Despite the long tour, the Australia captain says he is in better condition heading into The Oval this time compared to in 2019.
Pat Cummins recalls the final game of that series as the only time he worried about missing a Test due to exhaustion,
The Ashes are secure, but Australia has a lot riding on this game at The Oval. Returning home with a 3-1 series triumph to go along with the World Test Championship title will ensure legacies. Draw the series after leading 2-0, and the mission will be completed.
Many members of this Australian side played in the 2019 Ashes series, which England won 2-2 at The Oval. That has gnawed at them, especially when they responded admirably to Ben Stokes’ miracle at Headingley to win at Old Trafford.
Pat Cummins recalls the final game of that series as the only time he worried about missing a Test due to exhaustion, despite finishing with five wickets and bowling the most of Australia’s quicks, having also played in the ODI World Cup earlier. After a difficult few days in Manchester, he is under scrutiny as both a bowler and a leader this time. But he insists on having enough gas in the tank for one last effort. You wouldn’t expect him to say otherwise.
“I remember coming here for the fifth Test in 2019 and being wrecked,” he remarked. “It was probably the only time in my career when I seriously considered not being able to play.” But I still did a good job back then. And I’m in a much better place now.”
So, for the second time in four years, Australia arrives at The Oval 2-1 ahead, but this time on different paths and with the goal of accomplishing what they have been unable to do since 2001. This time, they were probably two good sessions of cricket away from clinching the series in Leeds. England were 142 for 7 at lunch on the second day, still 121 behind, and for all their love of a run chase, there is a high likelihood that the game would have been lost had they conceded a large advantage.
Instead, England scored 95 off ten overs, partly because of Ben Stokes and Mark Wood, and then, later in the day, with Australia’s advantage approaching 100, Steven Smith and Marnus Labuschagne fell to Moeen Ali. There were a few twists ahead, but that’s when the tone of the series changed.
Australia were outplayed at Old Trafford in a way that has rarely been witnessed in recent years—over an extended period of time rather than in a single wild session like the one that cost them in Delhi earlier this year. In Manchester, a sloppy first-day batting effort was followed by a rudderless fielding performance by Zak Crawley, Joe Root, and, later, Jonny Bairstow.
“There are some folks nearing the end of their careers. That means we’ll have to find some new guys, which I believe won’t be too difficult, but the team will undoubtedly alter over time. I’m not sure if it’s right now.”
Pat Cummins on the inevitable change of guard, which doesn’t appear to be too far off.
Australia conceded their performance was awful but sought to downplay it by saying they expected it given how England plays. When it did arrive, they had no answers. On the fourth day, Labuschagne and Mitchell Marsh restored some equilibrium, but only the rain saved them.
All of this means they return to London, where the tour began earlier this month with the World Test Championship final, requiring a victory (or at least being in a strong position for one if the weather intervenes again) to depart knowing they were the stronger team.
“It’s a big one,” remarked Cummins. “If we win this one and look back, it’s been a fantastic tour over here.” We’ve played five games, winning three and losing one. It’s already an amazing tour. But winning the urn and returning home would be incredible. It’s a final title to cross off the list for a handful of guys, and you never know when you’ll have another chance. We’ve stated all along that our goal is to come here and win the Ashes, and that’s the opportunity that awaits us.”
As Cummins mentioned, this will be the team’s final Ashes Test in England. In fact, it is likely to represent the beginning of a change for both teams. Wood, the England attack’s youngest member at Old Trafford, was 33.
“They’ve got world-class bowlers in their attack,” observed David Warner. “They’re all in their mid-30s, like me, so it’s great to see them keep coming.” They definitely don’t have much cricket left in them, and it’ll be sad to see a lot of those players go, but we have to commend them for coming year after year.”
For Australia, you can only state confidently, as much as is possible given the uncertainties of professional sports, that Labuschagne, Travis Head, Cameron Green, and Todd Murphy will have the opportunity to return in four years. Marsh and Alex Carey (35 by then), as well as Cummins, who will be 34, are maybe borderline names. The team will begin disbanding as soon as the next home summer, with Warner the first to depart, if he makes it that far, against Pakistan in early January at the SCG.
“We know we are an experienced team,” Cummins stated. “However, this means that some people are nearing the end of their careers.” That means we’ll have to find some new guys, which I believe won’t be too difficult, but the team will undoubtedly alter over time. I’m not sure if it’s right now.”
While some wonder how long Cummins will be able to balance the roles of top fast bowler and captain, he sees the imminent change of guard as thrilling.
“We’re very individualistic in that we let everyone be themselves and do things their way,” he explained. “Some of that is because we have guys who have played 100 Test matches and 15 years of first-class cricket.” If you have fresh guys coming in, you may need to shift that a little bit more. It’s thrilling, and that’s why I enjoy my job.”
However, the immediate struggle comes before the future. Being declared Test world champions was a well-deserved prize for two years of superb Test cricket, but an Ashes series victory in England—something that has passed by a number of very fine Australian players—is required to ensure that this set of players is remembered.
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