Pat Cummins’s promotion to the Australian captaincy may have come sooner than he bargained for, but for the nation’s fast bowlers the appointment is long overdue.
Cummins is only the second paceman to take the reins of Australia’s Test team after Ray Lindwall, who led in one Test in the mid-1950s against India.
With names like Dennis Lillee and Glenn McGrath, Australia has produced some of the game’s most iconic quicks, and delighted in their aggression and wicket-taking prowess. But such admiration has not meant leadership roles at the highest level, with pacemen left out in the cold by batting-biased administrators.
ALSO READ – England’s Anderson has unfinished business against Australia
Despite Cummins’s outstanding bowling record and flawless conduct, it has taken highly unusual circumstances for the 28-year-old to end up with the top job. While Tim Paine’s resignation in the wake of a ‘sexting’ scandal was the clincher, the seeds of Cummins’s captaincy were sowed over three years ago during the Newlands ball-tampering scandal.
The fall-out from the saga saw both skipper Steve Smith and vice-captain David Warner stripped of their titles.
Warner, seen as the architect of the scandal, remains banned from leadership roles for life. Smith’s two-year leadership ban expired last year but the black mark against his name almost certainly ruled him out of the top job and he will instead be Cummins’s deputy as vice-captain.
There were no other senior enough players putting their hands up for the captaincy, with 100-test spinner Nathan Lyon saying he would prefer to lead the team’s victory song rather than the team.
BURDEN OF CAPTAINCY
Cummins now has a steep learning curve in a role dubbed “the second highest office” in the country after the Prime Minister.
ALSO READ – David Warner battles on into sixth Ashes series
His captaincy experience at the professional level consists of a handful of games as skipper of New South Wales’s one-day side, so he plans to lean heavily on Smith, who captained in 34 Tests, winning 18 and losing 10. Quite how the pair will manage the dynamic on the field is yet to be seen.
“Tactically he’s going to have to lean on Steve Smith,” Cummins’s Sydney Sixers team-mate Jordan Silk said.
“I know the type of guy (Cummins) is, he will probably prefer someone else (get the chance to bowl) rather than himself to get the job done. That’s where it falls back on Steve Smith to be that tactical player in that team and … demand that Pat keeps bowling.”
As the ICC’s top-ranked Test bowler, Cummins has rarely failed to inspire team-mates. In his debut Test as an 18-year-old he took a seven-wicket match haul to help Australia beat South Africa at Newlands. Telegenic and amiable in public, he is a fan favourite and a marketing force for clothes, watches and energy drinks as the “posterboy” of Australian cricket.
His biggest challenge may be how he handles a job that not only demands results on field but means being “held to the highest standards” off the field, as per Cricket Australia’s statements following Paine’s resignation.
The captaincy has proved a heavy burden for some fine Australian players, driving Kim Hughes to a tearful resignation in the 1980s and Ricky Ponting to stand down in bitterness a few months after losing the Ashes on home soil.
Cummins said he hoped the public could be a bit kinder in their expectations of Australia and its players, saying they should be allowed to “grow” from failure. However, he may find compassion in short supply should his team stumble in the Ashes.