Those are apt words to look up and read, whether it’s a player slugging it out on the clay courts of Roland Garros or a fan watching from the stands. After all, tenacity is something the eventual champions need to have in bucketloads.
The same can perhaps be said of a closely fought cricket Test match.It was there for all to see on Day 5 of theAshes opener in Edgbaston. And the man who was tenacity personified was Australian captain, Pat Cummins, who remember was already a bit on the back-foot after losing the toss on what is likely to be the best batting track we will see in this Ashes series.In Birmingham, Cummins the bowler, the batter and the leader all triumphed.
Cummins the hero as Australia edge England in Ashes thriller
On Day 5, armed with steely determination and the occasional dazzling smile, Cummins walked in to bat with the scoreboard reading 209/7. The Aussies still needed 72 runs to win with 3 wickets in hand. At the other end was Alex Carey. At 227/7, Carey was sent back to the hut. 8 down, 54 runs still to get.
Ben Stokes and his band of merry ‘Bazballers’ were sniffing a win. A win that would justify once again their new found brand of aggressive cricket and also a declaration on the opening day of the Test at 393/8. They batted for 78 overs – the shortest declared innings on the opening day of an Ashes Test and the fourth shortest on the opening day in Test annals.
Carey fell in the 81st over, which brought Nathan Lyon out. And in him Cummins found the perfect partner – someone who would keep chipping away at the 281 run target, without succumbing to the incredible pressure being applied by a raucous English crowd. Thankfully for the Aussies out in the middle, the English bowlers seemed quite spent.
Though the main Aussie batters were all back in the hut, Cummins presence in the middle was enough to inspire confidence and keep the hopes of a remarkable Aussie win alive, however faint they might have been at that stage.
England’s decision to delay taking the second new ball saw Joe Root continuing to bowl. And Cummins pounced – hitting Root both for 2 sixes and effectively out of the attack.
That Cummins can bludgeon the ball is no secret. Indian fans were given a first hand view of that in the IPL last season, when he smashed the Mumbai Indians bowlers for the joint fastest IPL fifty off 14 balls. But this was Test cricket, Ashes Test cricket. The stakes were just way too high and Cummins the batter would have known full well that Cummins the captain would have had to cop a fair bit of flak if the Aussies lost.
The Australian captain had been criticised for what many thought were ‘defensive tactics’ right from the beginning of the Test match. English commentators didn’t let go of any opportunity to voice their opinions on how Australia had fallen back on rearguard tactics far too soon and allowed England to dominate proceedings. Buoyed by the recent success of ‘Bazball’ under Head Coach Brendon McCullum and captain Ben Stokes (11 wins in 13 Tests before the Ashes opener this time), the English – players, commentators and fans – painted the Aussie strategies ineffective. They were far too hasty to do that.
What was good to see was that Cummins and his team didn’t change their strategies just because of the ‘noise’ from the outside. They believed in their own strengths, despite falling 7 runs short of England’s first innings score in their first innings. They knew they could take the match deep, helped of course by the fact that Stokes had decided to declare their first innings. The Australians would perhaps have seen that coming after Joe Root’s excellent 118*, along with very useful contributions by Zak Crawley (61) and Jonny Bairstow (78) ensured that England could reach a first innings score which could put pressure on the Aussies on a track which had no demons.
It wasn’t surprising to see Stokes declare at Edgbaston, anyway. This was the fourth time he had declared with his team having batted less than 100 overs (they played 78 overs at Edgbaston) – all in 2023.
But it was also not surprising to hear Cummins, after the match say, – “I think we’re at our best when we play at our own pace, our own tempo.”
The Aussies didn’t waste too much time focussing on what England were doing or the constant barrage of chants and sledging from the stands. Fans in the Eric Hollies stand reminded Steve Smith of the sandpaper-gate scandal with chants of ‘We saw you cry on the telly’ and sang ‘Boring, boring, Aussies’ while the visitors toiled with the bat.
In the middle of all this, Cummins and his men hung in there, taking full advantage of the weather whenever it changed and believed.
After the match Cummins said, – “You see that belief to be able to win from anywhere….Having that belief that anyone’s a match-winner. You can be the guy to step up and win. When you’re in the backyard playing as a kid you wish to be in these moments, going out there and being in the middle of an Ashes series. Having that drive. That’s what you want from every teammate. So it’s great to be on the winning side.”
Image credit: Reuters
What was telling was that every time the cameras panned to Cummins as he watched the proceedings from off the field, he didn’t look stressed or worried. But that is Cummin’s persona overall – so very different from many of the ‘greats’ who have captained Australia in the past. He is always ready with a smile and very rarely does he let his emotions get the better of him.
Which is why it was amazing to see him throw his bat and helmet away and run up to Lyon and pick him up after hitting the winning boundary. The Test began with Cummins being hit for a four and finished with a four off his blade.
This was a match that saw quite a few twists and turns. And one of the big turning points was Australia managing to bowl out England for 273 in their second innings on Day 4. This meant that the target was 281, a challenging one, but not an overtly imposing one on this pitch. The chief destroyers of the English batting line-up in their second innings were Nathan Lyon and Cummins. The pace-spin combo took 4 wickets each.
The match of course turned again when England, led by the never-say-die attitude of their old warhorse, Stuart Broad, put the Aussies under immense pressure by reducing them to 143/5. That’s half the side back in the pavilion with 138 runs still needed.
281 suddenly began to look very far away as every single emotion that you can think of became an actor in the drama that was unfolding on the Birmingham stage.
Cameron Green was castled by Ollie Robinson and Carey fell to pressure and a brilliant return catch by Root. Cummins watched from the other end and continued to believe.
In the end that’s what it boiled down to – Belief.
Australia chased down the target of 281, with Cummins unbeaten on 44 and Lyon on 16. They had managed to pull off the highest successful run chase in the fourth innings of an Ashes Test in 75 years.
Cummins became the sixth Australian captain to score 80 runs and take 4 wickets in the same Test, but more importantly he became an Australian captain who didn’t wilt under pressure and stuck to his guns to deliver a sweet Ashes win on English soil, the taste of which will be remembered for a long time.