“As a gentle guy off the field, he won’t push his case forward,” Lee said on the Fox Cricket commentary of the first Test. “He’s content to say ‘wherever you want to put me, I’ll do it’.
“I think he’s earned that right to put his hand up and say ‘OK skip, I want that new ball’.
“There’s a massive difference, I can promise you as a fast bowler. To take that brand new Kookaburra ball, that mindset is totally different. I hated [bowling first change] absolutely. There’s a huge ego that goes with being a bowler.”
Having starred in the Ashes, where it was only when Starc was included at Old Trafford that Cummins didn’t open the bowling, the vice-captain was highly effective in the wash-up despite being first change.
It was Cummins who made the key breakthrough after lunch, unsettling Shan Masood in a five-over spell that changed the momentum of a first day that hitherto had gone Pakistan’s way. Masood didn’t enjoy the treatment, particularly being smacked on the glove. Stung on an index finger, there was brief respite for the opener as he was assessed by the team physio. But after he edged one to Steve Smith at second slip soon after resuming, the dominoes fell quickly.
It demonstrated Cummins’ priceless value to the side, whether he’s opening the bowling or not.
If he has a world view anything like that of Lee, then he surely wants the new ball but Paine said his deputy was pragmatic about his tactics.
“We’ve communicated that with the three of them,” the captain said before play. “I’ve spoken to Pat about that. He wants the new ball at times but all three of them are team men.”
While Cummins enjoys a superior average and economy rate to Starc as an opening bowler, his control and ability to strike, however old the ball is, also makes him an enticing option for Paine as first change.
“I think any of the three of us can take [the new ball] at any time really,” Hazlewood said after play on Thursday. “We saw Pat and Starcy take the second [new ball on day one], it was Starcy and I for the first one.
“Pat is such a good first-change bowler, a good bowler any time of the day, and that probably works against him.”
Chris Barrett is Sports Editor of The Sydney Morning Herald.