HomeNewsThe Ashes 2023: 'Pat Cummins is Australia's 'Boss' but England can fight...

The Ashes 2023: ‘Pat Cummins is Australia’s ‘Boss’ but England can fight back’

On the first evening of the opening Ashes Test, Pat Cummins dashed from Edgbaston to see Bruce Springsteen at Villa Park.

“He puts on a good show, The Boss,” said Cummins.

As Cummins threw his bat into the air, celebrating pulling off Australia’s defeat of England in one of the all-time great finishes to an Ashes Test, there was no doubt over the identity of the real boss in Birmingham. Glory Days.

Legend has it that the tension was so unbearable during Australia’s seven-run victory at The Oval in 1882 – the match that spurned the concept of the Ashes – a spectator chewed through the handle of their umbrella.

Umbrellas were the order of the day on a soggy Tuesday, but once the rain cleared the only thing being chewed through was overpriced lager as a way to keep nerves intact, heads cool and hearts steady.

This was a Test finale for the ages, a fitting conclusion to a scintillating series opener: captain Cummins, with Nathan Lyon as his willing sidekick, adding 55 for the ninth wicket to drag Australia to their target of 281 and victory by two wickets.

When they came together, Edgbaston was bouncing, the Hollies Stand releasing the pent-up frustration of watching Usman Khawaja bat on every day of the match.

Birmingham was ready to party like it was 1981 or 2005, England on course to pass the sternest examination of Bazball to date.

But Cummins has his own unbreakable bond with the Barmy Army. Back in February, when his mother Maria was in palliative care, Barmies trumpeter Simon Finch played ‘Maria’ from West Side Story during England’s Test against New Zealand in Wellington.

Cummins tweeted his gratitude at the time and, at the end of what he called his favourite Test win, was able to share emotional celebrations with his father.

“It’s just really special,” he said. “I feel really lucky to have Dad here. It’s been a tough few months.”

It is easy to draw parallels with Australia’s defeat on this ground 18 years ago, that Cummins and Lyon have ended a near-two-decade wait to avenge the pain of Shane Warne, Brett Lee and Michael Kasprowicz.

But Cummins was barely in high school back then and Lyon was still a few years short of joining the groundstaff at the Adelaide Oval. Their motivation for Ashes retribution is more recent and much, much more personal.

When England pulled off their last Ashes heist, at Headingley in 2019, Cummins and Lyon were key cogs that fell off the Australian machine.

Cummins was the man hit for the winning runs, Lyon the butterfingers who fumbled the ball when Jack Leach was stranded in the middle of the pitch.

The architect of Australian pain was Ben Stokes, now captain of the hosts and getting a taste of what it feels like to have Ashes defeat snatched from the jaws of victory.

“A lot of our guys were there at Headingley,” said Cummins. “I would be lying if I said those memories didn’t come into it. We’ve been on the other side.”

The inextricable link between Cummins, Lyon and Stokes manifested itself on a patch of the Edgbaston outfield.

This time it was Stokes who could not cling on to what would have been a gravity-defying and match-altering catch, his drop mirroring Lyon’s in Leeds in terms of similar consequences.

“It’s amazing how the world comes around,” said Stokes. “At Headingley it was him dropping the ball over the stumps. Here, I drop that catch and he’s not out at the end. It’s mad how things go around.”

Thoughts will turn to how a victory of such a tiny margin – Australia’s narrowest in terms of wickets in an Ashes Test since 1907 – can have big implications for the rest of the series.

Australia can feel vindicated that their cautious approach has defeated England at the first attempt, but the writing of an obituary for Bazball (the body cremated and the Ashes taken to Australia) would be premature.

As recently as 18 months ago, England were being humped all around Australia in a 4-0 defeat that was part a wider malaise of one win in 17 Tests. Under Stokes and coach Brendon McCullum they have got themselves to within two balls of beating the Aussies.

There is, though, the prevailing sense of what might have been, just as there was for the one-run loss to New Zealand four months ago.

Then it was after asking the Black Caps to follow on, now it is after declaring on the first evening at Edgbaston.

England’s bold, brash and buccaneering style is winning them plenty of friends and admirers. Winning the Ashes is not mutually exclusive of that.

Regardless of this result – and this will sting more than the defeat by the Kiwis – Stokes believes his team have done enough to prove they can go blow for blow with the world Test champions.

“We’ve lost and it’s disappointing but if you look at the way we’ve played over the last five days, it proves we’re able to stand up to Australia,” said Stokes.

“There was a big question coming into this series about whether we’re still able to continue with this style of play against such a good Australian team.

“Even though we’re on the wrong end of the result here, we went toe-to-toe throughout the whole game against Australia. We’ve got four games left and that’s what we’re going to be concentrating on.”

He’s right, too. England made all of the running at Edgbaston, had Australia retreating before even a ball was bowled and would have won had they taken even a quarter of the chances they missed.

Now, though, England find themselves with the task of becoming the first team since 2005 to come from behind to win an Ashes series.

They do so with questions over Stokes’ knee, Moeen Ali’s spinning finger and Jonny Bairstow’s reliability behind the stumps.

As it stands, they have plenty of credit in the bank, not only through results but their habit of creating drama, entertainment and memorable finishes.

“I know everyone who bought a ticket or watched on TV would have loved to see us win. We are desperately upset for them,” said Stokes.

“It’s early to say the Ashes are slipping away. Keep following us and we’ll keep trying to do what we do.”

Follow England we will. See you at Lord’s.

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