Cummins takes five wickets as Aussies fall back to Earth

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If the first day of the Australian Test team's attempt at a new start went well — a compelling public statement by the new captain and a fighting effort on the field — the second was a descent back to Earth.

Starting the day at the Wanderers with South Africa at 6-313, there was a chance of keeping that score to an attainable level. But a combination of good fortune and good batting carried the home innings away, until a final effort from an exhausted Pat Cummins finished it off for 488.

The new start then didn't work on the batting front, Australia's three top-order inclusions tallying a dozen runs between them. Peter Handscomb, Joe Burns, and Matthew Renshaw left the score at 3-38, and it crumbled to 6-110 by stumps.

Cummins was the only good news story for the visiting side, taking his first five-wicket haul in any first-class game since the bag he took at this same ground on debut in 2011.

"It definitely feels a long time ago," he told ABC Grandstand. "The boys have been getting into me that I only take five-fors at this ground, but it's a pretty long couple of days so I'm not sure if it's right up on my favourites list at the moment."

South Africa's Vernon Philander celebrates taking the wicket of Australia's Usman Khawaja

A rare highlight for Australia

It was consistent with a series where Cummins has not only been the standout Australian player, but has been disproportionately burdened with carrying the side.

In the first innings in Cape Town, he hauled a dominant South African position back with a four-wicket burst in an epic eight-over spell.

In the second, after the ball-tampering affair had broken and the rest of his team was shellshocked, he was the only one to really show up on the fourth day looking like a Test player. He bowled fast, ran in hard, and really did the work, even as Australia crashed to defeat.

Here again he was the player who nabbed two in two balls on the first day as South Africa's total threatened to blow out. On the second day, he was exceptional, beating the edge repeatedly with serious velocity and bounce.

But the edges didn't come, and he couldn't bowl forever. Temba Bavuma settled in, then started to expand, lashing cut shots over gully and drives over cover.

Quinton de Kock joined him for a cheerful 39, then Keshav Maharaj for a Test-best 45, including a couple of sixes. The pair attacked Nathan Lyon especially, and while he took out de Kock and Vernon Philander, he went for 182 runs at a rate of 4.55 an over.

Australia's Shaun Marsh plays a ball off his pads

Chadd Sayers couldn't add to his two wickets, Josh Hazlewood worked hard and bowled quality for none, and Cummins especially drew plenty of missed shots. But the edges were beaten, or didn't carry, or go to hand.

"That's the way out there, sometimes it just happens," said Cummins.

"The one thing we spoke about coming into this game was our effort. I think that's a big plus for us. All the guys … have been putting in every time they've run in."

What a relief it was for them when Cummins finished things off. Back for one last spell, he needed four balls to nick off Maharaj, then drew Morne Morkel's edge to slip for a golden duck, and brought on an early tea.

Poor Bavuma was stranded on 95 not out, unable to improve a Test record that reads one century and 10 half-centuries. Though some fault lay with him for not taking more initiative when Maharaj was swinging at the other end.

Newcomers struggle at the crease

Batting, though, was always going to be the hardest part for Australia. Bowlers can make errors and try again, batsmen can be done after one. In a mental game like cricket, being a fraction below the level is a huge gulf at the elite level.

Renshaw and Burns had flown halfway across the world a couple of days before, Handscomb hadn't had a competitive hit for weeks. And with Philander and Kagiso Rabada starting bowling spells that were equally threatening in totally contrasting styles, the pressure built from the start.

Burns drove at a lot of straight deliveries, then edged the first one Rabada moved off the seam. The release ball did for Renshaw, playing at the widest delivery he'd received from Philander.

Handscomb completed the mess by showing Philander too much respect, an attempted leave to a shorter ball deflecting onto leg stump.

Usman Khawaja battled through that testing early spell and became more fluent on his way to a second half-century for the series, while Shaun Marsh soaked up balls at the other end. But when the run of play is against you, it will get you in the end.

Khawaja nicked Philander down the leg side, Mitchell Marsh boomed at Morkel and became the second batsman to chop on, and while Shaun Marsh was freakishly reprieved from a stumping after de Kock was stung by a bee at the crucial moment, he edged a straight ball from Maharaj to slip moments later.

'Think about how we play'

It was disappointing but unsurprising after such a torrid week. The more important statement to emerge came not on the field, but off. The previous evening, new captain Tim Paine had asserted that the Test team would put aside verbals and aggression, and play in a different way.

Cummins backed that fully.

"This is a moment where we can really have a think about how we play the game, and I think you've seen we've all been pretty relaxed out there, but really competitive," he said.

"After this we've got a bit of a break, and we can think about how we want to play. I think the way it's been played has been really good this game."

Unfairly, Paine and Cummins are the pair who have been asked to carry a lot of weight in this series. Fitting, then, that they ended the day together unbeaten with the bat, and that any hope of rescue on the third day must start with them.

Original Article


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