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There is no doubt that Australia’s bowling attack is world class. They compare well to the best the rest of the world has to offer and compare favorably to the Australian attacks of yesteryear that could get the job done on just about any occasion.
Pat Cummins became the second fastest to 200 wickets on day three of the first Test, his 44th game, which ranks him behind the great Dennis Lillee (38).
Along with long time pace mates Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Starc they have delivered time and time again for several years and now they have Cameron Green as the all-around seamstress it is Australia’s strongest attack since the era by Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath, Jason Gillespie and Brett Lee nearly two decades ago.
But while they’ve got pace, variation, swing, couture and stamina, they lack the villainy that’s sometimes needed to throw batters off balance on a benign wicket.
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And this Optus Stadium deck offered little to bowlers in the first three days.
Following the Sandpapergate ball tampering cycle, Team Australia launched a charm offensive to restore their public image after being known as the attack dogs when there were 11 on the pitch circling the shorthanded batting duo.
Sledding and any idea of play has been replaced with smiles and positive demeanor, first under Tim Paine and in the past 12 months since Cummins took over.
They don’t need to go back to the bad old days when fast bowlers around the world, but especially Australians, had a bad reputation for verbal bullying.
It was almost obligatory for the Rapids to not only have an angry side, but to let the hitters know it with what Steve Waugh called “mental disintegration.”
Or what another renowned luge advocate, Warwick Todd, would describe as “a few choice words,” a euphemism for abusing an opponent’s courage, intelligence, family pedigree or worse.
By no means do they need to start watching old clips of McGrath or Merv Hughes to learn the not-so-subtle art of pounding hitters with verbal barbs.
But they have to make batters uncomfortable at the wicket on days like this when the Windies moved three times with occupying the crease their main priority as they tried to avoid defeat rather than maintain victory hopes after home side 4-(dec)-598.
There’s nothing wrong with growling or staring after a fast bowler’s follow-up to show the batter you mean business.
The best form of sledding is to say nothing at all. The Windies’ legendary rapid armada during their glory years a few generations ago were famous for being deadly silent as they scared the lives of hitters with their barrage of pace.
When Curtly Ambrose confronted Steve Waugh with ‘don’t swear at me, man’ in their famous 1995 clash, it was the most he had spoken in nearly a decade of threatening the muted Australian side.
And the message came through loud and clear – we’re so good we don’t have to say a word.
Australia’s current rapids are also good.
Cummins became just the 18th Australian to hit the 200-wicket mark in Test history – fellow pacers Hazlewood (216) and Starc (288), and spinner Nathan Lyon (439) are also on that chart of honor.
When he fired opposing skipper Kraigg Brathwaite with a peach that hit the top of the stump, Cummins (21.71) joined McGrath (21.64) as the only members of the Australian 200 Club with an average below 22.
Cummins (47.5) has the best strike rate of the bunch, in fact among the best in Test history with 200 scalps, he is sixth behind modern stars Kagiso Rabada (257 wickets at 40.2 deliveries per victim) and Dale Steyn (439 at 42.3), and all-time greats Waqar Younis (373 at 23.56), Malcolm Marshall (376 at 46.7) and Allan Donald (330 at 47).
The 29-year-old NSW designer’s record could be even better were it not for the string of back injuries that sidelined him for Test cricket for nearly six years after winning 6-79 in South Africa when it debuted in 2011.
Shamarh Brooks has been slotted into the line-up as a concussion substitute for Nkrumah Bonner after retiring injured due to the effects of a green bouncer hitting him on the helmet, meaning Australia still have to take six more wickets before he can think about setting up for victory on day five.
Brooks got off to a heavy start with 18 to 22 for the Windies, going 4-237 at the third day tea break.
The Australians must make Brooks, Jermaine Blackwood (35 not out) and the tailenders uncomfortable, especially with the second new ball at three overs.
They don’t need to go over the limit, but a little old-fashioned naughtiness wouldn’t go astray.