Australian fast bowler Pat Cummins says he remembers being “ultra-frustrated” with his string of injuries during the early stages of his career, and that at times he even wished he could swap bodies with one of his fit pace-bowling compatriots during his spells on the sidelines.
- Pat Cummins burst onto the Test scene in 2011, taking 6-79 in the second innings to be man of the match as Australia beat South Africa in Johannesburg
- His history of injuries, however, meant it was five and a half years before he played another Test
- He eventually rose to become the top-ranked Test bowler in the world, a position he has held for more than a year
Now a veteran of 30 Tests, in which he has taken 143 wickets, Cummins has developed into one of Australia’s most consistent and reliable fast bowlers of recent years.
However, his promising career looked to be in doubt almost before it had started after the teenage Cummins repeatedly broke down, unable to handle the rigours of Test cricket at that stage.
A series of stress fractures in his back resulted in a 1,946-day gap between his first Test as a 18-year-old in Johannesburg against South Africa in 2011, where he became the youngest Australian to wear the baggy green since Ian Craig in 1953, and his second against India in Ranchi in 2017.
And it was a career that started with a bang.
Cummins, who earned his place in the Test side off the back of his performances in the T20 matches against South Africa, took 6-79 to help Australia to a two-wicket victory against the South Africans, picking up the man of the match award in what was just his fourth first-class match.
Speaking on ABC Grandstand’s The Phil Davis Podcast, Cummins admitted he was plagued with doubts.
“I was very much of the opinion that playing against these great first graders who had done well for years, and I’d played a month or two of first grade and suddenly I’d leapfrogged them,” he said.
However, Cummins said that once he got onto the field, his natural competitiveness kicked in.
“Every day was just eyes wide open, kid in a candy shop, I absolutely loved it.
“When I got the nod to play a game I was just, this can’t be happening. It did not really dawn on me until there was a baggy green on the line and they’ve given it to you and they can’t take it away.
“It was almost 12 months to the day where I debuted for Penrith in first grade. A lot of it was just like, I don’t know how I’ve ended up here but jeez, I’m gunna try and take this opportunity.”
However, Cummins’ bright start in the side turned into a nightmare. First a heel injury gave him an ultimately fruitless task of trying to get fit for the home summer or cricket.
Then, his repeated back injures led to more disappointment.
“People at that time were even talking saying ‘he’s made it’, ‘you’ve played a Test, you’ve become man of the match’ whereas in my head I thought, in my changing room I’ve got Ricky Ponting, Michael Clarke, Mike Hussey — these guys are legends for 15, 20 years.
“I’ve got so much to prove and just being not able to … [It was] really hard, each injury was … that was the main thing, just the amount of cricket I felt like I was losing.
“Luckily, each time I came back I was able to get into the Aussie team pretty quickly and bowl as well as I would have liked.
Cummins said that he spent the time out of the side learning how to be patient, all the while tweaking his bowling action.
“[I was] trying to do things with a bit more sustainability rather than just trying to get that one tour and put everything into that one tour which might cost me the next 12 months,” he said.
“[Having to work on my action] was the hardest psychological challenge for me.
“I had this action that I knew worked, I felt really good about it.
“A lot of those expectations were just myself wanting to be straight back into the Aussie team, and wanting to prove myself … straight away, but these things take time.”
Cummins said he channelled that frustration into lifting his level of competitiveness.
“As a young bloke, getting told by a lot of people what I can and can’t do I found really annoying and really frustrating because I knew once I got out on the field, my competitiveness would take over,” he said.
“It’s not just about having a good action, it’s about trying to bowl fast and swing the ball and move the ball, but also trying to do that for 20 overs in a day and go extra and longer than anyone else.
“That was my life for those few years, just trying to get that action right.”
Cummins admitted that it was frustrating seeing his contemporaries Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Starc rack up a number of Tests in his absence, but that he was always happy for them.
“But I believe, once I got back in the Aussie Test side, those two guys [Hazlewood and Starc] have had the biggest influence on my career, by a mile.”
You can listen to The Phil Davis Podcast, where each week the inaugural GWS Giants captain talks to some of the most interesting people in Australian sport.