Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Starc have won everything there is to win, and have triumphed once again in conditions designed to nullify them.
Pat Cummins explains his decision to play first
Australia captain Pat Cummins talks about how this win is the pinnacle of his career, and how this World Cup made him ‘fall in love with ODIs again’
Recency bias affects almost everything in life, but cricket is particularly cursed. He lives with the modernity bias and its opposite, the nostalgia bias, at the same time. While there is a new GOAT being identified every day, we also run the risk of not recognizing actual greatness while he is still in our midst.
Maybe that’s why Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins aren’t talked about in the same breath as Glenn McGrath, Brett Lee and Jason Gillespie. In Australian cricket circles, there is frustration with the selection of these three when they make themselves available in limited-overs cricket even though they play very little of it. Or maybe they’re too awake for some people.
However, think about the business structure. They have now won the ODI World Cup (Cummins was in the team but did not feature in the XI in 2015), the T20 World Cup, the World Test Championship, have held the Ashes since they got together, and are the men behind the second most dominant Test side in Home in their time.
The only blip in their career is losing two home series to a generational Indian team, and not winning a Test series in India. This is not because they are less than bowlers, but because India were almost unbeatable at home, better than their depleted team during the 2018-19 tour, and the 2020-21 series could have gone either way.
The trio will love to be there to right that wrong, but they have already done enough to cement a legacy across formats in an era when so much cricket is played that it is difficult to imagine fast bowlers playing all formats, let alone winning eight world titles years apart. It is valuing their fitness, workload management, commitment, priorities and of course their skills.
They are an irrepressible trio. Starc is direct and more attacking: full, quick, at off stump, swinging the new ball, mirroring the old one. He holds the best strike rate among those who have taken 200 ODI wickets and the seventh best in Tests. Hazlewood doesn’t have speed, but he has complete control of length, and the ability to put the ball exactly where he wants it.
Among the six bowlers who are ahead of Starc in terms of batting average in Tests is Cummins, the all-rounder. He has speed, swings the ball, threads the ball, throws the ball, and is probably the baddest point guard in the world. Like the hyperextension of another complete fast bowler of this era Jasprit Bumrah, he also has another ‘gift’, a partially amputated middle finger which seems to give him great grip on the ball.
For some reason, they were never seen as a real threat in the knockout stages of the World Cup. You can kind of see why it gave that impression. Starc was not picking wickets at 10 and 19 overs as he did in the last two World Cups. Hazlewood was accurate and miserly but his 16th wicket-taker at the league stage. Cummins has been doing the hard work in the dirty overs, averaging 43, hitting 6.15 overs. They almost lost defending 388 against New Zealand, conceded 291 against Afghanistan, and barely managed to take a wicket after reducing India to 2 for 3 in the first match.
Who would fear such a bowling attack?
Anyone who’s given the right circumstances, that’s who.
It was one of those weird things where they didn’t get the right conditions the whole league stage. The new ball did not swing into place. Mumbai and Lucknow took the lead and made themselves look poorer as conditions changed dramatically when Australia came out to bat. There wasn’t even a reversal of their places. Starc said this in a candid press conference before the semi-final match.
Then came the semi-final match, which coincided with a sudden depression in the Bay of Bengal. On a cloudy, floodlit afternoon, South Africa chose to bat because they had only one option, and all three showed their class, taking eight wickets between them for 97 runs. Starc swung the new ball, Hazlewood bit into it, and Cummins again did the dirty work of bowling bouncers and cutters once the action stopped.
The final will be different. The photo of Cummins taking a photo of the stadium tells a story. It was almost a collector’s item for Cummins, and he is also the Captain. The pitch was dry at the edges along the roundabout and expected to have no life in the middle. In other words, kryptonite.
However, it was all going to depend on the three quick knocks if Australia had a chance against the opposing Indian team. The only conceivable way for them to win was to field India, restrict them and then hope to pick up the pace in the evening as happened in the match between England and New Zealand at the same stadium.
Restricting India – This is easy to say. To do this, they will first have to withstand the onslaught of the fastest batting side in the powerplay without new ball movement to work with. Then they would have to get past the most consistent player, the player of the tournament, as it turned out. They will also have to make their spinner look better as he is not a great matchup against the Indian middle order.
Cumin was at the heart of it all. He chose to bowl despite the threat from the Indian spinners on a slow pitch. The slowness actually got Australia into the game. From the first ball, they did not have a deep third for Rohit Sharma, the fastest and most prolific batsman at that stage of the game. Instead, the deep point allowed them to crouch down defensively. In the first two innings, this player saved five runs.
As expected, Rohit lunged at Hazlewood to try and disrupt his length and he succeeded. Very quickly, the bowlers started testing the middle of the field. The cutter appeared early in Part IV. The first ball bowled by Cummins was slower. Coming into this game, Cummins had thrown a higher percentage of cutters than anyone else. It tells you what kind of conditions they had to deal with.
Two wickets did not come with magic balls but a short ball that slid in and then caught the tournament. Cummins once again took over the task of hitting the middle of the field in the middle. He made his players throw the ball every chance they got. They even admitted turnovers but throws were mandatory. They were going to reverse that. India did the same on the same pitch, and this one was much drier.
Cummins kept switching bowlers at the other end. Overs of 16, 18, 20 and 22 were bowled by four different players. The odd spells continued from that end until the 24th over. These were the smaller bowlers, and he did not want the batsmen to be able to line them up.
Cummins then bent his back to bounce off the surface, surprising even Virat Kohli, prompting him to play with a diagonal bat. “There’s nothing more satisfying than hearing a big crowd go silent,” Cummins said before the match.
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Sure enough, once the ball was reversed, Hazlewood and Starc returned with renewed threat. Both swung the ball against the angle, Starc taking a higher pace, pushing it around the wicket and then swinging it wide to edge KL Rahul, who was batting on 66 and was the only one who could move India to the top of the nominal total.
A reversal against India in the World Cup final would have felt even more special after their deficit during the 2018-19 Test series as they couldn’t even think of a reversal in the fallout from the Newlands scandal while India kept moving the old ball.
Between them, the three bowled 30 overs for 154 runs and seven wickets. Cummins’ side, whose experience bowling the field throughout the tournament came in handy, finished with figures of 2 for 34.
They might have had a feeling for a repeat when the new ball started flying in the evening, but Cummins, the first bowling captain to win an ODI World Cup, turned out to have read the terms correctly.
This is fast bowling royalty that is churning out victories across formats and conditions. The last two limited-overs World Cups in two years came in Asia with just one front-line player. In doing so, they broke some clichés. Fast bowlers cannot be captains. Test bowlers don’t make good limited overs bowlers because you need variations. Runs on board in the final. Fast bowlers don’t have to be gentle or awake.
However, one conventional wisdom remains: you can never count out quality fast bowlers. Especially when there are three of them.
Siddharth Monga is associate editor at ESPNcricinfo