Tireless, incisive Cummins a big threat even on spinning pitches
The Australia captain has shown over the years that he has the tools to extract help from the flattest of tracks
Among all the remarkable things about Pat Cummins, the most remarkable could be his durability. In an era when other world-class, genuinely quick bowlers - think Jofra Archer or Jasprit Bumrah - routinely miss matches and series for injury or workload-management reasons, Cummins is almost always part of Australia's Test XIs. He has featured in 46 of Australia's last 50 Tests, and only Nathan Lyon (50) has been more of an ever-present.
It wasn't always so, of course. Cummins, the Player of the Match on Test debut in November 2011, waited five-and-a-half injury-ravaged years before getting to play Test cricket again.
In March 2017, he made his comeback in Ranchi, and proceeded to show the world just how special a talent he was. Figures of 39-10-106-4 aren't immediately eye-catching, perhaps, but that performance was exceptional for two reasons.
The first reason was what Cummins brought up when asked about Ranchi on Saturday, in Australia's first press conference since landing in India for the four-Test Border-Gavaskar series, which begins in Nagpur on February 9.
Cummins had only played one first-class game in the 18 months leading up to that game in Ranchi, and given his injury history, no one could have been certain how much of a workload he could get through. As it turned out, he bowled 39 overs as India piled up 603 for 9 declared. To date, he hasn't bowled more overs in a Test innings.
"I think what I learned about myself was, it was my first Test match in six years, it kind of reaffirmed that that's where I wanted to be," Cummins said, "and in Test cricket, you can't be worried about your body or different things, you've just got to go all-in. I really enjoyed that.
"I think also the lesson there is that Test cricket can be really, really hard. You've got to accept that it's going to be a grind sometimes, and you have got to be up for it and embrace that challenge. I think, coming here to India, a lot of the talk is around big spinning wickets, mainly fast [-moving] Test matches, but it's not always the case.
"You need to get into the grind at times, and that role as a fast bowler might be bowling plenty of overs for not a heap of reward but doing a job for the team. I really enjoyed that aspect of that last tour."
"We have got plenty of bowling options here - fingerspin, wristspin, left-arm [spin], and Starcy [Mitchell Starc] when he comes back"Pat Cummins is relying on the variety of his attack to pick 20 wickets
The second thing that made that Ranchi display so remarkable was that on a track that was slow, low and utterly lifeless when any of Australia's other bowlers tried their luck on it, Cummins threatened to run through India. By means of searing pace, conventional swing with the second new ball, reverse with the old one, and offcutter-bouncers that reared at the gloves, he had, at one stage, taken four wickets to leave India six down and trailing Australia's first-innings total by 123.
Cheteshwar Pujara and Wriddhiman Saha turned the match around thereafter, putting India in control with a 199-run seventh-wicket stand, but Cummins had shown Australia how he had both the stamina and the sting to be a threat on subcontinental pitches.
Australia recognise that pace could play as crucial a role as spin in their push for a first Test-series win in India since 2004 - their two best bowlers in that series were Jason Gillespie (20 wickets at 16.15) and Glenn McGrath (14 at 25.42) - and the attacks that led them to victories in Bengaluru and Nagpur featured three quicks and one spinner.
While a lot of the pre-series talk this time has revolved around who among Ashton Agar, Mitchell Swepson and Todd Murphy will partner Lyon in Australia's spin attack, Cummins suggested that three quicks and one spinner could be an option too.
"I wouldn't say [two spinners is] a given," he said. "Obviously it's very conditions-dependent, particularly in the first Test. Once we get to Nagpur, we will see. But yeah, I think sometimes talking about a couple of spinners, you forget how good a lot of our fast bowlers have been in all conditions.
"You know, even some of the SCG wickets, [there hasn't] been a lot in it for the quick bowlers, but the quick bowlers have found a way. So yeah, we've got plenty of bowling options here - fingerspin, wristspin, left-arm [spin], and Starcy [Mitchell Starc] when he comes back down the line. So yeah, we've obviously picked the bowlers that we think can take 20 wickets. How we are going to split that up, we are not 100% sure yet."
Australia's most recent Test match, against South Africa in January, came on one of the SCG pitches Cummins referenced flat and slow. Rain dashed Australia's hopes of forcing a win, but Cummins put them in a position to push for that result, summoning every weapon at his disposal, including bouncers from around the wicket with a leg-theory field, to dismiss three of South Africa's top six and force them to follow on.
Cummins had bowled with similar hostility in Lahore last year, picking up five wickets in the first innings and three in the second as Australia wrapped up a series victory their bowlers had worked tirelessly for on some of the flattest Test pitches of recent times.
Cummins wasn't just tireless, though. In a series where the next-best Australia bowler averaged 34.12, he took 12 wickets at 22.50. On pitches designed to blunt his wicket-taking threat, he was both tireless and incisive.
Over the next six weeks or so, there will likely be as much - or more - chatter about the pitches in Nagpur, Delhi, Dharamsala and Ahmedabad as there is about the superstars who will bowl and bat on them. No matter how the pitches behave, though, Cummins - as he showed six years ago in Ranchi - will be a threat, quite likely the foremost threat in India's minds.
Karthik Krishnaswamy is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo