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Feature

The good man Pattie and the scoundrel Cummins

He is leading an all-out attack on other members of the bowling tribe at IPL 2024 using his new team, Sunrisers Hyderabad

Alagappan Muthu
Alagappan Muthu
24-Apr-2024
Pat Cummins has bowled 55 slower balls this season - more than twice as much as the last three seasons combined, Kolkata, March 23, 2024

Do you see it, that glint of evil in his eye?  •  AFP/Getty Images

Pat Cummins used to be a nice guy. There are many recorded instances of this. He is protective of the environment. And of his mates. He has probably written the coldest press release ever, which doesn't really add anything to this, except that he did it to shut down a bunch of larger-than-life-totally-above-reproach Aussie legends from going after the people in his care.
Ben Stokes, another saviour of our sweet, sometimes jingoistic game once lost himself in the face of crowd abuse and returned fire by picking on them for wearing glasses. Cummins stars in ads endorsing them. For large sums of money, obviously, but he could have used that movie star mug of his for any number of nefarious purposes. He could have brought the dab back. Instead, he stayed true to his hero arc that dates all the way back to 2011 when an 18-year-old him was too quick for Jacques Kallis.
A 19-, 20-, 21- and 22-year-old Cummins suffered through endless injuries, somehow getting stronger with each one until he returned a fully-formed, stress-tested, fast-bowling artiste. The lines he drew to connect the red ball in his hand to the tops of various off stumps that stood 22 yards away, supposedly under the protection of generationally gifted batters, could rival da Vinci himself.
It was all going so smoothly. No. 1-ranked bowler. Fur baby lover. World Cup winner. The only thing he had to do was stay the course. But no. He went and became captain of a T20 team for the first time ever, and that team just happens to be Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH), who have been waylaying every single bowler they have come across for the past two months. Does he not hear the cries? Does he not see the pain he is causing members of his own tribe?
"Remove this Impact Player rule, sir," Mohammed Siraj said, "Everyone is coming and hitting us."
Now, on the surface, this has nothing to do with Cummins or his SRH brethren. But remember there was no pushback about this rule when it was introduced last year. So what's different now? What has the Impact Player done this year that is so horrible? Well, he keeps shoring up batting line-ups, encouraging them to be all kinds of extra. And who has been the most extra of all the extra batting line-ups in this IPL?
A balls-per-boundary ratio of under 4. A run rate of over 11. The highest total in the tournament's history. And worst of all, barely contained desire to go on and better it.
"[Our score] needs a three in front of it, does it now?" Travis Head joked immediately after SRH posted 287 for 3 against Royal Challengers Bengaluru (RCB) on April 15. "It's proper batting. We've wanted to be exciting the whole time, and we've wanted to take the game on, and Pat and then Dan [Vettori, the coach] have put pressure on the batting line-up to make sure we try and maximise the powerplay and then keep going."
You see? He's egging them on and he's not even being polite about it. "I'll keep saying," Cummins mispronounced gloating there in a video that SRH put out on social media, "you'll hear from us every time. That's how we want to play. It's not going to work every game but I can tell you everyone's terrified when they come up against us and we're going to blow some teams out of the water."
Where did it all go wrong? How has he strayed so far? The pragmatist who kept fielders out on the boundary in the very first over of an Ashes series was now painting that same strategy as weakness just because he's the one with a batting line-up putting the fear of god into the opposition.
And then there are his own performances. Cummins has given up his pace in the IPL. He has bowled 55 slower balls this season - more than twice as many as his last three seasons combined. He's also refusing to take the new ball, content doing the job in the middle overs and slipping by with an economy rate of 8, the fourth-best among seamers who have bowled in at least five innings so far. The others above him have the advantage of unusual bowling actions (Jasprit Bumrah 6.37 and Matheesha Pathirana 7.6) or left-arm angles (Trent Boult 7.46). They also don't have to deal with an INR 20.5 crore (US$2.5 million) price tag and all the doubters it brings or doing whatever it takes to turn the wooden spooners of 2023 into title contenders in 2024.
Pat Cummins used to be a nice guy. But now he sits in the dugout laughing as people who are just trying to do their jobs are getting smashed to smithereens. His villain arc has begun.

Alagappan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo