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Cummins busting the myth that fast bowlers can't make great leaders

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10th July, 2023

It took less than an hour into the first Ashes Test at Edgbaston before a conga line of past Australian players started to slam Pat Cummins for his defensive tactics.

It was as if Cummins had run off the field, screeching “Bazball is a nasty bully, so I’m taking my bat and ball and buggering off home to watch The Bachelor.”

Given Cummins had only been exposed to England’s new blitzkrieg batting style for around 60 minutes the criticism seemed bizarre and baffling.

And the vitriol aimed at him didn’t abate until he steered Australia to a stunning win that was almost Ben Stokes-like in its delivery. It’s not hysterical hyperbole to suggest it was one of the greatest performances by an Ashes captain.

Below the barrage of barbs directed towards Cummins in the first Test was a subtext that had been plaguing the New South Welshman since he took over the reins in 2021: fast bowlers make crap leaders.

None of the former Australian greats perched in the commentary boxes or on Twitter were actually saying that but it was easy to read between the lines.

Before Cummins became Australia’s 47th captain, no quick had been skipper in 144-odd years of Test cricket.

Calm down you cricket nuffies because I know former tearaway Ray Lindwall was captain for one Test against India back in 1956.


(And one could argue that Cummins wasn’t exactly the first choice but the team was light on candidates given Steve Smith and David Warner were both banned from captaining Australia after the sandpaper scandal in South Africa).

Yet, despite Cummins having an impressive record since becoming captain there has always been a lingering disbelief about his leadership.

Australian captain, Pat Cummins makes his way onto the field for the post match presentations after Day Five of the LV= Insurance Ashes 2nd Test match between England and Australia at Lord's Cricket Ground on July 02, 2023 in London, England. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

(Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

For some inexplicable reason, the 30-year-old seems to be marked harsher. Cummins was crucified for his brain fade when he was bowled for a golden duck in the second innings of the Delhi Test against India when the tourists lost 8/28.

“That’s just a horrible shot from the captain,” Aussie great Michael Hussey said at the time. Hard to disagree with Mr Cricket.

But why does Cummins come under such intense scrutiny?

Even before the Ashes, several pundits were questioning whether his captaincy would stand up against Bazball. And it might have something to do with the fact the cricketing establishment has always had a tumultuous and peculiar relationship with fast bowlers.


Australian cricket has tended to view quicks as unsophisticated, fiery boofheads who were deemed deficiently uneducated to ever captain a team.

The conservative cricketing establishment has always seen batsmen as the intellectual, sophisticated types ready to dine with English Royalty at the drop of a hat.

The legendary Don Bradman once said that fast bowlers “should never be captains – they either under-bowl or over-bowl themselves.”

Some of the country’s most feared pacemen like Dennis Lillee, Glen McGrath and Mitchell Johnson executed the art of fast bowling with grace, tenacity and the skill of an ancient artisan but Australian cricket was never going to allow these uncouth buffoons to lead the players onto the field.

A pertinent and obvious question is, why?

There have been some acceptable and unacceptable rationales behind the fast bowling snub.


The quicks are usually buggered after unnaturally hurling their bodies at the crease for hours so they tended to cool off down at fine leg away from the action. And those pesky, pugnacious pacemen are always breaking down.

Batsmen get a decent view of the game sitting in slip all day so they tended to develop a more astute tactical acumen.

A more insidious explanation is that historically cricket has been about class. Australian cricket might appear to have an egalitarian swagger but a deep, class divide has always existed.

Bowlers were looked upon as the working class who toiled away in the dusty mines all day while the batsmen dined out on and G&Ts and Wagyu Beef.

But there has always been something different about the bookish-looking Cummins. His father was an accountant, his mother a schoolteacher and the young Cummins went to grammar school in nearby Cranebrook, before heading off to the University of Technology, Sydney.

Australia's Pat Cummins celebrates taking the wicket of England's Joe Root during day four of the second Ashes test match at Lord's, London. Picture date: Saturday July 1, 2023. (Photo by Adam Davy/PA Images via Getty Images)

Pat Cummins celebrates taking the wicket of Joe Root. (Photo by Adam Davy/PA Images via Getty Images)

He’s articulate, charming, and has the character of someone who would bring a stray dog home and keep it.


And after the malarkey involving the Johnny Bairstow dismissal in the second Test, he swatted away journalists’ grilling with all the alacrity and biting wit of Oscar Wilde.

Many past players have crumbled under the pressure of the captaincy but Cummins’ form has been exemplary since taking over the top job.

He has taken 71 wickets around 22.4 and has a staggering strike rate of a wicket every 47 balls. Those figures are just a tick above his bowling average of 21.6 and a strike rate of 46 before he became skipper.

Former Australian captain Ian Chappell was full of praise for the way Cummins paced his innings in Edgbaston and was bemused by the ongoing criticism aimed at him.

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“Anybody who queried how good Cummins would be as a captain because he was a pace bowler obviously hadn’t studied his Test career very well,” he told Wide World of Sports.


“I think where he’s smart is he’s shown he’ll attack when he thinks it’s right, and he obviously thought it was right in that last partnership and it turned out to be the winning move.”

At the halfway point of the Ashes, Cummins is probably just ahead of Stokes as the player of the series.

He is on the brink of becoming the first captain to win a series in England since 2001. He’s still learning the trade and is bound to make the odd poor judgement but given he could play for another four-to-five years, Cummins has the potential to be one of Australia’s greatest-ever captains.

And he could finally put to bed that tiresome, boring argument that fast bowlers make crap captains.