Pat Cummins debuted as Australia’s Test captain with hardly any prior experience of leading a side. All he had was the experience of leading New South Wales in four 50-over matches this year and came victorious. But leading a national team at international stage was way harder. Moreover, since the announcement of Cummins’ appointment as the Australian Test captain, the bowling-captain aspect has been discussed almost every day. His competitors were trendsetters and his job as an Australian was even tougher.
Cummins became the first bowler to be given the responsibility to lead Australia in the longest format since Richie Benaud in 1963. If we consider the pacers, Cummins was the first to do the job since 1956 after Ray Lindwall in men’s cricket for Australia. Lindwall did it for a singular match while Cummins is more of a long-term choice. He had been there in the radar for the role since the Sandpaper gate. However, it took another scandal involving another captain, Tim Paine for Cricket Australia to hand over the responsibility to Pat Cummins. Cummins took the job at a point when Cricket Australia was going through a controversial phase following Paine’s retirement. His first assignment as the Test captain was The Ashes against the arch-rivals England. He had a helping hand in Steve Smith who also was taken back in the leadership role after a gap following the Sandpaper incident. As a team Australia were coming off a Test series defeat at home against India in the last Border-Gavaskar Trophy. With The Ashes, Australia were also set to start their World Test Championship 2021-23 cycle.
No wonder, there was a lot on Cummins’s plate when he walked in today for the toss. The primary challenge was to reunite the team, revive the team spirit. Australia needed a leader and Cummins led the team from the front with his performance on the first day at office. England won the toss and chose to bat first. Australia spared no chance to the England batters and bundled them out for mere 147. Mitchell Starc gave the first blow and ended up with a couple just like Josh Hazlewood. Cummins meanwhile claimed five wickets for 38 runs in his 13.1 overs and led the destruction. He first got the wicket of returning Ben Stokes before dismissing Haseeb Hameed who nicked one to Smith in the slip. Cummins then cleaned up the lower order by picking up last three wickets as England were bowled out in just 50.1 overs.Pat Cummins became only the second Australia captain after George Giffen in 1984 to pick a 5-wicket haul in first Test as skipper.
Cummins is easily one of the top contemporary fast bowlers and has been the ICC top Test bowler for quite a long. His captaincy experience maybe limited but what he has is the cricketing brain and the ability to perform consistently. However, even the finest players fail to deliver with the baggage of captaincy. For Cummins things maybe different. While captaining the New South Wales team, Cummins had said, “Being captain and knowing you have to take wickets and being more aware of that, I’d say that’d be a big thing.” So, the 28-year-old clearly knows his job. Even after being appointed as the full-time Australia Test captain, he told, “it will be a real collaborative approach”.
There have been talks about difficulties of bowling captains. But Cummins from the beginning spoke about his dependency on Steve Smith as vice-captain. “There’s going to be times where I’m out in the middle, it’s a hot day, I’m in the middle of a (bowling) spell and I need to turn to people for advice for tactics, for experience, and that’s one of the big reasons I wanted Steve to be vice-captain.” His clarity of thoughts may work effectively for Cummins than any other bowler captain for Australia earlier.
History suggests that the fast bowlers fulfilling the job of captain has been a rare occasion. But the game has also seen quicks like Imran Khan, Kapil Dev, Shaun Pollock doing the job with perfection. Interestingly, Cummins already joined Imran who also took five wickets on his first day as the Test captain. Fast bowlers Sharon Tredrea and Raelee Thompson captained Australia’s women’s team in Test cricket in the past. The way Pat Cummins started his first day, he may become a trend setter in Australian men’s cricket.