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Match Analysis

The Pat Cummins show: Illusions from a handsome magician

Of those with 200 Test wickets, only Marshall, Garner and Ambrose have a better average than the Australia captain

Alex Malcolm
Alex Malcolm
Pat Cummins in full flight is a thing of beauty  •  Getty Images

Pat Cummins in full flight is a thing of beauty  •  Getty Images

Pat Cummins could hardly have delivered a better ball to reach 200 Test wickets. Wide of the crease, angling in with a wobbling seam towards the obdurate, indefatigable front-foot defence of West Indies captain Kraigg Brathwaite.
That defence hadn't been breached in 165 balls and Australia's fab four of Cummins, Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Nathan Lyon, with help from the emerging Cameron Green, had taken just one wicket in 54.1 overs.
But Cummins did what Cummins has done so often. What he did to Joe Root in the 2019 Ashes. What he has done to the world's best batters for 11 years. He landed the wobbling seam on the perfect length, and the ball nipped away a fraction, past the outside edge of Brathwaite's bat and crashed into the top of off.
"I'll take that," Cummins said at the end of the third day. "Top of off. I was happy."
It's almost sorcery. An illusion from a handsome magician. You can't see Brathwaite's off stump behind the full face of his bat, yet the ball found a way around it. That's why Cummins is so good. It's why of all the Test greats with 200 wickets or more, only Malcolm Marshall, Joel Garner, and Curtly Ambrose have a better average.
"Incredible. It's pretty crazy," Cummins said. "There's still plenty [of] guys I know who've taken 300, 400, 700, so comparing numbers doesn't seem as significant as others. But I think [with] any milestone when I think of wickets, I kind of think of longevity and knowing I had a bit of time out of the game. It's always a nice realisation."
It's serendipitous that the West Indies greats are referenced in Cummins' great achievement. Australia's vaunted fab four have ascended to a level no other four-man Test attack in history has reached. They became the first specialist bowling quartet to play together in the same Test with 200-plus wickets each.
And it was a case of getting the band back together and playing the same quality hits they have done over many years prior. Only the band hasn't played together much in recent times. Cummins, Starc and Lyon have played in each of Australia's last eight Tests together, but Hazlewood has only joined them in one. He missed the four matches of last summer's Ashes series through a side injury, only to return for their first Test in Pakistan.
Cummins laughed that his joints ached just watching England plunder 506 in a day on the same Rawalpindi pitch that tortured the Australians in March when they took two wickets in 172 overs between the four of them.
Hazlewood was left out of the final two Tests of the series and the two Tests in Sri Lanka as Australia opted for two spinners.
But here they slipped back in sync. Even though Hazlewood took only one wicket, his quality Test-match lines and lengths complemented the other three. He made the key breakthrough on the third morning, finding the outside edge of Tagenarine Chanderpaul after beating it repeatedly the previous night. It opened the door for Cummins to barge through on Brathwaite, while Starc - with the woes of the T20 World Cup behind him - showcased his tremendous red-ball skills, nipping a superb offcutter back through Kyle Mayers' gate with a 57-over-old ball before swinging the second new ball sharply back into the right-handed duo of Jermaine Blackwood and Joshua da Silva to remove both men in quick succession.
Lyon played his part containing Jason Holder before removing him with a change of angle and clever field setting.
"It's great," Cummins said, "The three other guys are three of my best mates. We all get along so well. It's not just the time out in the middle. It's the amount of dinners and nights in physio rooms kind of hanging out together. It's a really special group we've got going. Just have so much confidence in each other even today just felt so relaxed the whole day. Just knowing once you'd finish your spell, someone's going to step up."
The addition of Green is like adding a versatile guitarist to an already rounded four-piece band. He was hostile with the old ball pinning Nkrumah Bonner and Jason Holder on the helmet. Bonner had to be subbed out for concussion at which point Green turned his sights on the replacement Shamarh Brooks, getting rid of him with outswing at good pace.
The pace trio, and their all-round addition, learnt from their mistakes on day two bowling a lot fuller and getting rewards by bringing the stumps into play. As a result, a score of 159 for 1 turned into 283 all out.
"This wicket more so than others felt like that good length... it didn't feel the slips were as [much] in play," Cummins said. "So, it was something we spoke about trying to get a little bit fuller and get them driving."
Like all great bands, they stepped off stage before their encore. Cummins could have enforced the follow-on with West Indies 315 runs behind and six-and-a-half sessions remaining but admitted it was never an option.
"Hopefully the pitch gets a little bit harder to bat on and it gives us bowlers a little bit of a break," he said. "We'll bat for a little bit into tomorrow and then we'll kind of work back and hopefully leave us plenty of time to try and take the 10 wickets.
"You always bowl better when you're slightly fresher. Day five is normally harder than day three or four. Yeah, there's really not too many instances where the follow-on is realistic."

Alex Malcolm is an Associate Editor at ESPNcricinfo