Match Analysis

Cummins and Starc finally blow the house down

They dismantled Pakistan with pace, persistence, a hint of movement, and more than a hint of pent-up frustration

Alex Malcolm
Alex Malcolm
23-Mar-2022
Mitchell Starc began Australia's surge  •  AFP/Getty Images

Mitchell Starc began Australia's surge  •  AFP/Getty Images

Finally. After 13 days of backbreaking toil in this series. After 13 days of waiting for the pitches to do something. After 13 days of hoping the chosen ball would reverse. After 13 days of relentless but slow run-scoring. After 13 days of watching hard-earned nicks hit the turf.
Finally, Pat Cummins and Mitchell Starc said enough is enough and took matters into their own hands. They huffed and they puffed and they blew away Pakistan's batting line-up with sheer pace, persistence, a hint of movement, and more than a hint of pent-up frustration to put Australia in command.
Cummins became just the fourth Australian quick in history to take a five-wicket haul in Pakistan. Starc became just the third quick in the series to bag four wickets or more in an innings. Pakistan lost eight wickets for 54 runs in 30 overs to hand Australia a critical 134-run lead with two days to go.
It was a Herculean effort from Australia's two fast men.
At one stage in the afternoon, it looked like an impossible task. Lahore's surface was offering precious little. Azhar Ali and Babar Azam's bats looked as broad as ever after Abdullah Shafique had again batted for what felt like days. There were very few signs of the prodigious reverse-swing that Naseem Shah had extracted the previous day.
Australia had frivolously burnt three reviews, two in pure hope and exasperation that they might not hit another pad for days despite neither looking close to out.
Steven Smith had dropped three catches, one each of Shafique, Azhar and Babar. None were easy, though, all incredibly difficult given how close to the batter he has stood at times, but all told he has missed six chances in a series where chances have been few and far between.
At one stage midway through the 13th day of the series, all five of Australia's bowlers were striking at more than 100 for the tour and Starc's wicket tally of three was level with direct-hit run-outs for the series
Nathan Lyon bowled 30 overs unchanged for little reward. He did claim Shafique thanks to Australia's only successful review, scratching the outside edge of his broad bat with one that went straight on. He could have had Babar too, who drove hard out of the footmarks and edged fine of the wrong-footed Smith at slip. Mitchell Swepson too produced a chance off Azhar - which Smith was unable to grasp - but was unable to extract much else as the surface offered less spin than the one in Karachi.
At one stage midway through the 13th day of the series, all five of Australia's bowlers were striking at more than 100 for the tour and Starc's wicket tally of three was level with direct-hit run-outs for the series.
Australia needed a lion in Lahore and they found one in their captain. Out of nowhere, in a short burst at Azhar, Cummins induced a false stroke. A well-struck drive that was not kept down. Cummins fell to his left in his follow-through, reached to his right, and plucked a stunning catch. He threw it in the air as he rolled to the ground and finished on his knees roaring with delight.
"That's why he's No. 1 in the world," Starc would say of Cummins after the day's play. "He started it for us."
Australia had an opening.
Cummins threw Starc the ball post-tea with Fawad Alam far from settled and Starc rammed his way through with sheer will.
This wasn't the spectacular high-velocity reverse-swing that he showed in the first innings in Karachi. Instead, it was a showcase of his fitness and willpower. Starc can be maligned for his sometimes wild radar and his lean spells as he had experienced on this tour as well. But one thing he is given very little credit for is his ability to sustain 140kph speeds across a backbreaking series. His pace has never dropped during this arduous tour. And it didn't on the 13th day. He finally got the reward when he delivered the perfect length and line to Alam with a hint of reverse-swing back to crash through a gaping gate between bat and pad and smash into off stump.
Starc smelt blood in the water. He trumped that delivery to Alam with an even better one to remove Mohammad Rizwan. From around the wicket, he again hit the perfect length, angling towards off stump and tailing away a touch to beat the outside edge and crash into the top of off.
"It's having a really calm approach," Starc said. "Patty's been fantastic in his captaincy. There have been times where they've built partnerships and played really nicely. It's about staying calm and not letting that scoreboard get out of control and take our chances and moments when they come."
Pakistan's tail was now exposed and Cummins sensed the moment. He brought himself back on in tandem with Starc and in 20 deliveries they took 5 for 4.
Cummins and Starc ratted the stumps twice more and thundered into the front pads of Nauman Ali and Babar. Starc pinning Pakistan's captain on 67 was proof that no one could stop Australia's steam train from running down the track. Not even DRS could overturn this one as it was just clipping the outside of leg stump.
Only one of the nine wickets the duo took required a fielder's assistance, with Smith taking a nice low catch of Hasan Ali at first slip having moved back to a conventional position behind Alex Carey.
"Once we get a sniff we want to try and ram that home," Starc said. "So to work in a fantastic partnership for those few overs is what we're about."
For the second Test running, Australia have done the hard yards to set up the game in their favour and they can thank Cummins and Starc for it. Now they need to finish the job.

Alex Malcolm is an Associate Editor at ESPNcricinfo