The Ashes: Pat Cummins is a PR man’s dream as Australia captain - and a mighty fine cricketer to boot

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 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Australian cricket just became that little bit more difficult to dislike.

The eventual ascendancy of Pat Cummins to the second most revered honour in the land, men’s Test captain, has seemed a likelihood in the last year and a certainty in the last week. He has now been officially anointed as Australia’s 47th men’s Test captain, taking over from Tim Paine, with Steve Smith his understudy.

Smith’s return to a leadership role is big news, too. He preceded Paine in the role, but left in tears after the sandpaper scandal in South Africa in 2018.

He was handed a year’s ban from the game, and two years from leadership positions, which he served dutifully. Aged 32, he is back older, probably wiser, and certainly a little more worldly.

The role of vice-captain is more important in this case for two reasons. First, Smith has much more captaincy experience at all levels than Cummins. Second, Cummins is a bowler. This requires leaving the field and sometimes missing matches because of the physical toll of the job. Smith will be the man to step in if that happens.

It is for these reasons – and because it is seen as strange for a bowler to decide who bowls when – that Australia have never had a specialist bowler as permanent captain before. Back in the fifties, the great Ray Lindwall did the job once on a tour of India, and a few all-rounders (most notably Richie Benaud) have done it as well.

It has not been as unusual for England (think Bob Willis), but the choice of Cummins represents new ground for Australia.

But it is worth remembering that Paine was a departure from the norm, too. Not just because he was a wicketkeeper (Adam Gilchrist was a long-time vice-captain but he only did the top job on six occasions, as a stand-in), but because he was an unproven Test cricketer.

Australian captains tend to be batters, and one of the best in the world at that. The lineage is strong: Smith, Clarke, Ponting, Waugh, Taylor, Border. Another generation back brought us the Chappells, Lawry, Simpson, which takes us back almost sixty years. Paine did not have the aura these men carried when he took the job, and he did not have it when he left the job, either.

Cummins carries the cache of being a world-class cricketer, even if he has an entirely different skill. He is the ICC’s No1-ranked Test bowler, and a force in all conditions and all formats – a very rare commodity.

 (AFP via Getty Images)
(AFP via Getty Images)

Australia have had a handful of bowlers like that before, though, and they were not captain. Why Cummins? The first reason is the scarcity of options. Smith is damaged goods in the top role. David Warner has a lifetime ban from leadership. Marnus Labuschagne has shown little to suggest that he can add leadership to his wonderful batting.

Usman Khawaja and Travis Head both captain their state sides, but only one will be in the team. If Khawaja gets the nod over Head, only Cameron Green will be younger than Cummins, 28, in Australia’s anticipated XI for his first Test in charge.

The other is that Cummins has shown himself to be an upstanding human and a natural leader in his decade in international cricket. After a stunning Test debut in 2011, aged 18, he suffered a string of horrible injuries, only punctuated by involvement in the 2015 World Cup. Finally he returned to Test cricket in 2017, and he has not looked back, rising to the top of the rankings and staying there.

Cummins – who is one of five from a grounded family just outside Sydney – used his time out wisely, and has continued to grow off the field. He has a business degree and has studied executive management. He is a bookworm (on cricket and other interests), whose off-field passion is sustainability and fighting climate change.

He is a family man (his wedding to fiancee Becky Boston, who is English, was postponed by the pandemic, but they recently had their first child), who likes getting stuck in with jobs on his farm. All this makes him a marketer’s dream, and his dashing looks are a bonus.

Cummins must do what no Australian man has done before. But he’s pretty well placed to give it a crack.

Read More

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The Ashes: Pat Cummins named Australia captain for series with Steve Smith returning as vice-captain

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