Tactics Review: Cummins' Off-Week
Pat Cummins, the Australian captain, candidly admitted to his subpar bowling performance in the Old Trafford Test, admitting that England had successfully exploited tactical weaknesses in his team's strategy. Although Cummins refrained from labelling it as his most challenging moment as captain, he recognized the need to thoroughly reassess their bowling plans before the upcoming Test at The Oval.
The middle session on the second day proved to be the most difficult for Australia, as England launched an aggressive onslaught, scoring at a blistering rate of over seven runs an over. The 'big three', consisting of Cummins, Mitchell Starc, and Josh Hazlewood, had a tough time on the field, conceding nearly 400 runs between the three of them during the innings.
England's batsmen were particularly ruthless, with Zac Crawley leading the charge, scoring an impressive 189 runs at a remarkable strike rate of better than a run a ball. Later, Jonny Bairstow inflicted more pain with an unbeaten 99, forming a formidable 66-run partnership for the last wicket. Cummins acknowledged that the two-hour block in the middle session could have been better. While he was proud of how his team regained control at other points in the innings, they struggled to curtail England's run-scoring spree during that crucial game phase.
From a statistical perspective, it was the most challenging game of Cummins' Test career with the ball. His figures of 1-129 from 23 overs marked the most expensive economy rate he has ever finished with, and it was also the most runs he has ever conceded in a Test innings. He also faced personal setbacks, dropping a catch and misjudging another.
As Australia's first permanent fast bowler-captain, Cummins at times seemed burdened by the leadership responsibility, especially when England's Bairstow wreaked havoc on day three, leaving his teammates needing clarification on their fielding positions. Despite the challenges, Cummins quickly refutes that the captaincy had overwhelmed him. He attributed his bowling struggles to a lack of execution, admitting he let through more boundaries than he typically would and delivered a few bad balls per over. Despite feeling confident in his rhythm and clear in his plans, he was perplexed by his underwhelming performance.
Australia's batting performance in both innings fell short of expectations, with several batsmen failing to convert their starts on the first day, resulting in a below-par total of 317 in their first innings. Marnus Labuschagne showed great determination by scoring a defiant century in the second innings. Still, Mark Wood exposed the vulnerabilities in Australia's top-order batsmen with his raw pace, claiming three wickets out of their top five.
Cummins acknowledged that his team was not at their best during the Test across all facets of the game.
"I think across the board, in all facets, we just weren't at our best. It happens. I think the good thing is if you look at the body of work of this team, it's quite rare we have an off week across the board. I don't think we can put our finger on just one thing that went wrong." – Pat Cummins, Australian Captain.
As they head into the final Test, England is expected to continue their aggressive approach to level the series. Cummins recognized the need to revisit their tactics and make improvements for the crucial match. With the Ashes already retained after the draw in Manchester, Australia aims to finish the tour on a high note, putting their best foot forward at The Oval.