Sunday 25 June 2017 / 12:00 PM

MAXWELL AND CUMMINS PROVIDE MUCH-NEEDED X-FACTOR

Almost incredibly, Australia goes to Dharamsala for the fourth and final Test with a realistic chance of winning a rare series in India – a feat that seemed fantastical ahead of the tour. Having lost just four wickets amid the cauldron of the final day in Ranchi, Australia ensured the series remained level and restored the goodwill fostered in the team in recent months.

Like they had all series, Australia relied on their seemingly susceptible depth to starve off India’s push for victory. Batsmen Shaun Marsh and Peter Handscomb formed a lengthy partnership to blunt India and prove Australia is building far more depth beyond leaders Steve Smith and David Warner, who has jarringly become the underperforming batsman in the team.

It was a common theme across the match with Australia receiving starring performances from mercurial all-rounder Glenn Maxwell and injury-prone paceman Pat Cummins, who were both inserted into the lineup for the pivotal match after lengthy time in the Test wilderness.

There were question marks surrounding the talented pair but selectors couldn’t resist their x-factor qualities. The selection gambles proved inspired with Maxwell scoring a memorable maiden century in the first innings to help rescue Australia out of an early hole, while Cummins was clearly Australia’s best bowler with four wickets on a sedate pitch.

It has been well chronicled that the 23-year-old Cummins hasn’t played Tests since his mighty debut against South Africa in November of 2011 – so long ago that then captain Michael Clarke was only in his fifth match at the helm. Nathan Lyon, Australia’s frontline spinner, is the sole player remaining from Cummins’s stellar initiation.

It may have taken five-and-a-half years but Cummins ensured the wait was worth it with a blistering performance in his comeback. Three of Cummins’s wickets were from brutish short deliveries, when he bravely extracted extra oomph from his brittle body. The New South Welshman can bowl consistently fast, around the 150kmh mark, and his short balls almost always hustle the batsmen. Cummins has a rare knack of making the ball bite off flat pitches, like in Ranchi, and that ensures he is always a chance of a breakthrough and being a game-changer.

A slew of precocious Australian pacemen emerged earlier this decade, including Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and James Pattinson but Cummins was deemed as the crown jewel and earmarked as the likely long-term spearhead.

Of course, Cummins’s fragile body cruelled those dreams. However, it is no secret that Australia’s return to dominance rests largely with the health of Cummins and Pattinson, while also hoping Starc and Hazlewood can keep on the park. Darren Lehmann, the Australian coach, has labelled the foursome as the modern version of the hallowed and feared West Indian pace battery of the 1980s.

You sense with that type of ammunition in their arsenal that Australia is headed for a renaissance but, of course, everyone involved in and around the team will be quick to knock on wood.

Meanwhile, after such a dramatic Test match, Maxwell’s earlier brilliance feels like a lifetime ago but shouldn’t be forgotten. Maxwell’s game-changing innings of 104 during a lengthy 191-run fifth-wicket stand Smith could very well prove a defining knock and be the junction when his temperamental talents finally clicked into place.

It was a particularly sweet moment for the Victorian who has long been viewed as a player befitting the shorter-formats but lacking the nuance to succeed at the Test level. However, answering the critics in the best possible way, Maxwell faced 185 balls during the innings – 71 more than his previous six Test innings combined. Perhaps most impressively, the 28-year-old’s strike-rate barely lifted above 50 for the duration of his innings testament to an unwavering desire to shelve the big shots.

Early in the innings, Maxwell focused on rotating the strike in a determined effort to play himself in and cash in once set. It was the type of responsible batting his critics have pleaded him to hone for years but, perhaps belatedly, Maxwell appears to have found a successful formula.

The performances of Cummins and Maxwell bodes well for Australia’s future. Of course, the proof will be in the pudding – Cummins has to prove he can stay on the park while Maxwell needs to find consistency.

If they can become reliable performers then it strengthens Australia considerably and puts them a step closer to a new golden age.

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About the author

Tristan Lavalette

Tristan is a freelance journalist based in Perth. He has written for The Guardian, ESPN and Yahoo Sports. Previously he was a newspaper journalist for almost a decade.

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