Is rotating Cummins and Harris an answer?
Amidst the euphoria of the victory against South Africa in the 2nd Test in Johannesburg, Australian management’s most important task is to ensure the man of the moment in Patrick Cummins is handled with kid (or teenage) gloves.
By now the Pat Cummins story is embedded into everyone’s minds. A meteoric rise sees just his fourth first class game reap him the figures of 6/79 on his Test debut, and then just in case that wasn’t enough he came out in the second innings to hit the winning runs in one of the best Test Match finishes in recent times.
As is to be expected with today’s media, that performance led to the national papers blowing their collective load – and let’s be fair, it was probably justified – how many times can someone say they belted Dale Steyn back past his head for four and took the wicket of arguably the greatest all rounder of all time in their Test debut?
Regardless, it’s important not to get carried away. In his previous first class game for New South Wales – the Sheffield Shield final against Tasmania – Cummins bowled a total of 65 overs in the match before promptly pulling up with back soreness. It’s a reminder that the man is only 18 years old, and his body (and more importantly his bowling action itself) is still developing.
The man he replaced in the Australian Test side for the 2nd Test at Johannesburg was Ryan Harris. Harris, a man who rose to be the spearhead of the Australian bowling attack almost by default – which is in no way a criticism of his abilities – is at the other end of the spectrum to Cummins, where his undoubted quality is restricted by what his body is allowing – or not allowing him to do.
The record of Harris at Test level speaks for itself – 35 wickets in 8 matches at an average of 21 with a strike rate of just under 42 is nothing to sneeze at. Yet more tellingly, in Australia’s last three Test series he has been able to take his place in the team for the last match of the series due to injury.
Taking the above into consideration, the Test side is left with their two most talented bowlers both in a position where for one reason or another, they can’t play an entire series. So what do you do to solve this? Here’s the proposal, and it’s quite simple:
Rotate Cummins and Harris through the side – one in and one out, one Test match at a time – for the rest of this summer. With minimal break between each of the six Test matches Australia play at home (during the two series there is no more than a week’s break between any match), attempting to run with the same bowler is fraught with danger and can only end in tears. Remember, Harris is 32 with his body going on 102 and Cummins should be on Schoolies right about now.
There are two main positives of this scheme; firstly, you’re ensuring that both Harris and Cummins are at 100% when they do play for their country. As we’ve seen so far that is a recipe for success; well, from one end at least. Secondly, because they are at 100% when they play for Australia there’s less chance of picking up an injury. An injury is much more likely to flare up after a long period of sustained pressure on the body – something that is going to be avoided in this situation.
It requires patience in its execution; something that evidently isn’t in great supply currently judging by the proclamations of Cummins as the saviour and messiah. It’s obvious that he will be a great player, but it’s the management in the upcoming 24-36 months that will determine just what legacy he is positioned to leave in Australian cricket.
Therefore this solution not only leaves Cummins in a good place, it also has the added benefit of allowing Harris to be a force for Australia for longer than he otherwise would have. Just please, be patient with Cummins.