Pat Cummins sat in his chair on the dais at the post-match press conference, grinning sheepishly like a child who has been rumbled for filching a penny from the jar. The Australia captain did not seem to realise it but he had won a Test match and lost his reputation.
He had conspired in the match-deciding dismissal of Jonny Bairstow on a pathetic technicality that made the much-reviled Mankad look like the height of sporting etiquette. There is some justification for a Mankad.
There was none for the way Cummins and his wicketkeeper Alex Carey combined in the dismissal of Bairstow. Put it this way: neither of them will be getting an invitation to give the MCC Spirit of Cricket Lecture any time soon.
Cummins seemed too pleased with the victory of his cynicism to care a jot about anything else and so he made a joke that was as weak and as thin as his captaincy had been on the final day when he was asked whether there was any course of action he would not countenance if it meant winning a Test match.
It was put to him that maybe he would be happy to win a game by bowling the last ball under-arm, as his predecessor, Greg Chappell, had once told his little brother, Trevor, to do in a one-day international against New Zealand more than 40 years ago.
There is no justification for the way England’s Jonny Bairstow (right) was dismissed on Sunday
Australia captain Pat Cummins should have withdrawn his appeal but instead let it stand and joked in his post-match press conference
New Zealand needed a six off the last ball to tie that game at the MCG so Trevor rolled it down the wicket to Brian McKechnie who was powerless to lift it off the ground.
So would Cummins do that? ‘Depends how flat the wicket is,’ Cummins said. Cue awkward laughter all round. Cummins needs to brush up on his one-liners as well as his field placings, his tactics and his captaincy skills, which were brutally taken apart by one of his predecessors, Ricky Ponting, throughout day five of this second Test.
Cummins and Australia reworked history this time. They chose underhand instead of underarm. Chappell’s underarm ball has gone down as one of the most infamous episodes in the sport and the way the Australians dismissed Bairstow at Lord’s on Sunday will be placed in the same bracket.
When Bairstow ducked under a bouncer that was the last ball of the over, scraped his foot on the floor to mark his ground, and then walked forward to talk to Ben Stokes, Carey threw the ball at the stumps and scored a direct hit.
To general astonishment, the Australians appealed for what they decided was a stumping. The umpires reviewed the decision. A stronger captain, a captain with substance, would have withdrawn the appeal, but Cummins is neither of those things so he did not.
The decision was correct by the letter of the law. It was out according to the laws of cricket, just as there was nothing illegal, at the time, about Trevor Chappell’s underarm ball. But everyone knew that what the Aussies had done stank to high heaven.
Bairstow had marked his ground, it was clear he had no intent to gain any advantage, it was the end of the over. If the Australians need to resort to that to win, then maybe there is hope for England overhauling them in the next three Tests.
Bairstow had walked out his crease at the end of the over after marking his ground before being stumped
‘You will always be remembered for this,’ Stuart Broad told Carey between overs after he had walked out to replace Bairstow. And he is right. The history books will record the result but what Carey and Cummins did at Lord’s will stick to them for ever.
‘Same old Aussies, always cheating,’ the Lord’s crowd sang over and over again. Cummins did not weep in the post-match press conference like Steve Smith did that time at Sydney Airport when he returned home in disgrace after he became ensnared in a ball-tampering scandal. But maybe he should have done.
Instead, the Australians tried to deflect attention from what they had done by whining about the treatment they received from MCC members when they walked back through the Long Room in the Lord’s pavilion at the end of the morning session.
Really? Precious souls. Being barracked in the Long Room is hardly running the gamut at Millwall away. To borrow from Denis Healey, copping abuse from the old boys in their bacon and egg ties is sport’s equivalent of being savaged by a dead sheep. They’d better toughen up a bit before they get to Headingley for the start of the third Test on Thursday.
The dismissal of Bairstow, which left England needing 178 runs with four wickets left, was the critical moment in an endlessly enthralling, dramatic match which left the Australians 2-0 up in this Ashes series with three Tests left to play.
Stokes compiled another brilliant, incredible, spectacular, record-breaking innings of 155 that will go down, alongside his match-winning knock at Headingley four years ago, as one of the greatest performances in Test history.
But the way Bairstow was cheated of his opportunity to build a partnership with Stokes that Stokes believed would have won England the match, was the decisive factor in the game. It gave the Australians the victory but it left a stain against their name again.
Cummins (right) used underhand tactics to help Australia win while Ben Stokes (left) put on a batting masterclass for England
Cummins (right) may not have cheated but the impression he left was of a poor, unimaginative, panicking captain
Cummins may not have cheated on Sunday but the impression he left was of a poor, unimaginative, panicking captain who was too fearful to do the right thing when Carey threw down Bairstow’s stumps.
He did not look like a leader. He looked pathetic.
‘Would I want to win a game in that manner?’ Stokes said afterwards. ‘The answer for me is ‘no’. When is it justified that the umpires have called over? Is the on-field umpires making movement, is that enough to call over? I’m not sure.
‘If the shoe was on the other foot, I would have put more pressure on the umpires and asked whether they had called over and had a deep think about the whole spirit of the game and would I want to do something like that.’
The Aussie captain (middle) needs to brush up on his one-liners as well as his field-placings, his tactics and his captaincy skills
Stokes (left) later revealed after the match that he would not have done the same as Cummins did if the situation was on the other foot
Cummins does not think like that, sadly. Sunday was the day that his mask slipped and the friendly demeanour that he projects was exposed as a sham. When the pressure was on, we saw what Cummins (right) was made of.
It does not change the fact that there is much to admire about this Australia team as a whole.
Nor does it change the fact that they have found a way to win both opening Tests despite being outplayed for long phases of both of them.
But their cynicism here on the final day of this Test has lit a fuse under this Ashes series that was inflammable enough already.
Headingley will be a bear-pit later this week and England will travel to the third Test with vengeance on their minds and an injustice ready to be corrected.