'Mates for life' on verge of becoming Aussies' best pace trio

A couple more wins this summer will see the 'Big Three' add another slice of history to a record that puts them among the country's finest

After a winter of toil on unresponsive pitches sometimes specifically designed to neuter them, Australia's fast bowlers are licking their lips at the prospect of a bouncy Perth pitch that could enhance their claim as the country's greatest pace trio.

Fresh off leading the Aussies to their sixth ODI crown in India, Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood will reunite less than a month later for the NRMA Insurance Test series opener against Pakistan on Thursday.

The tight-knit quicks played all but one of Australia's 11 World Cup matches together on their road to glory, defying expectations on Indian pitches on which spinners were tipped to be the bigger threats.

"Mitch and Josh (and me) in particular, we're going to be mates for life," Cummins said on Test eve. "There will be plenty of times when we're reminiscing, and probably over the years we'll get better and better in our own mind than what we actually were."

But if the threesome can bowl their side to a home series victory over the coming weeks, Cummins, Starc and Hazlewood might be able to tell each other with no embellishment that they were in fact Australia's best ever pace triumvirate.

Going by the crude measure of Test wins, the combination of Glenn McGrath, Jason Gillespie and Brett Lee have been the most formidable Australian fast-bowling trio. They won 15 matches out of 22 played together.

Cummins, Starc and Hazlewood have won 14 Tests (out of 25) and could equal the McGrath-Gillespie-Lee record in Perth, and then potentially eclipse them with wins at the MCG or SCG.

The McGrath-led trio's remarkable run of never losing a Test at home when they played together (they played in three defeats overseas) might continue to set them apart even if the Cummins-led trio pass them for total wins.

That the elder group had Shane Warne on the team sheet for all but six of their 22 Tests together was a considerable advantage.

'In our favour': Aussies eye pacey Perth pitch for Test opener

The Cummins-Hazlewood-Starc group have hardly had a mug as their complementing spinner – Nathan Lyon has played all but two of the 25 Tests the trio have played together – but Warne may be the greatest spin bowler in Test history.

The current speedsters also set themselves apart with superior overall numbers when they have played together; Cummins, Starc and Hazlewood have 306 wickets at 26.75, at a strike-rate of 52.68, compared to McGrath, Gillespie and Lee's 243 victims at 28.47 and a collective strike-rate of 55.51.

Cummins and co. may also suggest they have been more versatile as a group across all formats.

McGrath has an unmatched ODI World Cup record – he is the only bowler to have won it three times – but Lee and Gillespie won it only once, both in 2003 with the latter just playing four games in that tournament before being ruled out with injury.

Cummins, Starc and Hazlewood on the other hand all played in the 2015 title (Cummins though had a lesser role then and did not play in the final) while all three were integral to the 2023 crown.

Cummins' extra role as captain, and his brave decision to bowl first in the final before turning in a memorable spell with the ball, is a further tick in his group's favour.

Their 2021 T20 World Cup win in the UAE is the icing on the cake, though McGrath, Lee and Gillespie could argue they might have won a couple of titles in that format too had it been around during their heyday.

"There were some special moments, some special group photos afterward (the 2023 win) that when you put side-by-side with 2015, the T20 World Cup a few years ago, the World Test Championship – it does give you that moment of reflection," said Cummins.

"You realise we've been able to achieve some pretty cool stuff together."

Australia's latest 50-over triumph came after a mixed sequence of results across major Test campaigns in 2023 in India and the United Kingdom.

Cummins and Starc had interrupted campaigns during the 1-2 Test series defeat in India – the former leaving midway through due to the death of his mother, while the latter was sidelined for the first two Tests – while Hazlewood missed the whole tour due to injury.

After Hazlewood remained on the sidelines for the World Test Championship final against India at The Oval (Scott Boland deputised admirably with a starring performance) the big three featured together in three of the five Ashes Tests.

Starc was Australia's player of the series with 23 wickets at 27.08, Cummins (18 at 37.72) delivered some tremendous spells amid what was the most testing campaign he has had as captain, while Hazlewood (16 at 31.68) also had his moments. The trio withstood a Ben Stokes hurricane to win at Lord's, but were less impressive in a draw at Old Trafford and a defeat at The Oval.

All three struggled at times to rein in England's Bazballers, each conceding more than four runs per over.

But after bowling on turning surfaces in India and pancake-flat tracks in the UK, Cummins is relishing the prospect of letting loose on a Perth wicket tipped to be fast and bouncy.

"Very excited out here. It's a bit more in our favour the last few summers here in Australia, than perhaps England or India," he said. 

"We love playing over here. Even someone like Nathan Lyon – it's not traditionally a spin friendly ground – (but) his record's great (in Perth), he loves bowling on the bouncy wickets.

"These are the wickets that we've grown up on, that we've played for a decade on. We know them really well.

"We know what works and it's always nice when it flings out of your hand and you see the pace and bounce."

NRMA Insurance Test series v Pakistan

First Test: December 14-18, Perth Stadium (1.20pm AEDT)

Second Test: December 26-30, MCG (10.30am AEDT)

Third Test: January 3-7, SCG (10.30am AEDT)

Australia squad: (first Test only) Pat Cummins (c), Scott Boland, Alex Carey, Cameron Green, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Mitch Marsh, Lance Morris, Steve Smith, Mitch Starc, David Warner

Pakistan squad: Shan Masood (c), Aamir Jamal, Abdullah Shafique, Abrar Ahmed, Babar Azam, Faheem Ashraf, Hasan Ali, Imam-ul-Haq, Khurram Shahzad, Mir Hamza, Mohammad Rizwan (wk), Mohammad Wasim Jnr, Noman Ali, Saim Ayub, Salman Ali Agha, Sarfaraz Ahmed (wk), Saud Shakeel and Shaheen Shah Afridi