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Why Pat Cummins' freak innings was not as freakish as you might expect

Yes, it was a case of merely aiming "to hit every ball" and having it come off, but also the various skillsets in play did set Cummins up to steal the show

Sidharth Monga
Sidharth Monga
How do you even describe a 14-ball fifty?
It is, of course, an extraordinary knock. Any 14-ball fifty is. More so on a night when almost every other batter has struggled to tame the steep bounce. In all, 48 not-in-control runs will be scored behind the wicket in this match, the most for a single game in the last six IPL seasons.
Venkatesh Iyer, coming off his honeymoon season and coming to terms with the cost of living, is fighting his own form and the conditions valiantly to turn 19 off 21 into 50 off 41. He has hung on for dear life, knowing his side's fate depends on his staying there till the end. The plan has been for him to be at his most efficient in adverse circumstances but make sure he bats through and delays taking his chances as much as he can. It is making for a great story.
And then comes the joint-best fast bowler in Test cricket - not half-bad in limited-overs cricket, mind you - and he hits the other joint-best fast bowler in Test cricket - who is also the best fast bowler in limited-overs cricket - for a six and a four before causing absolute mayhem in a Daniel Sams over that he takes 35 runs off. It is mockery of others who have been trying to play a hard-fought match in difficult conditions.
It is apt that a person with unfair amounts of cricketing talent and fitness comes up with the best description of the innings. "I just tried to hit every ball for a four or a six," Pat Cummins explains, cutting straight to the chase, just as he did with the bat.
Of course there will be explanations for why it came off but, at the heart of it, it was just that: trying to hit every ball for a boundary, targeting the short boundaries, and making sure Venkatesh didn't have to risk his wicket.
For further explanations, we can look at Cummins' record against pace vis-à-vis spin: after today, his strike rate against pace is 156 at 21 runs per dismissal. Two years ago he hit four sixes off a single Jasprit Bumrah over. He now has the second-most IPL fifties batting at No. 7 or lower. So you shouldn't probably be shocked that he played a match-winning hand here. But he is not considered a genuine allrounder, despite those numbers, because it is easy to shut him down with spin. Against spin, he doesn't score at even a run a ball.
One of the few teams funky enough to bowl heavy doses of spin even late in the innings is the team Cummins himself plays for, so, more often than not, the best time for him to bat is at the death. Especially if he is batting with a specialist batter who prefers spin to pace - Venkatesh has a strike rate of 142 and an average of 60 against the slow stuff as against 122 and 28 against pace. And here too Venkatesh has had a better night against spin than pace, so the opposition can be forgiven for planning for the more apparent threat - the established batter and his obvious strength.
Cummins himself had gone for 23 in the last over of the first innings. Two of the sixes were edges as he tried to bluff Kieron Pollard with short balls despite having third man and fine leg up. Cummins was perhaps unlucky in his final analysis of 4-0-49-2. "Welcome to Twenty20 cricket," he thought to himself then, having just come off a gruelling Test series in Pakistan where he toiled for 110.1 overs for 12 wickets, the joint-highest in the series, and a 1-0 series win.
Then he played the purest form of Twenty20 cricket himself: try to hit a boundary every ball. And the hitting was all clean too. Except maybe for one cue-end to a wide Bumrah yorker, but even there he intended to hit the ball in that general area. "I am at my best when I am not thinking much," he says later.
That is not to dismiss the work that goes on behind the scenes to achieve a skillset where you can hit fours and sixes without thinking too much. Being primarily a bowler perhaps liberates you to attempt that. He has tried just this on many a night but this was the night when it all came off.
Any 14-ball fifty is a freak innings, but in hindsight, if you look at the circumstances and skillsets, of all the unexpected sources of such a knock, Cummins is probably the most expected. If that makes any sense. Not much about a 14-ball fifty does, admittedly.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo