Picture the scene – the Aussies have assembled in Brisbane, scanned their QR codes, donned their masks and sanitised their hands.
They roll into the nets for a final tune-up prior to their one-Test series against Afghanistan in November (a prelude to the Ashes). Tim Paine defends a rearing-length ball from a local net bowler (didn’t want to name one of ‘our’ boys) that crashes into his fingers, causing him to miss the Test.
The buzz that would ripple through the journalists assembled would be akin to whether Dan Andrews would wear a North Face vest or blazer to a COVID-19 press conference.
Who now captains Australia?
This conversation is not new.
It’s been had numerous times over the summer, especially during the India series, in which Pat Cummins was made the sole vice-captain.
But is he up to it?
Can a fast bowler with his type of workload manage the most difficult job in Australia (more important than ScoMo’s)?
The answer lies not in the role that Pat Cummins plays, but rather what he would be expected to do as captain.
Those who have experienced it (perhaps not at the same level) can appreciate that the role as captain is diverse and varied. It carries with it the responsibilities that far outweigh the captain of most other sports and in Pat’s case, the hopes of a nation.
A quick brainstorm suggests that a Test captain must:
•Create game strategy with coaching staff
•Work closely with the Test squad to communicate strategy and individual roles within the team
•Effectively manage the team during the game in conjunction with coaching staff
•Set the fields according to the strategy – and often on ‘gut’ feel
•Swing bowling changes at the right time to change the game
•Run team meetings
•Front up to the media and be available more than any other player
•Manage their own game
Plus many more roles that no doubt come with the label of Australian cricket team captain.
Clearly, the list is exhausting. Therefore, the concerns around how Cummins can be effective in all areas, plus work through 40-50 overs in a Test (and bat too) is fair.
My response to this: why can’t he?
We have a long history of successful Australian captains – Steve Smith, Michael Clarke, Ricky Ponting, Steve Waugh, Mark Taylor, Allan Border, Donald Bradman, Richie Benaud – all batsman. We have to go back all the way to 1956 when a fast bowler, Ray Lindwall, captained his country (albeit for only one Test).
So, we have come to expect that those who are best suited to the role has to be our best – or one of the best – batsman. Someone in the top six who can be effective across those points made above.
For the sake of this exercise, let’s disregard Smith as an option. Whether he captains again or not remains to be seen, but Cummins could be our next best option.
Yes, a Test match fast bowler’s workload is difficult. The recovery between overs and between innings would require huge amounts of self-care, individual planning and focus.
But are we selling Pat Cummins short?
He is an elite athlete and from all reports, places the team’s objectives above his own. Who is to say that he can’t bowl six balls at 150 km/h, then switch into captain mode?
By suggesting that he can’t captain because he is bowling really is a negative thought towards our premier fast bowler who clearly is a student of the game, respected by his team-mates and we are pre-judging due to the course of our cricketing history.
Part of the captain’s role is the management of their players. Building positive relationships, building trust and cohesion and creating respectful cricket partnerships.
If his peers and coaching staff respect his cricketing nous and his ability to lead, then he has the ability to transfer this to the cricket pitch.
With additional leadership from Smith, David Warner and the incoming keeper for Paine (possibly Carey), this allows support for Cummins during his spells.
One of the attributes of a great leader is their ability to delegate and empower those around them. Could Cummins take a breather at fine leg and allow the team to continue like clockwork?
They are professional, well-drilled and would all ‘buy in’ to Cummins as a leader and therefore would respond as professional athletes do.
That’s assuming Cummins needs a breather. He is a terrific fielder and would have no issue in the ring, giving him the ability to converse with his bowlers and other leaders.
What would it look like at the back end of a hot day? No different than at the start of the day.
This comment was raised during the Indian series and again, we were underselling Cummins’ ability and drive.
How often have we seen him return for a third spell at top speed and fired up to get a breakthrough?
More times than I can count.
Yes, the emotional toll of captaincy is fatiguing, and yes, some days will be challenging for him – but he’s surrounded by terrific leaders, coaches and support staff that will assist in getting the best out of him.
Cummins as captain isn’t without precedence.
A brief look over previous Test captains who had been fast bowlers shows that he could be in an elite group, including Kapil Dev (34 Tests, four wins), Wasim Akram (25 Tests, 12 wins), Heath Streak (11 Tests, four wins), Shaun Pollock (26 Tests, 14 wins) and Imran Khan (48 Tests, 14 wins).
An extraordinary group of fast bowlers in their own right, who also had the challenge of being their nation’s captain. A job they all managed to do with some success despite their workloads – most were the key fast bowler of their team.
Cummins has made a positive start to his captaincy career with the win over Victoria that went along with his 3-for-38 and a run-out. With the right guidance and support from his teammates, coaches and most importantly, the Australian public, his captaincy career could be a very successful one.
To suggest he isn’t capable of leading his country due to his skill set is underselling one of the most talented cricketers we have seen for some time.
“The ship is anchor’d safe and sound, its voyage closed and done,
From fearful trip the victor ship comes in with object won;”
The Australian cricket team has come a long way with Tim Paine at the helm. He has righted a flailing ship and the transition is almost complete.
The focus on returning the Australian cricket team back to the top of the tree is well on the way and it’s almost time to put a new captain at the wheel.