Next Australia captain: Pat Cummins, Steve Smith, and the other contenders to replace Tim Paine

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·3-min read
Next Australia captain: Pat Cummins, Steve Smith, and the other contenders to replace Tim Paine
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It’s the job they say is second only to the Prime Minister in terms of importance in Australia. Tim Paine has resigned as Australia’s Test captain, admitting to sending sordid text messages to a colleague four years ago. Who will replace him?

The favourite: Pat Cummins

Pros: Cummins is the next in line, having been Paine’s vice-captain, is widely respected across the cricketing world, and a deep thinker on the game and life. He has a business degree and has studied executive management, reads well and talks about climate change and sustainability.

There is no obvious ego and the idea of skeletons emerging from his closet is a very long shot. He has a young family (his wedding to fiancee Becky Boston, who is English, was postponed by the pandemic, but they recently had their first child). Certainly, he has Hollywood looks and, handily, also happens to be one of the world’s best players; he’s currently the ICC’s top-ranked Test bowler.

In short, Cummins looks the part, sounds the part and acts the part. “He’s someone who oozes leadership,” said Travis Head, the unfortunate Australia batter who just happened to be on media duty on the day of Paine’s resignation.

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

Cons: A bowler being captain is highly unusual in Australia; indeed the last to do the job was Ray Lindwall for a solitary Test in 1956. A few all-rounders (like Richie Benaud between 1958 and 1964), have done it, but the Australian captaincy has generally been the domain of batters. And not just any old batters – normally one of the best in the world. In this sense, Paine was a departure from the norm.

Why is a bowler a problem? Availability, mainly. There is no guarantee that Cummins could play every Test, although he has a formidable fitness record in recent years, despite being an all-format international who also plays in the IPL and being ravaged by injuries as a young player. He had to wait between his first and second Tests due to multiple serious injuries.

The predecessor: Steve Smith

Pros: As one of the greatest batters of all time, Smith is absolutely guaranteed his place in the side for years to come. As a batter, he is unlikely to pick up major injuries (although his obsessive training has given him tennis elbow).

And he does have captaincy experience, as Australia’s skipper until he was deposed amid the sandpaper scandal. He was given a two-year leadership ban (his vice-captain, David Warner, was given life, which would appear to rule him out), and he has done his time. Smith is a bright guy and, if he has learnt from his mistakes, could make a good captain.

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Cons: Responding to a scandal by restating the protagonist of your last scandal is not a great look, is it? Smith has already had to resign in disgrace once.

In addition, Smith was not actually a great captain last time. He scored bucketloads of runs, but was a weak leader who overlooked further degradation in the team’s culture, and was no tactical genius either.

Australia are probably better off letting him worry about breaking English hearts with his bat. He is a cricket obsessive who just needs to be left to concentrate on his game. The same is true of Marnus Labuschagne, another world-class batter with strange quirks.

Looking leftfield: Usman Khawaja or Travis Head

Pros: Bear with us. Only one of these two is likely to play at the Gabba on December 8, batting in the comfortable spot of No5, but they both captain their state sides and have shown very strong early season form with the bat and have reasonable Test experience.

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Head was long seen as a future Australia captain, but he hasn’t been able to consistently get in the team. Khawaja is a wise head, and would be the first Muslim to captain Australia. Selecting one of these two on a short-term basis just for the Ashes would make some sense, and allow Cummins to take over at a better time.

Cons: Neither is actually certain of their place in the team. Head was dropped last Christmas, while Khawaja hasn’t played a Test match since being left out during the 2019 Ashes.

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