Steve Smith will captain Australia in the second Ashes Test after Pat Cummins was ruled out after coming in contact with a positive COVID-19 case
Cummins ruled out of second Test after COVID scare
A "gutted" Pat Cummins has been ruled out of the second Ashes Test after it emerged that he came into contact with a positive COVID-19 case on Wednesday evening.
Vice-captain Steve Smith will lead Australia in Cummins' absence, his first Test in charge since Cape Town 2018, while Queensland seamer Michael Neser will make his Test debut. Travis Head has been named vice-captain.
SA Health has confirmed that Cummins is deemed a 'close contact' and will be required to isolate for a full seven days. Cummins went to dinner at an Adelaide restaurant with fellow fast bowler Harry Conway, a close friend and NSW Blues teammate who is currently with the Adelaide Strikers for the KFC BBL, when another patron was identified as having the virus.
Under the current South Australia directives, arrivals from interstate must have a PCR test on arrival – and are required to isolate until that test is taken – but they are not required to isolate until they receive the result. That is a change from last week, when the requirement was to isolate until a result was received.
Gutted to miss this Test but really excited to see Neser finally get his chance in the baggy green. He has done the hard yards and is a seriously skilful player. Super frustrating but COVID has thrown us all some curve balls over the last couple of years. Will be cheering along!— Pat Cummins (@patcummins30) December 16, 2021
Cummins isolated as soon as he became aware of the situation and has since had a PCR test, which produced a negative result. He must now isolate for a full seven days.
"Gutted to miss this Test but really excited to see Neser finally get his chance in the Baggy Green," Cummins tweeted on Thursday shortly before the Test was due to begin. "He has done the hard yards and is a seriously skilful player.
"Super frustrating but COVID has thrown us all some curve balls over the last couple of years. Will be cheering along!"
It is hoped, but yet to be confirmed, that Cummins will be available to return to lead the country for the Boxing Day Test at the MCG, with uncertainty over if he will be able to train or is confined to his hotel for the next seven days.
Cricket Australia chief executive officer Nick Hockley today confirmed Cummins and other members of the team had operated within established COVID-19 protocols that allow players to dine out in small groups to prevent them being confined to their rooms.
"Pat has done absolutely nothing wrong, was working completely to the protocols that our medical team had prescribed which was consistent with the environment here in South Australia," Hockley told reporters at Adelaide Oval.
"We've got protocols that flex according to the risk level of different jurisdictions, so we're looking at it every single day.
"Our protocols include our players need to dine in small groups and in many ways they are designed to mitigate precisely the risk we've seen unfold very unfortunately here in Adelaide.
"We don't want to completely lock down the players.
"We're very conscious of taking a proportionate approach, very conscious of their mental wellbeing.
"Certainly our medical team will be working with the playing group and the ECB and their medical staff to make sure that over the course of the rest of the Test match, and over the course of the rest of the tour, that we're mitigating the risk."
It leaves Australia without arguably their two best fast bowlers with Josh Hazlewood also missing the match with a side injury.
Neser will become Australia's 462nd men's Test cricketer, while Smith will lead his country for the first time since the 2018 Cape Town Test against South Africa.
The swift turn of events now sees Mitchell Starc and Nathan Lyon, who coincidentally were also dining at the same restaurant as Cummins on Wednesday but were seated outside and deemed ‘casual contacts’ and therefore able to play, as the leaders of an Australian bowling attack featuring a third-gamer (Jhye Richardson) and a debutant (Michael Neser).
Allrounder Cameron Green, playing his sixth Test, rounds out a vastly less experienced Test pace brigade than Australia have become accustomed to.
Ringing the bowling changes will be Smith, who remarkably becomes the third different Test captain in as many Tests following the pre-series resignation of Tim Paine.
It is if the first time Australia have had to change their captain for three successive Tests since Ray Lindwall, Ian Johnson and Ian Craig did it in 1956-57.
Reinstated to the vice-captaincy last month after serving a two-year leadership ban following the 2018 scandal, Smith believes he is now a better leader than he was three years ago.
"There will be some negativity from some people about it. I understand that and I get that," Smith said after his return to the leadership. "But for me I know that I've grown a great deal over the last three or four years.
"I'm a more rounded individual and in turn I think it's turned me into a better leader.
"From my point of view, fingers crossed Patrick is available for every game. If the case is that he isn't, I'll step in and do the best job that I can for the team in his absence."
Three other Strikers players were dining outdoors at the same venue, with all of them being tested as a precaution.
Vodafone Men's Ashes
Australia: Pat Cummins (c), Steve Smith (vc), Alex Carey, Cameron Green, Josh Hazlewood, Marcus Harris, Travis Head, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Michael Neser, Jhye Richardson, Mitchell Starc, Mitchell Swepson, David Warner
England: Joe Root (c), James Anderson, Jonathan Bairstow, Dom Bess, Stuart Broad, Rory Burns, Jos Buttler, Zak Crawley, Haseeb Hameed, Dan Lawrence, Jack Leach, Dawid Malan, Craig Overton, Ollie Pope, Ollie Robinson, Ben Stokes, Chris Woakes, Mark Wood
First Test: Australia won by nine wickets
Second Test: December 16-20, Adelaide Oval
Third Test: December 26-30, MCG
Fourth Test: January 5-9, SCG
Fifth Test: January 14-18, Blundstone Arena