he still had to outlast his iron will, which took a monumental effort.
On those hot, demanding days, give me a Lillee- or a Cummins-style character who cares only about not giving in and taking wickets rather than how the process feels.
That's why great fast bowlers like Lillee and Cummins are a captain's dream and a batter's nightmare.

Former Australia captain Ian Chappell is a columnist