A week in the lives of two tearaway teenagers
Two teenagers, Pat and Mo, began the week thousands of miles from home. By the end of the week, Pat had achieved everything that he could have hoped for and was back at home. For Mo, the thing he would most have wanted to achieve – to be back at home – remained beyond him.
I have mixed feelings about both teenagers’ fates this week. Patrick Cummins’ performance in the second test against South Africa mostly excites me. As an England cricket fan, there is also a sense of foreboding. My hopes of a period of English test dominance, particularly in Ashes contests, are easily depressed.
Mohammed Amir’s appeal against his sentencing in the spot-fixing trial was unsuccessful. The deterrent to future cheats (in England) remains strong. I am, though, uncomfortable with the jail sentence applied for committing a crime against people who seek to make money by setting odds for, and seek money and thrills from betting on, trivia that gets washed away by the beautiful ebb and flow of the game. Lord Judge justified his decision with the summary that Amir was one of “three cricketers [who] betrayed their team, the country they had the honour to represent, the sport that gave them their distinction, and all the followers of the game around the world.” Yes, indeed; but shouldn’t cricket determine the punishment for these betrayals?
Test cricket’s not dying, we read. There have been four cracking tests in a month, three involving tense finishes. While that would satisfy me, the game’s wider appeal and overall quality would benefit from some new stars, particularly quicks. In recent years, only Dale Steyn and England’s pack of athletes apparently borrowed from a rugby line-out, have been capable of sustained fast bowling excellence. Amir self-destructed. Does Cummins have staying power?
That’s an impossible question to answer about any player one test into a career. What has surprised me is how scanty the evidence is in Cummins’ case. He hasn’t been nurtured in an academy. He has played school cricket, schools’ representative cricket, club cricket, state second XI, state first XI and international cricket. It’s not the steps taken that amaze, but that the entire staircase has taken less than two seasons. As recently as March 2011, the Penrith Press promoted the NSW Schoolboys Cricket Championships, thus: Expect high standard cricket – NSW Blues Representative Patrick Cummins played in 2010 Championships. Has anyone got the screenplay rights?
It’s Cummins’ achievement only. But clearly there have been some bold decisions by a succession of selectors and managers, each of who must have had alternatives to choose from: an experienced seamer surely, or even a youngster who’d been knocking at the door for a season or two.
Would it have happened in England? I wondered whether the ECB Fast Bowling Directives, drawn up to protect young fast bowlers from overbowling and associated injuries would have slowed his progress. From 2010, under 18 and 19 bowlers are limited to 18 overs per day, made up of three six over spells, with six intervening overs bowled from the same end. Australia, though, takes its sports science just as seriously. Its Junior Cricket Policy has similar restrictions on fast and medium pace bowlers. It does, though, appear to refer only to junior competitions, not senior cricket. Indeed, Cummins delivered 48 overs in Tasmania’s first innings of the Sheffield Shield final, well over the ceiling of one-fifth of the overs set by the policy. Ever since that match at the end of March 2011, Cummins’ workload has been a Cricket Australia priority. Picking up a heel injury in his debut test, it could become a national obsession.
I have only seen Cummins in YouTube clips. He is a powerful man: getting pace from a short run-up, shoulders rolling, a big bound and a true, high bowling arm. In comparison with his contemporary, he lacks Amir’s elegance and flow. But he shows a range of skills, challenging batsmen with short-pitched deliveries, full away swingers and surprise balls 20 mph slower than his stock delivery.
Cummins has had a helluva week; Amir a hellish one. Although very young, they are both the principal agents of their situations. Maybe one day, in four years’ time, we will see them line up against each other.