Monday, November 14, 2011

Patrick Cummins is the future - Or not.

Patrick Cummins is the future.

No, hang on, maybe he's not. It's Josh Hazelwood. Tall, quick, can get it to wobble about a bit. Yes, definitely Josh Hazelwood.

Or perhaps it's James Pattinson. You know, English Darren's brother. Surely he's going to lead the Australian attack into the next decade, he's already played in the coloured clothing for us. I've changed my mind, we should embrace him as our spearhead.

But then where does that leave Peter George? And Mitch Starc? Or Nathan Coulter-Nile, Jayde Herrick, Trent Copeland and Burt Cockley?

Australia has a surfeit of youthful fast bowling talent at present. Not just young fast bowlers, but - on current evidence - good ones. This is a source of much-needed encouragement given recent events in the Baggy Green as defeats to pretty much everyone again conjure memories of all the West Indies lost in their regression from behemoth to basket-case.

Cricket in Australia is far from being completely turned around - in fact, it still may not even be going in the right direction. But CA's done everything it can - commissioning a report to put down in ink what any observer already knew. And the country has raw fast bowling talent to choose from - and it is that which is most crucial to a successful cricket side. The oldest of the fast bowlers named above are 25-year olds Copeland and Herrick.

Why so excited? Every successful postwar cricket team has had pace firepower in abundance. The Invincibles steamed through England behind Lindwall, Miller and Johnston; England of the fifties unleashed Statham, Trueman, Bedser and "Typhoon" Tyson; the West Indies speed vanguard often left their batsmen with little to do and Australia's dominant decades came as a result of the toil of Lillee, Thomson, McGrath and Gillespie.

Fast bowling talent wins games, not bowlers who send it down fast. And there's a difference between the two: Patrick Patterson was outrageously quick, had one of the great intimidatory attitudes, won a few of games for Jamaica and the West Indies, but never amounted to much. The same could be said for Brett Lee - you always felt he should have been better than he was.

There hasn't been this many exciting young Skippy flingers since the mid-eighties where from 1985-1988, Merv Hughes, Craig McDermott, Tony Dodemaide, Chris Matthews (!), Bruce Reid and Dave Gilbert were all young and clamoured for Test selection.

Both the West Indies and Australia have eloquently proved that when fast bowling talent makes way for people who bowl fast (*cough* Mitchell Johnson *cough*), teams quickly begin to lose matches. Most importantly, Pace talent means time not batting is spent attacking a position, rather than defending one. A quality pace platoon also excites onlookers and relieves pressure on their run-scorers. On a broader scale, it also infinitely strengthens batting on a national scale and means Moises Henriques will never play for Australia again.

England's transformation from also-ran to world champion came on the back of talented fast bowlers the ilk of Flintoff, Simon Jones, Bresnan, Finn, Tremlett and Anderson: each is/was able to combine discipline and an ability to make the ball "talk" with swing, seam or bounce. With a combination of some of the talent above, Aussie fans hope the same will happen in the Antipodes.

Australian punters (no, not that one) are excited about nascent fast bowling talent because since that fateful Sydney Test of 2007, the country's bowlers have lacked a leader. The plan was for Stuart Clark to hand over to "Notch" Johnson and Ben Hilfenhaus, which worked about as effectively as a a K-Tel nostril hair trimmer. The hierarchy hopes for a leader to whom they can turn when in trouble: a guy who gets the ball in the right spots to either restrict runs or take wickets.

Any of the current tyros may, in time, be that guy. But to expect Cummins - or anyone else, for that matter - to be a sort of proto-Mohammed Amir is unreasonable, unrealistic and more likely to produce a Lee than a McGrath.

The central board must keep two simple, everyday truths in mind: You almost never find what you're looking for until you stop searching and anointing young, unproven leaders rarely works. This is why Cummins, Copeland, Hazelwood or Pattinson shouldn't be anointed as the next leader of Australia's bowling attack until they have earned that position.

All of our past leaders have had to learn from experience: McDermott, while in his ostensible prime surrendered his Test berth to Dodemaide and Chris Matthews. McGrath emerged only after McDermott's injury - when absolutely noone saw it coming, least of all the West Indies lower order. The term "King-maker" is the epitome of a self-aggrandization, used only by the extraordinary vain and is based upon the flawed principal of anointing unproven "chosen ones" at an early age. Leaders emerge as circumstances allow.

More appropriately, leaders emerge when they conquer those circumstances. McDermott had to conquer immaturity and the stigma of being a ginger kid. Lillee overcame a crippling back injury - twice. Shane Warne fought an unlikely combination of playboy lifestyle and massive girth. McGrath had to rid himself of that horrible haircut.

It's possible, perhaps even likely, that Cummins, Hazelwood, Pattinson and Copeland will all be top-draw seamers. Especially, calling wunderkind Cummins a saviour and future leader is placing remarkable expectations on young, still-developing shoulders. Let him learn. Let him grow into his frame, his profession and international cricket.

This post was originally published on The Sight Screen.

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