Magellan Ashes 2017-18

Cummins' warning for England's tail

Speedster to let loose with a Johnson-esque bumper barrage at England's lower-order

Andrew Ramsey

31 October 2017, 04:47 PM AEST

England beware! Cummins primed for Ashes blitz

If England's tailenders thought the retirement of Mitchell Johnson meant a reprieve from the torment he inflicted with his brutal bouncers, they have been placed on notice to expect more of the same from Johnson's successor as enforcer-in-chief, Pat Cummins.

One of the enduring memories from Australia's 5-0 Ashes whitewash in 2013-14 was Johnson targeting his opposition quicks Stuart Broad and James Anderson with a barrage of short-pitched deliveries, a ploy later confirmed by the pace spearhead and his skipper Michael Clarke as a premeditated tactic.

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With Johnson an onlooker for the upcoming Magellan Ashes Series that begins in Brisbane on November 23, Broad and Anderson might have hoped their memories of torment at the batting crease four years ago remained safely in the past.

But Cummins, the fastest of Australia's Test pace attack that is also expected to include Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood, has revealed he subscribes to the Johnson theory that any rival with bat in hand is fair game for a bouncer barrage.

"Bounce them, they're just like any other batsman," Cummins told recently when asked on his approach to tail-end batters.

"We’re lucky we’ve got a bit of pace, so over here on bouncy wickets we're definitely going to be using our bouncers, using the short stuff.

"They (England) have struggled against that, against Mitchell Johnson a couple of years ago.

"On slow wickets, where the batsman has a bit more time, it’s probably less likely they are wicket-taking balls sometimes, so you still use it to maybe mess up the batsman’s (footwork).

"Whereas over here (in Australia) on a quick wicket, you saw Mitchell Johnson, it was a real wicket-taking ball for caught behind or caught in close."

The pitch on which Cummins began his Ashes preparation – at Adelaide Oval for last week's JLT Sheffield Shield match between New South Wales and South Australia – was on the slower side with ex-Test batter Callum Ferguson noting it produced "tennis-ball-type bounce".

Meaning that short-pitched deliveries banged into the surface tended to sit up at a slightly reduced pace, rather than skid through and hurry on to the batters.

But while Cummins' match return of 2-93 from 31 overs was overshadowed by teammates Starc (10-119) and Trent Copeland (6-57), Starc was full of praise for the pace and aggression brought by his Blues teammate who has yet to play a Test match on Australian soil.

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"He bowled some really unplayable balls, and some good fast balls as well," the left-arm strike bowler said in assessing Cummins' form in the two-and-a-half day Shield fixture.

Given his lengthy history of fast bowling-related back injuries that forced him to wait almost six years between his debut Test in South Africa in 2011 and his second appearance against India in Ranchi earlier this year, Cummins is understandably conservative in his expectations for the coming summer.

"I’ve played back-to-back Tests a couple of times now and I’ve felt really good, but five Tests in a summer is pretty brutal,” he told a media conference in Sydney last week.

“I think Joshy Hazlewood and Mitchell Starc lost something like seven or eight kilos just from bowling last summer – it's a bit of a shock to the body.

"I feel like I’m in as good a place as I’ll ever be to get through five (Tests but) we’ll have to wait and see.”

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If Cummins needs expert guidance on how best to manage a once-fragile body through the rigours of an Ashes campaign, he need search no further than his regular mentor and former Test fast bowling great, Dennis Lillee.

When he suffered a career-threatening stress fracture to his back during Australia's 1972 tour of the West Indies, Lillee spent almost two years out of international cricket and played as a specialist batter in Perth's grade competition before roaring back with 25 wickets at 23.84 in the 1974-75 Ashes summer.

Cummins has worked closely with the now 68-year-old in recent years, and contacted Lillee soon after returning from Australia's recent ODI campaign in India to seek the legendary quick's thoughts on his bowling action and performances.

"I just sent him some footage from the last couple of away tours (India and Bangladesh) and just wanted to get his thoughts on them, if it’s looking good or if it’s any different to what we were trying to work on 12 months ago," Cummins told soon after returning from India.

"I think as a fast bowler you're always trying to perfect your action and perfect your skills.

"He (Lillee) is pretty happy.

"I'm lucky I've worked with him for a few years, so he really knows my bowling action and what works and doesn’t work really well.

"He's always got lots of advice (saying) that it’s a big summer coming up, I've played a lot of cricket so just try and rest up for a week or two - try and do some good strength work, a bit of running and freshen up and then come the Shield games and the Test matches be ready to go."

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Lillee was no stranger to unsettling opposition tailenders with short-pitched bowling, having been famously stung into action during the first Test of that 1974-75 series at the Gabba when then England captain Tony Greig sent the Australia quick sprawling with an accurate bouncer and a furious Lillee vowed revenge.

If England's tail (and indeed, their top-order) need any expert assessment of Cummins' capabilities with ball in hand – given they have not faced him in the Test arena – they need only listen to the recent testimonials of some of Australia's best-credentialled batters.

Captain Steve Smith rated Cummins the toughest bowler to face on the Australia domestic scene and at practice because "he bowls with a good pace, and is not afraid to bowl a good bouncer in the nets".

All-rounder Glenn Maxwell claimed it was tough to differentiate between the Test trio of Cummins, Starc and Hazlewood as to who was the most difficult to counter, but noted that Cummins was especially tricky for right-handed batters when he fired the ball in short.

"Because of the height and bounce that he seems to get, as well as swinging seam movement it's just awful," Maxwell said.

"And sometimes he gets it wrong and it slides in and it'll hit you on the body somewhere, and if he doesn’t quite get his bouncer height right it seems to be always angling in around your ear."

Cummins works hard to ensure he gets that bouncer "right" more often than not, and claims the secret to bowling a successful short ball is to "put everything into it" and "just try to bowl the ball as fast as you can into the wicket".

But as in most aspects of cricket, just as crucial as the execution is the timing and Cummins believes there are couple of game scenarios under which the bouncer is most effective, whether to an accomplished batter or a tailender.

And that includes when he senses apprehension in his quarry.

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"As a surprise ball, when you feel like a batsman is maybe lapsing in concentration or jumping on his front foot a lot," he revealed.

"Trying to just play with their mind a little bit.

"Or the other one is when you see a real fear in the batsman and try to set them up then for the full ball.

"Hopefully you'll get them bowled or caught behind, just whenever you feel like the batsman is either not expecting it or not wanting it."

As Johnson figured out quickly in bombarding England's batters four years ago, on fast Australian pitches the level of anticipation for an incoming bouncer is often inversely proportional to the appetite for receiving one.

Especially if you're a card-carrying tailender.