No longer baggy and mean, Pat Cummins’ Australians keep calm and carry all before them


Why? Perhaps because Australian exceptionalism has long called for ultra-aggression, fast starts and 100 per cent intensity throughout. On Australia’s first Test tour in Asia after the retirements of Glenn McGrath and the late Shane Warne, in India in 2008, then captain Ricky Ponting argued that without those great bowlers, a high-energy game was the way forward for his team.

“I really think that we can take them on in the field,” Ponting said at the time. “I think we can play a type of new-age cricket that is going to make some of their older guys just look a bit old and a bit slow.”

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That “old and slow” India took the series 2-0, outlasting Australia. Nine years later, Cummins began his run as a full-time member of the Test team with another India tour. The Australians started well and then ran out of fuel, succumbing 2-1 in 2017 after winning the first Test in Pune.

That experience was the start of a learning process that Cummins made full use of in Pakistan. He spoke on arrival in about needing to be aware of the tempo of matches, hanging back at times in order to pounce on an opportunity, especially late in a game.

Other teams at other times have made similar noises, but the ability of Cummins and company to follow through on the rhetoric stood out. Khawaja led the way with batting of even rhythm and preternatural calm, after three years in which he was deemed surplus by the selectors.

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His efforts were backed up not only by David Warner, Smith and Marnus Labuschagne, but also with vital contributions from Cameron Green and Alex Carey in the middle order. This has been a problematic area for Australia since the retirements of Brad Haddin and Shane Watson in 2015.

And if the wrist spinner Mitchell Swepson found the going difficult in his first series, he came away with valuable lessons but also indicators of considerable spirit. His catch in the deep on day five in Lahore was one of the very best.

All the while, the kind of environment sought by the players in the feedback they delivered to Cricket Australia either side of the T20 World Cup and Ashes campaigns, leading to the exit of the former coach Justin Langer, proved a more effective one for the team to perform.

In CA’s subsequent deliberations about the next full-time head coach, any desire for a high-profile figurehead must be balanced against the sheer effectiveness of this backroom group. Interim coach Andrew McDonald, Michael Di Venuto and selection chair George Bailey are all senior mentors in their own right.

And though a 4-0 Ashes pummelling of England was the more impressive scoreline on paper, the ability of an Australian team to “stick at it” as Cummins had put it in unfamiliar territory and on unforgiving pitches in Pakistan will have to weigh heavily in thinking. Not only in terms of results, but also the way the game is played.

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Warner, once Australia’s agitator-in-chief, showed his playful side when he blocked out the final ball of the third day in Lahore and screamed, “no ruuuuun”. The Australian stood chest to chest with Pakistan paceman Shaheen Afridi in mock confrontation before both men cracked up laughing. The Australians under Cummins have found a way to win without the mean streak that has sometimes alienated fans and opponents.

Cricket followers arguably need to go all the way back to the days of Richie Benaud, another bowling captain with a gift for diplomacy, to find another instance where an Australian Test team not only won a series in trying circumstances, but concluded its journey having made far more friends than enemies among the opposition.

This has been the Australian summer in which nice guys started finishing first again.

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