The captaincy of Pat Cummins came under fire both in the recent Ashes series and tour of India.
However, his record is one of achievement: retention of the Ashes twice, including a 4-0 thrashing of England at home in 2021-2022; a rare win in Pakistan 1-0 in 2022; a drawn series in Sri Lanka in 2022; easy home wins against the West Indies and South Africa in 2022-2023; and a World Test Championship victory in 2023.
The blip on the radar is a series loss in India, a fate which has met many Australian captains. In Cummins’s case the discussion centres around the manner of his captaincy rather than necessarily the outcomes. There has been considerable criticism of defensive fields and mindsets, lack of creativity and dare in tactics and the occasional totally frazzled look of the captain and his team when the opposition has the initiative.
Yet how does the captaincy of Pat Cummins stack up? A look at the numbers reveals some interesting and important findings. The following draws on ESPN Cricinfo data with author calculations.
If we compare Cummins’s record with that of Tim Paine and Steve Smith, his immediate predecessors, we find that Cummins has a 52.4% winning percentage (wins/total matches captained), with draws at 23.8% and losses at 23.8%, out of 21 tests captained.
This compares favourably with Tim Paine who achieved a 47.8% winning percentage, 34.8% losses and 17.4% draws, out of 23 matches in charge. Tim Paine’s figures reflect a disastrous start to his captaincy having lost his first 4 games in charge.
Steve Smith has a winning percentage of 55.3%, losses 26.3% and draws 18.4% from 38 matches. Pat Cummins therefore has a lower winning ratio than Steve Smith but also a lower losing ratio and a higher propensity for draws.
Cummins has the highest draw percentage of the three captains and a higher winning percentage and lower losing percentage compared with Paine. This raises an important issue. Is the Cummins captaincy a defensively oriented one compared to the other two captains, as reflected in the higher propensity to draw matches? A number of factors contribute to drawn test matches but potentially one of these is a lack of dare.
The next set of statistics is telling. Comparing Cummins to Smith, we observe that Cummins’s playing performance has declined since assuming the captaincy while that of Steve Smith has improved significantly.
As captain Pat Cummins has a bowling average of 25.89, compared to 21.59 when not captain. Likewise, his strike rate has marginally declined as captain as has the traditional economy rate which measures runs per over. Separately, we calculated the ratio of maidens to overs bowled and also found a decline when captain.
By contrast, Steve Smith’s performance has improved considerably. His batting average has improved from 53.99 when not captain to 66.67 as captain, while Smith’s strike rate improved as captain as has his rate of centuries ie the ratio of centuries scored to innings played. Some players thrive on the responsibility of leadership.
It inspires and challenges them to do better. Smith falls into this camp whereas Pat Cummins does not appear to. The burden of captaincy seems to wear heavily on Cummins. This raises a key issue about whether being a bowling captain really is in the best interests of the player concerned or team.
Finally, one of the attributes of captaincy is to inspire others. Without ascribing causality, a number of key players’ performances have declined with Pat Cummins as captain compared to other captains. The following table highlights this.
Averages With Pat Cummins as captain/ Averages with other captains
David Warner 29.11/ 48.17
Usman Khawaja 59/ 37.8
Marnus Laburschagne 42.08/ 69.8
Steve Smith 50.70/ 63.1
Travis Head 44.4/ 58.4
Pat Cummins 28.81/ 27.7
Mitchell Starc 25.89/ 23.0
Josh Hazelwood 30.92/ 23.7
Nathan Lyon 28.85/ 32.03
In the batting, with the exception of the second coming of Usman Khawaja, the other batsmen have better records under captains other than Cummins. This is particularly so for David Warner. On the bowling front, all but Nathan Lyon have experienced declined under Cummins. This is most apparent in the performance of Josh Hazelwood.
If one of the roles of a captain is to inspire others, on this score Pat Cummins has struggled. However, care needs to be exercised here. The declining performance of a number of these players reflects various factors including ageing, where the matches are played, and the quality of the opposition. The rise of India and its recent domination of Australia would appear to be playing a role here.
While at the aggregate level Pat Cummins captaincy would appear to be a success, this is masking some key concerns. In short, the jury is still out.