Opinion Piece

Cummins & co. Take Bazball Down, Retain Ashes

Pat Cummins an unusual captain selection for Cricket Australia had his biggest challenge to retain the Ashes against a rampaging England.

Dillip Mohanty
Dillip Mohanty

Last Updated: 2023-07-26

Cummins as Captain : A dawn of new era

Tim Paine led the Australia team to retain the Ashes in England after a long gap of 18 years during the 2019 tour. He resigned from captaincy and took an indefinite break from cricket right before the 2021-22 Ashes. Pat Cummins who served as the vice-captain of the team was promoted to the full-time captaincy role. Cummins became the first fast bowler after Ray Lindwall (1 Test in 1956 as captain) to be taking the leadership role.

Cummins’s appointment as the full-time Test captain was a huge departure from the traditional captain selection policy by Cricket Australia. Cummins had pretty big shoes to fill.

Cummins’s first assignment as captain was the home Ashes series in 2021-22 which the Aussies won in dominant fashion winning 3 Tests and drawing one. It was followed by two tough series to Asia. Cummins did extremely well as a skipper leading by example and returned successfully from Pakistan winning the 3-match series 1-0 and taking the joint most wickets (12) in the series alongside Nathan Lyon.

The tour of Pakistan was followed by another subcontinent nation as Australia played a two-match series against Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka had beaten Australia 3-0 the last time the Aussies toured there for 3-match series. The Aussies had a terrific start with winning the first Test by 10 wickets but Sri Lanka fought back to win the second game by an innings and levelled the series.

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Ben Stokes did not lose a Test match in his first 11 matches as the full-time captain

Dillip Mohanty

In both these away series in spinner-friendly sub-continent conditions, Pat Cummins led from the front as he picked up 14 wickets in five matches having the best strike rate among all Australian bowlers.

In the following Test series against West Indies at home, Cummins suffered from a quad strain and was ruled out of the second Test. There was debate about whether a fast bowler should really be the captain. Though Steve Smith’s ban to captain Australia was lifted, Cummins was persisted and made a Test comeback in the home Tests against South Africa which the Aussies won 2-0 entering the 2023 on a positive note.

For all Australian captains, India is regarded as the final frontier. It proved to be the toughest for Cummins both on and off the field when Australia toured India in early 2023. After going down 2-0 in the series, Cummins had to rush back home to Australia to attend to his sick mother. Vice-captain Steve Smith stepped in as the leader and in an instrumental performance at Indore, Australia not just won the Test but also became the first team to qualify for the ICC World Test Championship final. Australia drew the next Test at Ahmedabad losing the series 2-1.

Australia Test Team with WTC Trophy.jpeg

Cummins led Australia to a famous victory in the WTC Final to win their first ICC trophy after the 2021 T20 World Cup. Cummins had a successful WTC cycle with 57 wickets in 16 matches at an average of 22.15 with three five-wicket hauls. He was Australia’s second-highest wicket-taker after Nathan Lyon (88 wickets in 20 matches) and played the dual role of leading an experienced bowling attack and a brilliantly shaping Test team to perfection.

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Face-Off with Bazball

England’s experiments in white ball cricket yielded great results. England won the ODI World Cup in 2019 and T20 World Cup in 2022. Buoyant by the white ball success, England Cricket took a few radical steps to revolutionise the red ball cricket. Brendon McCullum was appointed as the English Test coach and Ben Stokes as the Test Captain. They introduced a fearless and entertaining approach to Test cricket. The primary objective of their gameplay is to entertain not just win. England Test team do entertain. Also, Provided instant success and accolades for the Team. Ben Stokes did not lose a Test match in his first 11 matches as the full-time captain. England won 10 and lost 1. Stoke’s team is yet to lose a Test series. The players in the set-up term it their happiest time in any cricket team as they got the freedom to express themselves. 

Pat Cummins’ next tour ran into such a setup in the opposition’s backyard – The Ashes 2023.

The stage was set for the two of most successful Test sides in recent times as the experienced line-up of Australia got ready to take on the ‘Bazball’ playing England side not to just retain the Ashes but also kick-starting the new WTC cycle (2023-25).

In the first two Test Cummins displayed his astute game awareness and tactical leadership to go up 2-0 against England.

In the first Test at Edgbaston, Bazball was at its peak. On the first day England declared the innings in 78 overs putting up 393 runs on the board with Joe Root hitting a sparkling century. In reply, Usman Khawaja who had a miserable batting record in English conditions scored a magnificent 141, Australia finishing just 7 runs short. England could set a target of 281 runs for Australia to win. The chase was well set with Khawaja scoring another half century but a quick fall of wickets in the middle order meant Australia still required 54 runs with just two wickets in hand. Enters the skipper, Cummins - hitting an unbeaten 44 in 73 balls with 4 fours and 2 big sixes adding 55 runs with Lyon to take the team to an exciting win.

Cummins’s captaincy was put to a Test in the 2nd Test at Lord’s when England were set 371 runs to win and lost half of their side for 177. Jonny Bairstow who didn’t have the best of the series behind and in front of the wicket was stumped out by Alex Carey as he prodded outside his crease just after leaving the last ball of one Cameron Green over. The appeal was made amidst lots of booing and cursing from the crowd. Cummins didn’t take the appeal back and despite Ben Stokes’s lone heroic effort of 155, which freshened the memories of the 2019 series, England fell short by 43 runs.

LONGEST unbeaten Ashes streaks

8ENGLAND1882 - 1890
8AUSTRALIA1989 - 2002-03
6AUSTRALIA1934 - 1950-51
6AUSTRALIA1958-59 - 1968
4AUSTRALIA1897 - 1902
4*AUSTRALIA2017-18 - 2023*
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However, England made a comeback in the third game and rain played spoilsport in Manchester as the fourth Test was washed out with England in a slightly better position. The draw meant Australia were successful in retaining the Ashes and now stands a chance to win an overseas Ashes series in England after 2001. It is also the third-longest unbeaten streak in Ashes history in the post-war era.

Dillip Mohanty
Dillip MohantySports Editor

Dillip has over two decades of experience in creating sports content. As the Sports Editor of SportsBoom, Dillip brings in a wealth of experience and expertise to the role. Dillip has worked with leading sports broadcasters and sports web content portals in Asia. He is an adept storyteller and has a special liking for data stories. He has a keen interest in data analysis and uncovering insights from large datasets. He loves to tell the story with rich and compelling data visualisation.