The mercury at the Sydney Cricket ground had exceeded 40 degrees, the warm westerly winds traversed through the Ladies and the Members stand, and bowling into breeze is pace sensation Pat Cummins.
The 24-year-old from Sydney is playing his first Test in his home town. The weather and the nature of the pitch are against him. His fellow pacers and the senior brigade of Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood looked exhausted after one spell. England had lost two wickets, but in the middle were Joe Root and James Vince.
The two right-handers had started to negotiate Nathan Lyon quite comfortably and the Australian skipper needed a hostile spell from his least experienced pacer to keep the pressure on the English batsmen.
Cummins might have had the luxury of putting his feet up for nearly two days, but he used that to his advantage by bowling one of the best spells in the Ashes series. In a four over burst, he had wrapped Root hoping around, picked the wicket of James Vince and gave Dawid Malan’s pads a mighty pounding.
In the context of the series, the spell might not have had a great significance, but in context of Cummins ‘career it provided a great insight about the determination and the drive to push for excellence.
It was a type of spell that if it was bowled on the first day of the Ashes series, it would have received heaps of praise. But given the context of the match, many had missed the value of such a spell. It could have been easy for Cummins to ease into his work, for five Test matches, he had pushed his injury riddled body to the peak and could easily have bowled within himself.
Perhaps Cummins had seen another prospering quick, Kagiso Rabada bowl a lethal spell against India in Cape Town overnight and felt obliged to rise to another level. Perhaps he felt he was overshadowed by Hazlewood and Starc, and needed a five-wicket haul to vouch to himself or the public that he had the statistics to back up a sterling performance.
Root was beaten half a dozen times and the slip fielders let out a ‘ohhh’ with every ball that Cummins delivered. Like most of Cummins’ performances in the series, Sunday's spell was overshadowed by something more spectacular by his team-mates. On Day Four, the Marsh brothers stole the limelight. Shaun and Mitch had fulfilled their childhood dreams by scoring centuries in an Ashes series while partnering other. It was their moment in the sun, their day of fame and glory.
Along with Cummins, they had ensured this Ashes series was not just about the high profile brigade of David Warner, Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc and Nathan Lyon. This was a series about the tier two guys standing up and ensuring the back-up to the front runners was just as strong.
Steve Smith might have been the sole slayer of the old enemy in the first Test, but his team mates have slowed followed in his footsteps and performed in the crunch moments.
By the time the cool sea breeze finally arrived in the last 30 minutes of play, England were on the brink and Australia on the verge of yet another win on home soil. The Marsh brothers had belted them into the oblivion while Cummins had left them demoralised.
For Australia this team is gelling perfectly for the African crusade in six weeks. Amongst all the statistics, the most impressive fact is that each of the three fast bowlers has taken more than 20 wickets.
It is difficult to pick who has been the best out of the lot, but there is no doubting that Cummins has been the unluckiest. He has had the wood on the best batsmen in the opposition in Joe Root. Out of his 20 wickets to date, 13 have been of front-line batsmen.
So many times in the series, Cummins has been the partnership breaker. In the first Test, he broke the crucial 100-run partnership between Mark Stoneman and James Vince on the opening day. In Adelaide, he clean bowled David Malan late on the fourth evening to swing the game in Australia’s favour. In Melbourne, he broke the crucial stand between Alaister Cook and Root. In Sydney, he provided the yet another crucial breakthrough on the opening morning when Starc was off the boil. But perhaps the wicket he will savour most is the one of Chris Woakes that sealed the Ashes in Perth.
As a child growing up in the western suburbs of Sydney, Cummins would have to confront such hot and gruelling days on numerous occasions. Perhaps that is the reason why he could bowl a spell like he did just after tea on Day Four. The scoreboard might not show the numbers, but as he sips down on a cold drink after Day Five, he would know deep down that he has bowled his heart out and played an instrumental role in claiming back the urn, something he would have dreamt off as a teenager on such scorching Sydney afternoons.