The rain may have saved Australia in Manchester as they ended up retaining the Ashes in the most underwhelming fashion possible, but nothing can hide the meek, defensive and panicked captaincy of Pat Cummins throughout this series.
From the moment Cummins sent out a deep point in the first over of the opening Test at Edgbaston, he has been on the back foot. Spread fields and scrambled brains have been the hallmark of Australia’s Ashes campaign from the off.
The only problem is that up until the fourth Test at Old Trafford, England had let their opponents off the hook with careless cricket and a lack of ruthlessness.
It’s a distinct irony the only attacking play Cummins has really made in this series was with the bat on the final day of the first Test in Birmingham, when his unbeaten 44 got his team home in a chase of 281 by two wickets.
How England didn’t win that game is still a mystery but because of that massive missed opportunity they find themselves in the ridiculous position of being 2-1 down heading into this week’s final Test at The Oval in a series where they have been the better team.
Manchester was the moment Bazball finally clicked and the Australians unravelled in spectacular fashion. The captaincy of Cummins was fatally shown up during days two and three of the fourth Test, when England piled up 592.
Cummins, void of ideas and showing a basic inability to think straight, basically acquiesced to Bazball. His two missed catching opportunities on day two, the most expensive bowling figures of his career (one for 129 from 23 overs) but most damningly the reactive field settings that allowed England to toy with him was the nadir of the Cummins reign.
Already despised by the right-wing media in his own country – his environmental awareness and social conscience has seen him branded weak and “woke” – he is now attracting the ire of many of the cricketing fraternity because of his on-field decisions.
Former fast bowler Glenn McGrath, speaking after the third day’s play at Old Trafford, said: “Pat Cummins just looks a little bit tired and jaded to me, and that was always a risk of having a fast bowler as captain.”
More damningly, these quotes from former Victoria captain Darren Berry got huge play in the Australian media, with the Sydney Morning Herald and Fox Sports among two prominent outlets who led on them.
“This is unwatchable,” Berry tweeted. “Goodnight to all lovers of our great game of cricket. This is absolutely insane to anyone watching this s*** with half a clue about the game.
“Pat Cummins is a magnificent cricketer no doubt but remember this msg [message]. He will resign from the captaincy after the Ashes series.”
Jason Gillespie, another respected former Australia fast bowler, also has sympathy for Cummins but does argue he’s been spooked by Bazball.
“I feel for him because some of the pile-on has been a bit harsh,” Gillespie said in his Mail on Sunday column. “It’s a big call to say all of a sudden that he’s not the man for the job. I still believe he is.
“But, at the same time, there are valid questions to be asked.”
Has Bazball spooked Australia? A number of Australian players in interviews have insisted that they will play their way and they will focus on what they can do. But what we have seen is reactive plans to England’s style of play. We wouldn’t be seeing all these defensive fields and raucous bouncer plans if Australia simply focused on what they do well.
“I think some of the Australians calling for a change in captain are doing so largely because they understand just how important a player Pat is as an out-and-out fast bowler. Whether he has a ‘c’ next to his name or not, it doesn’t bother us. We just want to make sure that he is doing his job with the ball.
“At some point in the future, it may well be that Pat decides he just wants to focus on his bowling. Over the next 12 months, Pat is captain in my eyes.”
One of the biggest errors Australia’s brains trust – including Cummins – made was before the Old Trafford Test when they opted to pack the batting and leave out spinner Todd Murphy.
The loss of Nathan Lyon, a world-class spinner who’d played 100 consecutive Tests before his series-ending injury at Lord’s, was huge for the tourists.
Yet leaving out his stand-in in Murphy and instead opting for two batting all-rounders in Mitchell Marsh and Cameron Green was the ultimate defensive move. The fact it ultimately paid off was only because of the Manchester rain.
That call narrowed Cummins’ options as England made hay with the bat to take control of this fourth Test and the lack of a frontline slow-bowling option was starkly obvious. Whether or not they have the courage to pitch Murphy in at The Oval remains to be seen.
As in all sports, captains and teams are ultimately judged on results. Cummins and Australia got lucky in Manchester. But the reckoning will come for him soon, probably at The Oval this week, if he carries on down this path of negativity.