It’s top dog versus top dog time
After sharing honors in 2019, Bumrah and Cummins begin their race to the top in 2020
That’s the amount of time that’s gone by since Jasprit Bumrah turned out for India in ODIs. In this period, Australia retained the Ashes on the back of Steven Smith’s splendid return to cricket. Marnus Labuschagne rose from being an obscure cricketer with an obscure surname to Australia’s darling. New Zealand played two super overs against England and faced heartbreak in both. South African cricket saw an overhaul of their management to turn itself from no-hopers to a dangerous proposition once again. But what didn’t change in this while is Jasprit Bumrah’s position in the ICC Rankings where he still finds himself holding on to the numero uno spot on the ODI bowler’s list. That’s how good Bumrah was in the 2018-19 season which he ended by picking up a Test hat-trick the last time he appeared for India.
One other thing that also changed in this period is Pat Cummins’ position in the ICC Test bowler’s rankings where he rose from number 3 at the beginning of the year to number 1. He emerged as the highest wicket-taker in Ashes before troubling the visiting Pakistan and New Zealand batting line-ups at home. He ended the year with 99 international wickets, the highest by any bowler in 2019. But the most prominent Pat Cummins related news broke out on 19th December, 2019. Leapfrogging the likes of Glen Maxwell and Chris Morris, Cummins earned a piece of IPL history by becoming the highest-paid foreign player in the league ever. All this happened while Bumrah remained away from the scene, nursing an injury.
If the first part of 2019 belonged to Jasprit Bumrah, Cummins left no doubt about whom the later half belonged to. All of it sets up 2020 just about perfectly for a showdown between two men who have had quite contrasting trajectories as far as their careers are concerned.
2011 was a breakthrough year for Cummins. It was the year when he arrived at the first class scene, made his T20, as well as his List A debut. Remarkably, such was the promise of this tall gangly pacer had that the selectors handed him his Australia debut in all three formats in the same year. He paid back the faith with seven Protea wickets on debut to help his team level the series on a lively Johannesburg track.
But just when it seemed a fairy tale career would follow the fairy tale debut, injury put brakes on the Cummins story. It would take 6 more years for the country’s second youngest Test debutant to don the baggy green again.
The Bumrah story unravelled in a far less dramatic fashion than the Australian’s. Spotted by the then Mumbai Indians coach John Wright, the pacer quickly took everyone by surprise with his unique action at the IPL stage. Doubts about the action as well as the fitness meant that he wasn’t fast forwarded to the senior setup and an International debut came only three IPL seasons later, interestingly, in Cummins’ land – Australia. Cummins journey to become the number 1 Test bowler began with his comeback in 2017, in Bumrah’s land – in India.
The two haven’t looked back since then and have developed into complete bowlers, a compliment Virat Kohli used for Bumrah but one that fits the Australian too. In fact, the two have emerged to become the second most important element of their respective cricketing setups, only behind Kohli and Smith.
They might have taken different routes to reach here but in January 2020, both appear to be on the verge of taking the mantle of the best fast bowler of this generation. And don’t let the rankings fool you. The two have their sights set on world domination, or in cricketing terms, all-condition and all format success.
While Bumrah might be on 6th position in the Test rankings and Cummins on 5th in ODI rankings, they hardly reflect what these bowlers can do in those formats. In the 2019 Boxing Day Test, the Indian tore through the Australian batting lineup with a 9-wicket haul of his own to neutralise Cummins’ 9/99 and gave India the lead in the series. And then there was the dismantling of the Windies in the Caribbean in his last series. The lanky Australian, on the other hand, picked up 14 wickets in his last four ODIs in India to help Australia beat India in their own backyard just before the World Cup. So, while Cummins does appear to have his nose ahead in the red-ball format in terms of numbers and experience, his performances in England, South Africa and Australia have given ample evidence that he isn’t far behind.
The two aren’t only equal in their desire to be the best but also operate in a fairly similar fashion. Just the way the Bumrah story can’t be told without the mention of Mohd. Shami and Ishant Sharma, Cummins’ way to the top has a lot to do with the success he achieves with the duo of Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood. Both thrive in the company of bowlers capable of causing much destruction themselves and feed on their successes.
Moreover, although it was their pace that made heads turn in the early days of their cricketing career, it’s no more the only weapon they possess. In a recent interview with Hindustan Times, Bumrah said “I always want to learn new things. I’m always asking people, ‘what do you think I can add?’ I am asking players. I ask coaches. I keep on adding, keep on adding new things all the time.” The slower ball to dismiss Shaun Marsh at the MCG comes to mind. Cummins too has cut down on his pace marginally for better control. The two bowled dismissals of Joe Root in the Ashes where the English captain had his off stump pegged back despite an almost perfect front foot defence demonstrated what Cummins has been able to achieve with his control. While there were comparisons with Dale Steyn at the beginning of 2019, the Cummins that finished the year also showed glimpses of Vernon Philander in his craft.
Another connecting thread between the two pacers is the maturity they ooze on and off the field, making them their respective captain’s go-to men when the going gets tough. Unlike their mercurial partners, both Bumrah and Cummins have shown the ability to remain unfazed and focus their energies completely on their bowling, no matter whatever the match situation is. While Bumrah has demonstrated that multiple times in crucial final overs for his teams, Cummins’ maturity has often led to calls for his ascencion to the Test captaincy by Australia’s World Cup winning ex-skipper Michael Clarke.
All this adds spice to the little intersection of their careers which will take place in the upcoming series starting on 14th when both the bowlers will take the field for their 59th ODI. Not only will it be a showdown between the two contenders for the world’s best bowler title, it will also pit the Indian Premier League’s most expensive pacer against arguably the league’s best fast bowler.
With India scheduled to travel Down Under at the end of 2020 and their paths set to cross again, this short bilateral series might prove to be the opening credits of a blockbuster year starring the two soft-spoken stump destroyers. Of course, the suspense gets revealed at the end but, remember, the opening scene sets the tone.
Grab your popcorns, folks.