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Can Superman Cummins extend his Midas touch to T20 cricket?

Last updated on 20 Feb 2024 | 09:02 AM
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Can Superman Cummins extend his Midas touch to T20 cricket?

Pat Cummins’ inclusion in Australia's T20I squad is based on his reputation in other formats rather than performance

Pat Cummins is a cricketer with a Midas touch. For starters, he is a seam-bowling all-rounder - one of the most precious breeds in cricket irrespective of the era, but a little more important in modern-day cricket due to the increasing significance of white-ball cricket. 

One of the leading pacers at the highest level, he also leads his team in two formats, elevating the oomph factor in his aura as one of the few fast-bowling captains in cricket history. Even with his tertiary skill, his batting, Cummins has contributed in make-or-break positions. He silenced a full house of Indian fans at the biggest cricketing venue in the world, an achievement worthy of being highlighted on his resume. 

Cummins spilled his magic across both Tests and ODIs, for Australia to clinch the World Test Championship title and the 50-over World Cup while also retaining the Ashes in England. In December, he became the first player to cross the INR 20 crore bid in the IPL auction. That despite not playing a T20 match since the 2022 T20 World Cup. He achieved so much within six months which many players have not attained in their entire career.

And now, Australia also want Cummins to inject that elixir into their T20 fortunes. Picked for the three T20Is versus New Zealand (starting on Wednesday), Cummins will return to the format after managing his workload through it in 2023. It is not like Australia need him at all costs. They have plenty of fast bowlers up their ranks. There isn’t any shortage of bowling all-rounders in the country either. 

But Cummins, cricket’s closest doppelganger to Clark Kent, is a Superman-like figure for the Aussies on the field. That must be the only reason why Australia elected him as their ODI captain at a time when he was already playing every Test for the country. Since 2019, he has played 43 out of Australia’s 47 Tests - the most by any Australian pacer. Twice he has played all five Tests in an Ashes series. 

When he was elected as Australia’s ODI captain, it was well-known that he would be heading into the World Cup after the workload of six consecutive Tests across six weeks while returning to ODI cricket after several months. Australia trusted him and in return, Cummins produced their sixth 50-over World Cup title. With such recent events, you can see why Cricket Australia was keen to return to their golden goose in another format.

The question is if Cummins fits into their T20 XI. And the answer is an unclear no. 

Cummins has never been a bonafide T20 pacer. The most T20 cricket he has played in a stretch was between 2020 and 2022. The Sydney-born played 51 matches during this period which included two T20 World Cups. He picked 51 wickets at an average of 30.7 and conceded 8.4 runs per over. 

Cummins didn’t fulfill his role in any of the three phases. He wasn’t a wicket-taker upfront, averaging 32.9 in the powerplay. As a middle-overs enforcer, he conceded at 8 runs per over in overs 7 to 15. During the death overs, he was carted at 10.3 runs per over. Overall, his average bowling figures in this three-year period were 1/34 which isn’t impactful, neither as a wicket-taker nor on the economy front. He was below par in each of Australia’s last two T20 World Cup campaigns. 

In his 51 T20 appearances since 2020, Cummins has been wicketless 18 times (nearly 34% of the games) and has picked a solitary wicket in 20 matches. That is 38 matches without much impact in the wickets column. Also, there have been 19 occasions where he has been carted at more than 9 runs per over. 

Moreover, nearly every other pacer in Australia’s player pool for the World Cup has played more T20s than Cummins over the last few years. 

Where Cummins cuts the deal above the rest is his batting. If included in Australia’s full-strength XI, the 30-year-old will most likely replace Sean Abbott at number eight. Cummins has superior numbers (average 20.2, strike rate 152.6) to Abbott’s average of 15.7 and strike rate of 137.7. His batting prowess down the order cannot be questioned after his valuable batting contributions in 2023. 

But based on his primary skills, Cummins’ inclusion is based on his reputation in other formats rather than performance. 

It is much like the situation India are facing - should they welcome Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli based on their reputation and performances in other formats or reward the youngsters who have mounted runs in the absence of senior players last year? 

Australia seem to have made up their mind. “We'll look to potentially be at full strength for the New Zealand series,” said head coach Andrew McDonald in mid-January. And the 2021 champions have welcomed their frontline attack in the last two T20 World Cups, even when the trio has only two T20Is between them since the last edition. 

Josh Hazlewood has played most T20s among the three in the recent past. Mitchell Starc is a white-ball beast on his best days. And with Cummins, Australia hope that he will turn another world event into a title for Australia with his Midas touch. 

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