Steve Smith calls Pat Cummins “a complete package” and it’s easy to see why after the boom youngster scored his second first-class half-century to go with four first-innings wickets in Australia’s sole tour match at Willowmoore Park.
Cummins was the rock of Australia’s lower order on Friday when he posted 59 not out as he and his tail-end teammates put on 151 for the final three wickets to drive the tourists past South Africa A’s total to a 109-run lead.
The 24-year-old added 47 with Mitchell Starc (18), 64 with Nathan Lyon (38) and 30 with Josh Hazlewood (26) in 141 minutes at the crease to strengthen his claim as a bowling allrounder.
He struck 11 fours all around the field – his best on the front foot through the covers – and handled both pace and spin, against the old ball and new, almost nonchalantly.
Those runs came off the back of figures of 4-32 from 11 overs in the first innings where he bowled with control, swing and his trademark hostile bouncer.
His knocks of 42, 44 and 41 in the first three Magellan Ashes Tests proved crucial in Australia regaining the urn and he’s carried that good form across the Indian Ocean to South Africa.
Couple Cummins’ developing talents with the bat with his world-class fast bowling and it’s easy to see why his Test captain beams when asked about his star paceman.
“He works very hard,” Smith told cricket.com.au in Johannesburg this week. “He’s got a great set of skills.
“He’s able to swing the ball both ways at good pace, he bowls a good bouncer, he knows what he’s trying to do to get the batsman out, he sets batsmen up really well, and he’s just a great talent.
“On top of that his batting throughout the summer saved us a few times with a few good 40s and he’s a great athlete in the field.
“He’s a complete package and no doubt the more he plays and more confidence he gets at the international level he’s just going to get better and better, which is incredibly exciting.”
The first sighting of Cummins’ batting prowess came on Test debut in Johannesburg in November 2011 when as an 18-year-old he kept his cool to hit the winning runs against South Africa in a player-of-the-match performance.
Injury forced him to wait more than five and a half years for his next crack at Test cricket, in India last March, but has since strung nine Tests together and is one third of Australia’s fearsome pace trio alongside Starc and Hazlewood.
While he’s operated at first change behind his senior speedsters when all three have played together, Cummins has also batted behind Starc at No.9.
That changed in Benoni. Cummins, for the first time in first-class cricket, batted ahead of Starc as he slotted in at No.8.
But Smith, who sets the batting order as captain, said this week the No.8 and 9 spots are not locked in to a certain player, instead it will be determined by what the team needs at the time.
“I think it can actually be a bit of a toss-up at times, depending on what we’re trying to do in the game,” Smith said.
“If we’re trying to get quick runs and a spinner is on, big Starcy might be able to go and have a whack.
“But if we’re trying to defend, Patty has probably got a better defence and is able to bat for longer periods.
“It might be a bit of a mix and match situation.
“They might be a bit annoyed at that at times but whatever is best for the team at the time is the most important thing.
“If Starcy comes in at eight and does well and comes off it’s a bit demoralising to know you’ve got someone who can bat and bat for a long period as well.
“I know as a captain that when you see tails go really long it’s not nice at times.”
Qantas Tour of South Africa
Australia squad: Steve Smith (c), David Warner (vc), Cameron Bancroft, Pat Cummins, Peter Handscomb, Josh Hazlewood, Jon Holland, Usman Khawaja, Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Marsh, Shaun Marsh, Tim Paine, Jhye Richardson, Chadd Sayers, Mitchell Starc.
Warm-up match v South Africa A, Sahara Park, Benoni, Feb 22-24
First Test Kingsmead, Durban, March 1-5
Second Test St George's Park, Port Elizabeth, March 9-13
Third Test Newlands, Cape Town, March 22-26
Fourth Test Wanderers, Johannesburg, March 30-April 3