The culture inside the Australian Test cricket squad may have changed since Tim Paine took over the captaincy following the ball-tampering scandal last year in South Africa, but it has not blunted their competitiveness says pace bowler Pat Cummins.
The 26-year-old joint vice-captain – who took himself off to France for a break following the World Cup semi-final loss to eventual champions England this month – told The Guardian Paine’s arrival in the wake of the scandal had forced a rethink about their approach to the game.
Former captain Steve Smith and his then deputy David Warner were both given 12-month suspensions by Cricket Australia, with opening batsman Cameron Bancroft – who applied sandpaper to the ball while in the field during a Test with South Africa in Cape Town – banned for nine months.
They are all back in the squad for the five-Test Ashes series which gets underway at Edgbaston on Thursday with the tourists bidding to not only retain the Ashes but also win their first series in England for 18 years.
“It’s probably the first time where we’ve really had to sit back and think about how we wanted to play,” said Cummins about when Paine took over.
“For me personally, going to university (he has a Business degree) or having a few pre-seasons trying to recover from injury, it’s just knowing that you can’t judge yourself on purely cricket, because if you do then you’re forever riding this rollercoaster.
“Definitely taking a step back gives you time to actually think.”
‘Sense a wicket coming’
Cummins, who has rebounded from several years of persistent injuries to be key to the Australian attack, said people who mistook that for the team going soft would be lulling themselves into a false sense of security.
“The way I’ve always played is to get into the fight,” he said.
“This is a side that’s really hungry, many of them in their first Ashes, their first away Test.
“For me it’s about remembering what I did well last time against England, try to adjust to English conditions, but I just want to really make a mark.
“It doesn’t get much bigger for a Test player than an Ashes, and you never know if it’s going to be your last. So make the most of it.”
Cummins, who lost the top of a middle finger aged three when one of his sisters slammed a door on it by mistake, says he believes he can flourish on the English pitches.
“There always seems to be sideways movement and the Dukes ball, even if it goes soft, still has a bit of swing,” he said.
“It’s not 40 degrees so you can run in all day.
“It feels like if you put into the wicket you’re going to get something out of it.
“It levels the contest sometimes as opposed to a flat day-three or day-four wicket in Australia or a flat ODI wicket, sometimes you go into defence mode.
“Over here you can always sense a wicket coming.”
Cummins had been a rare bird within the Australia camp to speak out about sledging last year but he says one cannot avoid displaying one’s emotions.
“Sport’s quite emotional and there will definitely be times on the field when those emotions show through, but it’s about trying to manage how we show them.”