After a stellar 2019, young quick bowler Pat Cummins is champing at the bit to get back on the pitch and back on the road to greatness. The Mr Jones cover star (seen here in new season menswear) muses on backyard cricket, that sandpaper scandal, and the good life.
Words by Ben Mckelvey | Photography by Christopher Ferguson | Styling by Dannielle Cartisano
According to the International Cricket Council, Pat Cummins is the best Test cricketer in the world, period, and already one of the best bowlers in the history of the game. He may be in a position to become an all-time cricketing great, but he’s also just a regular 27-year-old bloke who loves sport. One or both of those reasons are why, when I met Pat just after the Sydney coronavirus lockdown ended, we talked a lot about the defining text of the early COVID period, The Last Dance, a Netflix series that’s ostensibly about the career and life of basketballer Michael Jordan, but also a long form study into what it takes to become a great athlete. Not a good athlete, but a great, transcendent, era-defining household name of an athlete; a Jordan, Williams or Ali – or perhaps a Ponting, Warne or McGrath, three cricketers whose careers Cummins is planning to emulate. “Seven or eight Ashes, multiple World Cups… win everything you can many times,” Cummins says, stirring a cappuccino. These are the things Cummins wants to have done by the time his career ends.
“I listen to feedback but I don’t listen to everything. I don’t want to live my life and just pander and do what everyone else wants me to do.”
While we spoke briefly about the ends, we spoke expansively about the means and this is what brought us to Jordan, with whom Cummins admits he shares some traits – the most important being a competitive streak that’s both utilitarian and nuclear powered, and which was fostered at a young age. “As a family, we’d watch Test cricket in the morning and in the afternoon we’d play backyard cricket with my brothers and my dad,” he says. “That’s where I learned the game. In backyard cricket, age doesn’t matter. I had to try to beat them and I judged myself against them.” Up against bigger, stronger and more experienced brothers, Cummins had to be smarter, more strategic. He’d have to think about their weaknesses and his strengths and how both could work in his favour. “When I bowled, I was constantly problem-solving. After every ball, as I walk back, I’ve got my checklist. ‘How’d my action feel?’ ‘What’s the batter trying to do now?’ ‘How am I trying to get him out?’’’ he says. “That’s all subconscious when I play now.”
He was always one of the better players on the pitch as a junior, but not a player that “really stuck out” until a growth spurt at age 16 lifted the roof of his potential – adding the devastating and essential tool of raw speed to his strategic arsenal. “Being able to take the handbrake off and bowl fast felt awesome as a young bloke,” he says. “With a bit of pace I knew I could always scare [the batsmen] and that could be useful.” At 18, he became the second youngest Australian Test debutant in history.
The next few years of his career tracked at a regular pace, with high points but a few low points, too; after multiple injuries kept him sidelined, Cummins had to train and condition his action to prevent further injury. Then came one of cricket’s biggest scandals in recent memory: during a Test match in South Africa, Cummins thought he had a shot of winning the match for his side when he looked up at the big screen and saw footage of teammate Cameron Bancroft rubbing the ball with a tiny patch of yellow sandpaper.
Short Sleeve Shirt in Stripe
Original Achilles Low Sneakers
Using spit and dirt to shine one side of the ball and rough up the other to create swing is pretty standard practice, but using a foreign substance like sandpaper just isn’t cricket and Cummins knew the ramifications would be extreme. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull called it “a shocking disappointment”. The three players involved were not offered Cricket Australia contracts for the 2018-2019 cricket season and, as an internal cultural review was undertaken, the Australian Test team had to rebuild with an internationally tarnished reputation.
This was a strange time for the team and especially for the quicks like Cummins. Traditionally, fast bowlers have a bit of attitude in them when they’re on the pitch, but for those in the Australian Test team this was not a time for bad behaviour. But Cummins wasn’t willing to prostrate himself or be meek when he was wearing the baggy green either – someone had to lead and play with fire or what was the point in competing? “I listen to feedback but I don’t listen to everything. I don’t want to live my life and just pander and do what everyone else wants me to do.”
“Things are good. Life is good … But I do hope we get to play soon.”
In January 2019, Cummins and Travis Head were named co-vice-captains of the Test team. It was quickly apparent that the responsibility of leadership suited him, and this was to be the start of an historically great year. He snared 59 wickets in the calendar year (14 more than any other bowler in the world). Not only was he proving an excellent Test bowler, his batting was showing flashes of brilliance, and his form in the short game was magnificent, too.
Accordingly, last December Cummins garnered a record contract to play in India’s IPL T20 competition – $3.17 million for the season, which ends up being about a quarter of a million per game, or $10,000 per ball. One month later, he was named ICC Test Player of the Year and true greatness beckoned. It had been Cummins’ year, but 2020 looked perhaps even brighter, and certainly more lucrative.
Then the pall of corona fell on Cummins, as it did on everyone, and he is now at home in the Eastern Suburbs of Sydney, spending quality time with his British fiancée Becky Boston and their dog, Norman, until he can get back on the road (say, like in our video above). “Things are good. Life is good,” says Cummins. “But I do hope we get to play soon.” He tells me his pet peeve is “people who whinge about things they can sort out themselves” and while Cricket Australia has announced some international cricket set to happen in Australia this year, I ask him what he’ll do if there isn’t any more international cricket this year. “I don’t know. There has to be a way.”
Greatness doesn’t accept circumstance. I also ask about the postponed goldmine that is the upcoming IPL season that could pay Cummins a million dollars every four games. “That I will definitely get to. I’ll swim if I have to,” he says. You wouldn’t bet against it.