The Men’s Health photographer has blithely positioned the pace ace near the edge of a cliff. The two metres of rock between Cummins’ heels and the precipice glistens with rain. Cummins is nonchalant. But should he take a step backwards absentmindedly . . . no, this is unbearable.
Granted, it might be a case of transference: just because I wouldn’t dare stand where he is doesn’t make the set-up inherently perilous. But Cummins’ track record for misadventure does nothing to reassure. From severing the top of his right-hand middle finger at the age of four – when one of his sister’s slammed the toilet door on it – to a spate of injuries that has threatened to smother his career, fighting back from physical breakdown has been the leitmotif of Cummins’ life.
On the eve of a four-Test series against India, starting on Dec. 6 in Adelaide, what you get from the 25-year-old world-beater is a lesson in perseverance, in refusing to succumb to self-pity. “You can do a lot of learning in those tough times,” says Cummins. “In some ways I’ve been able to restart my career as a more complete package.”
Perhaps the same opportunity is there for you?
RISE TO THE OCCASION
Put yourself in Cummins’ shoes. Fresh out of high school you become the youngest Australian in 60 years to be picked for a Test match. When the day comes you look around the dressing room at Johannesburg’s Wanderers Stadium and see Ricky Ponting, Michael Hussey, Michael Clarke – champions you’d been admiring on television from your parents’ lounge just a few months before. Later you’re at the top of your run-up, with the hosts’ steely captain Graeme Smith awaiting your first offering.
Cummins’ nerves are jangling but there are points in his favour. For one, he understands (more completely than most young men in roughly his position) that this is just cricket – a grander version of the game he’s been playing with his brothers in their backyard since he was five. “I never put pressure on myself or had pressure heaped on me,” he says of growing up in the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney.
Which is not to say he lacks intensity. Cummins has been all humility off the field. But now, on the verge of action, he sets his jaw. “The thing is, I hate losing,” he says. “Hate being a passenger. I wanted to step up. I didn’t want to be talked about as, ‘Oh, yeah, he’s young, give him time’.”
After a decent first ball and a sound first-innings showing, Cummins cleaned up in South Africa’s second dig, claiming six wickets in a debut that heralded the latest incarnation of a long treasured Australian entity: the raw, tearaway fast bowler. But even as Cummins basked in his man-of-the-match performance, he knew something was wrong.
Since day one of the Test Cummins’ left heel had been bleating in protest. After day three he could barely walk and only a painkilling injection allowed him to complete his six wicket haul. “It was the worst injury I’ve ever had – worse than any back injury,” Cummins says. For nine months the soft tissue wouldn’t heal sufficiently to let him play. Meanwhile, the Australian team pressed on without its prodigy.
“Super-frustrating,” says Cummins, who has bought us Diet Cokes and settled into a chair inside the local pub as spring rain pelts the windows. “Before that Test, cricket for me had been about trying to do well for myself. Now there was a lot of expectation coming from the outside. I was desperate to prove myself again, and I couldn’t.”
For the full article, pick up a copy of the January issue of Men's Health, on sale 3rd December.