There was an inevitability to England’s opening day collapse at Brisbane. An undercooked top order short on both runs and in-the-middle match preparation were blown away by Australia’s all-star seam attack.
The post-mortem back home began while the body was still warm but any analysis of the shortcomings of the England top seven must take into consideration the quality of the bowling they encountered.
Mitchell Starc provided the moment of the day, rattling Rory Burns’ leg stump with a searing missile that the Surrey opener didn’t get close to. He was also responsible for the all-important wicket of Jos Buttler who was threatening to claw England back into the contest in the afternoon session with a sharp delivery in the channel that induced a feint edge behind. It was a performance that silenced some of the pre-series criticism that was directed his way.
But the stars were Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins, typically immaculate and devastatingly incisive. They produced a performance that emphasised their growing standing as a pair that compares increasingly well against some of the best the game has ever seen.
After his early career injury troubles, it is unlikely that Cummins will finish his playing days near the top of the all-time wicket-taking charts but there are a host of other metrics that already see him up there with the game’s greats. Of bowlers to take more than 150 Test wickets, his average of 21.15 is the sixth best of all time.
Cummins also sits atop the ICC Test bowling rankings with a rating of 908 going into the Brisbane Test, six points off his career-best rating of 914 obtained during the 2019 Ashes. Since World War Two, only Imran Khan and Muttiah Muralitharan have registered higher ratings.
Hazlewood sits closely behind his skipper in third place in the ICC Test bowling rankings, with India’s Ravichandran Ashwin separating the Australia pair. Since the start of 2019, Hazlewood averages less than 22 with the ball in Test cricket; Cummins’ excellence has masked the extent of Hazlewood’s recent improvements.
His career average of 25.60 is the 10th best of all time among Australians with 150 or more wickets in men’s Test cricket. His average is only marginally worse than Shane Warne’s (24.41) but Hazlewood boasts a lower strike-rate (55.9 compared to 57.4).
Cummins and Hazlewood’s combined average of 46.78 is lower than any Australian fast bowling pair to play together over the last 50 years. In fact, that combined averaged is even better than McGrath and Warne’s combined average of 47.05. They are fast becoming one of Australia’s finest ever fast bowling duos.
While Australia have had many great bowlers throughout their history, it is rare that they have had two quicks vying for all-time great status active at the same time. Ryan Harris and Mitchell Johnson were exceptional for a time, but the former’s injury record limited him to just 27 Tests, while the latter’s tendency to blow hot and cold meant their peaks only briefly coincided.
Going back, Jason Gillespie, with 259 wickets at 26.13, deserves consideration alongside McGrath, but he always played third fiddle behind Warne. Perhaps the most recent touchpoint is Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson, though each had a better record in Test matches without the other, and beyond them, the only other two Australia quicks with 150 or more Test whose careers coincided with each other are Ray Lindwall and Keith Miller. After their latest Ashes masterclass, perhaps Hazlewood and Cummins deserve to be spoken of in the same breath.