How Pat Cummins became cricket's million dollar man

No question about it, dark-haired, blue-eyed Pat Cummins looks good in white. Not just cricketing whites, either, although fans of the Australian Test team are immeasurably grateful to have the world's No.1 bowler in their ranks. Today, at his local café in Sydney's beachside Clovelly, a short stroll from the home he shares with longtime partner Becky Boston, the strapping paceman looks every part an athlete in excelsis in a trim white tee and stylish shorts, designer glasses perched atop his head.

Having arrived punctually, the recently-crowned international Test cricketer of the year smiles warmly and takes a seat outside, at ease in familiar surrounds and radiating contentment.

And why wouldn't he? The sun is shining, he's healthy, he's savouring a rare break from the neverending flights and hotels that constitute a modern cricketer's life, and, as is revealed in the days to come, he's harbouring the sort of little secret that would thaw a curmudgeon's heart.

Oh, and not forgetting that just six weeks has passed since he became one of the wealthiest self-made 26-year-olds in the country.That particular ascension happened when Cummins and Becky settled in front of a screen shortly before Christmas to watch the eight teams contesting the world's richest cricket tournament – the Indian Premier League – vye for the cream of international players.

Cummins was among a select group whose starting price for the two-month long IPL was set at two crore, or about $400,000, and when his name was called by former Christie's auctioneer Hugh Edmeades a flurry of raised paddles quickly sent the figure upwards … and upwards … and upwards.

After two minutes Edmeades declared the bidding in the ITC Royal Bengal Hotel's grand ballroom closed, sending Cummins to the Kolkata Knight Riders for $3.2 million, the most ever paid for an overseas player.

Back in Clovelly, Cummins and Becky digested a windfall that, spiralling at nearly $25,000 a second, arrived with the alacrity of a lottery win. Time, Cummins decided, to pour a celebratory whiskey.

"It was like an arcade game," he recalls between sips on a mango smoothie.

"You're on the outside watching them putting the paddle up for you ... It just doesn't seem like real life."

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Supplementing his annual Cricket Australia contract worth around $1.5 million and sponsorships from Gillette, New Balance, Hublot and FoxSports, the IPL payday is "ridiculous, crazy", he muses.

Crazy or not, has Cummins given any thought to how he might spend it? There's a pause, long enough for the lessons of an accountant father, maths teacher mother and hard-won business degree to kick in. "I've never been one for big purchases," he says. "Almost too much the other way."

If he was scratching for examples of how he has spent his money in the past, he might cite an acreage he bought south of Sydney, where he enjoys "just pottering around" with his half-dozen cows. He smiles wryly. "The boys say I'm a fake farmer."

In an attempt to further explain himself, he adds: "I'm a pretty happy person. I started playing cricket because I loved it, and suddenly ..."

He trails off, not wanting to dwell on his substantial fortune. It's for others to say that it couldn't happen to a nicer, more deserving guy.

And as he does now, it's for Cummins to remind you that with his history of injuries, "it's hard not to stay grounded" despite the millions coming his way in 2020. "Just one ball and your year can be marred," he says, the voice of experience. "Nothing is certain."

AS IT HAPPENS, one thing is certain: Australian cricket has found its pin-up boy for its post-ball tampering renaissance. Cummins was there on that inauspicious day in Cape Town in 2018 when cameras captured teammate Cameron Bancroft using sandpaper to rough up the ball, later saying he felt sick in the stomach when he saw the vision on the big screen at the Newlands ground.

While coach Darren Lehmann's subsequent exit and year-long bans for captain Steve Smith and vice-captain David Warner were yet to be confirmed, Cummins provided a hint of more glorious times when in the next Test in Johannesburg he showed the way for his shell-shocked team, his nine wickets and first innings half-century offering some cheer in a predictably crushing defeat.

Back in Australia, in a sign of management's regard for the then 24-year-old, Cummins was invited to be part of a review panel charged with analysing where it had all gone so wrong, and how the team should comport itself in future without forfeiting its competitive edge. At stake was no less than restoring the faith of a nation horrified that their flagbearers had added Australia's name to a rogue's gallery.

At Test level, the project began falteringly with series losses to Pakistan and India, after which – to the surprise of some outsiders – Cummins was in January last year promoted to co-vice-captain under captain Tim Paine.

In acknowledging Cummins' lack of captaincy pedigree, chairman of selectors Trevor Hohns kept it short: "Pat is a fine young man who displays strong leadership through his actions on and off the cricket field."

Those "actions" – most tellingly the 54 Test wickets he took in 2019 – have since proved to have some force in them, the re-booted Australia winning 9 of their past 12 matches and retaining the Ashes in England. Little wonder his teammates nicknamed him Winx.

But while he has made every post a winner in recent times, the moniker glosses over a career that began incandescently before sputtering along under the weight of a succession of injuries.

Indeed, it's the stolen years – Cummins had to wait almost 2000 days between his first and second Tests – that lend merit to his current successes.

There was no inkling of physical limitations back in late 2011, when selectors decided to take a punt on the 18-year-old tearaway who had sent stumps flying during Twenty20 and one-day games on Australia's tour of South Africa, in the process making Cummins the nation's second youngest debutant in 134 years of Test cricket.

For Cummins and his family – parents Peter and Maria, and siblings Matt, Laura, Tim and Kara – it was the unexpectedly rapid realisation of a dream cultivated in the backyard of their home in the lower Blue Mountains, where young Pat strived to get the better of his older brothers on a close-shorn, sloping "wicket".

Summers spent watching or listening to Test matches blended into each other, Cummins determined to "yank it back" like his hero Brett Lee before sending another missile whistling past his brothers' ears.

By the time he was 13, others had come into his sights, the mother of one opposing batsman seeking him out to ask if he could take some pity on her terrorised son. By 15, Cummins could hit 120km/h; at 16 he was invited to bowl at the Australian team before a one-dayer in Sydney.

For all that, after completing his final year at nearby St Paul's Grammar, where he'd been a prefect, Cummins' sights were set no further than on playing grade cricket for his local Sydney grade club, Penrith, and getting a summer job before starting uni.

Those in the know, however, had different ideas, and within a year he'd been slingshotted from Penrith to Johannesburg, via a mere three Shield games for NSW and some standout 20 and 50-over performances.

Cummins not only justified their belief, he claimed six second-innings wickets and scored the winning runs in a man-of-the-match performance. And yet the 44 overs he bowled in the match ultimately proved too much for his left heel – his 'landing' heel – as he relied upon a painkilling injection to complete his spell.

The price was nine months on the sidelines, and thereafter a litany of injuries, mainly spinal stress fractures and side strains, kept him out of the five-day game until early 2017.

The intervening period wasn't without its triumphs in other forms of the game, most notably as a squad member in Australia's 2015 World Cup victory, and it did allow for long enough stints in Sydney to complete a business degree and meet Becky, an Englishwoman from cricket-mad Yorkshire with zero interest in cricket. "She'd never watched a game in her life, and it's nice that there's a clear distinction when I come home," says Cummins.

But reputations are inevitably made in Test cricket, and since his return to that forum – complete with modified action and matured body – Cummins has shown a talent for seizing the moment, whether it be regularly knocking over opposition talismen like Virat Kohli and Joe Root, or taking big hauls in pivotal matches.

That he has done so without foul-mouthed tirades or chest-thumping has earned him the admiration of teammates, opponents and cricket fans alike, who if they were searching for an Australian antecedent might land on erudite former captain Richie Benaud.

For Cummins' part, he's clearly lapping up being part of an Australian team that is challenging India for the No.1 ranking. He might be contained when compared to archetypical firebrand bowlers, he might be an omnivorous reader who flits from psychology to finance and evolution, his toy poodle might be called Norman, but don't ignore that he is a fiercely competitive animal. "It's less about intimidation than when I started, when I was still the little brother trying to stick it up older brothers," says Cummins.

"I bowl my best when I'm feeling in control, when I'm cool, calm and collected. The No.1 thing is to mess up their footwork, to disrupt their rhythm, and even if the batter is on 200 on a flat wicket, if I can bowl a 145km/h bouncer it will always make them think twice."

It's that total package that has made him such a popular and influential member of the Australian Test team, where he and his three fellow NSW bowlers Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Nathan Lyon have formed a close knit quartet, so much so that Cummins', Starc's and Hazlewood's fathers often form their own travelling coterie during home series.

"There's nothing more satisfying than walking off after a good day of Test cricket alongside your really good mates," says Cummins. "I just love it and want to make the most of the opportunity."

Lyon appeared to speak for the group last year when he described it as a "privilege" to play alongside Cummins, explaining that "no matter where you go in the world, he rolls up his sleeves and does the hard yards".

The fans of Kolkata Knight Riders will have a chance to see that for themselves during April and May, while the Australian Test team next lines up for a home series against India beginning October. Beyond that, Cummins will relish another Ashes series at home in 2020/21, and eye off the prospect of lifting the World Cup in India in 2023.

Long before that, however, he will need to turn his attention to a major life event of a different ilk: marriage. It turns out he wasn't being entirely truthful when he said he had no immediate plans what to spend his money on.

Five days later, he got down on bended knee at his south coast farm, proposed to Becky, and put a diamond ring on her finger when she said "yes".

Doubtless, Becky will look just as good in white.

Styling: Jolyon Mason

Grooming: Gavin Anesbury