Fast Bowlers as captains. Why not? History and perception, that’s why.
Perception: As a collective, we bowlers aren’t known for our scholarly endeavours. We simply don’t have the intellectual chops to be the skipper. We aren’t handsome enough. Clean enough. Our beards house families of red back spiders. Generally, we are the public-school attendees who throw “n that” and “what not” at the end of their sentences and call a collection of people “youse guys”. As individuals, we listen to thrash metal, most likely played drums in a band, and are the first to take our pants off and wear them as a hat at a party. Importantly, we don’t do the math so good.
Also, we are naturally abrasive, angry, and mad.
In our defence, though, it’s a requirement you are proper MAD to run 120+ 20m sprints, in pants, on a summer’s day, to hurl a chunk of leather at a dude where the longer he’s with you, the more you’ll hate him.
Smug batters, chewing their gum with their mouth open, constantly adjusting their collar to its highest point. GIVE ME THE BALL NOW!!
The saddest part for us quickies, is that the pain is inevitable – in game, post-game, post career – ball after bloody ball you know the pain is coming. Eight times your body weight through your front leg/foot at delivery – yet you embrace it. The thing about pain is that it’s not something you can learn to embrace, it’s in your psyche, your DNA, and that’s why you bowl quick.
Fast Bowling is an activity for sadists, who generally make great leaders of cults. Cricket teams, not so much.
History: What we haven’t done is help ourselves, in the formation of that perception.
A team bus is driving through the suburb of Randwick, in Sydney, and out the right hand-side window is the Royal Randwick Racecourse. One quickie shouts excitedly “that must be where they run the Melbourne Cup”.
Another fast bowler, from mainland Australia, believed he needed his passport to enter Tasmania.
I honestly couldn’t count the amount of quicks I’ve gone to the beach with, the day before a game, and they’ve been close to withdrawing the following day because of the sunburn they foolishly collected on their backs, shoulders, or feet from wearing thongs.
History suggests us quickies have a knack of getting it wrong.
Occasionally, though, a dashingly handsome quick, with Mensa level intellect and a winning personality, will arrive just to give the fast-bowling brethren a glimmer of hope. Imran Khan was that guy, and more. He’s now the Prime Minister of Pakistan.
Wasim Akram took over from Imran, who transitioned to Waqar Younis in the rarest treble to ever take place. Fast bowler to fast bowler to fast bowler leadership transitions are like the eradication of human disease, smallpox; it’s only ever happened once, which is bad news for those wanting Covid to sod off.
Internationally, fast bowling captains haven’t been all that common, but there are examples, and generally, they’ve all been successful.
India, Kapil Dev – won the 1983 World Cup.
South Africa, Shaun Pollock – winning record.
Zimbabwe, Heath Streak – remarkable career, not doing my attempt at making a point any good with recent ban for breaching ICC anti-corruption code. We just can’t help ourselves!!
In Australia, we’ve had one fast-bowling captain, for one match – Ray Lindwall in 1956.
Enter Pat Cummins.
Reality: the only challenge for Pat Cummins, as a captain, doesn’t come from IQ, education, or the general perception of being mad; it is how to effectively control the in-game decisions and function of the team, whilst ensuring he gets enough rest to contribute as the highest performing fast man in the world.
Hydration is a non-negotiable in modern day sport and the perfect spot to do that is fine leg. But there couldn’t be a worse spot to run the team.
If you are the skipper, you need to be in the play all day. Every over. Every ball. Field placements, plans for individual batters, bowling partnerships, understanding the match scenario, the requirement of identifying key moments and pulling the right strings to successfully navigate them.
There is a lot happening mentally, and as mentioned, bowling quick comes with significant physical challenges. How does that impact decision making late in the day, particularly somewhere like India where hydration and rest are a must for the quicks if they want to remain sane?
The other damaging perception for fast bowlers is that they shouldn’t be anywhere near the slips cordon, because again, it’s where the collars are being adjusted by the hiding batters. Second slip is the power position and it’s the spot for rest.
If Cummins can work his way into the cordon/gully and somehow manage his hydration, it is a no-brainer that he is the player to carry Australian cricket, and Tim Paine’s cultural legacy, forward.