Sports Writer Seth Nobes comments on the appointment of Pat Cummins as the new Australian Test Captain
Cummins, who is regarded by many to be one of, if not the best, Test bowler in the world, comes into the role with less than two weeks to prepare for the first Test in the 2021/22 Ashes series against England. Steve Smith, who previously captained the side before stepping down in humiliating circumstances as a result of the sandpaper scandal in 2018, returns to a leadership role as Cummins’ vice captain.
The step up to captain continues a remarkable comeback story for the New South Welshmen, who has spent a number of years throughout his career frustrated by injury. Cummins was seen from a young age as a potential star, with the quick being offered one of only 25 Cricket Australia contracts only a month on from his 18th birthday in early 2011. A first international call up followed shortly after, for the Twenty20 leg of Australia’s tour of South Africa. Impressive form in his first two international matches saw him top the wicket charts with five, leading to his late inclusion in the squad for the Test match leg of the tour.
It was during the Test series that Cummins’ ability was demonstrated for the first time on the world stage. His involvement in the squad was surprising because at the time he had only played three first class matches. However, his lack of experience had no impact on the quality of his performance. Coming into the side in the second match of the tour following an embarrassing eight wicket loss in the first, Cummins delivered on his potential. He took seven wickets in the match, including a six wicket haul in only his second Test innings, as well as hitting the winning runs in a remarkable chase to victory for Australia. The debutant was rightfully named Player of the Match, and it seemed as if Australia had found their newest star.
However, multiple injuries for the paceman meant he missed four of the five next home summers. To manage his injuries, Cummins focussed on the shorter forms of the game, and was part of the 2015 ODI winning World Cup squad, but played a limited role. He was a surprise inclusion in the squad for the 2015 Ashes in England, but did not play, mainly due to the fact he hadn’t played first class cricket in almost two years.
However, his fortune began to change in 2017. A full season in the Big Bash T20 league over the winter of 2016/17, combined with thirty-six overs in his first Sheffield Shield match for six years, demonstrated his return to fitness. This was rewarded with a return to the Test squad for the last two matches of the tour of India in March. After a five and a half year absence from the Test side, Cummins once again played Test cricket.
Since his recall to the side in 2017, the newly appointed captain has played 31 of Australia’s 33 Test matches, dispelling any claims that his fitness will impact his ability to captain well. Moreover, his statistics speak for themselves. In thirty-four matches, he has taken 164 wickets at an average of 21.59. Out of current players, Cummins boasts the lowest average out of bowlers with a minimum of 150 wickets. Not bad for someone whose career has been plagued by injuries.
Cummins is the 47th Australian Test Captain, and will become the first bowler to hold the role since 1956. However, the context of his appointment means this would have been irrelevant to Cricket Australia. Cummins was the only real candidate due to his clean record and suitable experience. The shrewd appointment of Steve Smith as his vice captain means he has someone with experience of the role to turn to, without the backlash of appointing Smith due to his involvement in sandpaper-gate. However, whether Cummins can balance his world class bowling and his new leadership role is yet to be seen. And with The Ashes, it means his first test is the biggest Test of them all.
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