New ball, new captain and some old scars

With former captain, Steve Smith as his deputy, new Aussie skipper Pat Cummins has a ready source of suggestions on the field, but the premier fast bowler – who has a cumulative professional leadership experience of four one-day games for New South Wales – is looking for as many people for advice as possible, including his immediate predecessor.

India vs Australia 4th Test Australia’s captain Tim Paine, left, gives instructions to his bowler Pat Cummins on day 2 during their cricket test match against India in Sydney, Friday, Jan. 4, 2019. (AP Photo

Tim Paine stepped down in scandalous circumstances, but that hasn’t prevented Cummins from sounding out the veteran wicketkeeper-batsman. “It’s been good to chat, still wish he (Paine) was here and part of it all, but he needs to be home,” the new captain said. “He’s going all right, will probably… keep leaning on him for different ideas. He’s got great experience, [he is] a great guy, and [I will] keep learning off him.”

Uncertain plans

The itinerary of Ashes series over the years has been confirmed months, sometimes even a year, in advance so that fans of both teams can make their travel plans. But the pandemic has not respected that convention. The series starts on Wednesday, but there is no certainty about where the fifth Test will be played.

Perth, the original venue, lost out due to the strict border controls for incoming travellers imposed by the Western Australian government. Despite negotiations stretching into several weeks, no settlement was reached to keep the Test there. Hobart or Canberra may get the rare honour of hosting an Ashes Test, while Sydney and Melbourne have also started angling for an extra game, throwing in the added dimension of an extra pink-ball Test. Till now, Adelaide was supposed to stage the only day-night game of the series.

One imagines the Barmy Army will not be best pleased with the uncertainty hitting their plans.

Whole new ball game

The Kookaburra ball, used in Test matches in Australia, can stop moving through the air much quicker than its Dukes counterpart in England. But the version to be used in the Ashes 2021-22 may add another dimension to the contest. A double coating of lacquer is likely to help the ball retain its hardness for longer, while a plastic lining under the leather may help it to swing and seam for a longer duration.

duke cricket balls, Australia cricke balls, British-made Dukes ball, Sheffield Shield, use only the Kookaburra , Cricket Australia CA’s Head of Cricket Operations Peter Roach said it was the right time to revert back to exclusive use of the Kookaburra for the first class competition. (File)

“The lacquer feels a bit more like the Dukes lacquer, and there’s a lot of positives to take from that,” England bowler Ollie Robinson said in the lead-up to the first Test. “The ball has felt like it’s swung a bit more this time round. That’s obviously a bonus for us. If the balls stay like that, we feel like we can get early wickets and really get on top.”

India scars remain: Ponting

The scars of the home reversal against India could still have some after-effects, former Australian skipper Ricky Ponting said in a video. Losing to the Indians in their own backyard for the second successive series –the rubber decided by the defeat at the Gabbatoir, no less – was a tough pill to swallow and the last time the Australians played a Test.

“There are potentially some scars still from last summer that I think the Aussies have to get over and put behind them, and if they take England lightly or take anything for granted, then it can be potentially a bit closer than what everybody is saying.”

Lyon factor

Nathan Lyon has been sitting on 399 wickets for almost a year now, after India denied him that milestone in January. With a new captain at helm, there is a need for a fresh rapport for the team’s leading tweaker.

Nathan Lyon will turn 34 in a week. (Reuters)

Cummins admitted he doesn’t know a great deal about the intricacies of spin bowling, and has already had some discussions with Lyon. “Mainly around fields,” Cummins said. “I haven’t thought too much about spin-bowling fields in the past, so we’ve had a couple of really good chats. He’s played 100 Tests, so he knows far more about spin bowling than I do. I’ll be there to help him.” ENS

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