'Born leader': Cummins in frame to take Test reins

The frontrunner to succeed Tim Paine, Pat Cummins' likely crowning would come in remarkable circumstances

Endorsed by Dennis Lillee and Steve Waugh as Australia's Test captain-in-waiting, Pat Cummins' time looks to have arrived far sooner than anyone anticipated. 

The 28-year-old is the front-runner to become the 47th skipper of the national men’s Test side after Tim Paine's shock resignation on Friday left Cricket Australia's Board to make a second successive Test captaincy appointment in the wake of a major scandal.

If approved, Cummins, whose senior captaincy experience is limited to four Marsh One-Day Cup games with NSW earlier this year, will become the first specialist fast bowler permanently appointed to the role.

Paine of course took over from Steve Smith in 2018 in the wake of the ball tampering fiasco, with Mitch Marsh, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head and Cummins having all been the wicketkeeper's vice-captain at stages during his three-and-a-half-year reign.

The circumstances of Cummins' likely crowning are as remarkable as they come.

No fast bowler has captained Australia in any men’s format since 1956 when Ray Lindwall filled in for a solitary Test against India in Mumbai.

The Penrith-born quick would be the fifth man to captain Australia this year alone across all formats after T20 World Cup-winning skipper Aaron Finch, limited-overs stand-ins Matthew Wade and Alex Carey, as well as Paine.

If Paine were to remain as wicketkeeper for the opening Vodafone Ashes Test in Brisbane in 19 days' time, Cummins will lead a side featuring two ex-Test captains (Smith being the other) and a former vice-captain banned from ever ascending to the top job (David Warner).

And that's before the current scandal surrounding Paine is factored in.

Lillee, speaking to cricket.com.au before Paine's resignation, believes the fast bowler he has mentored for the past eight years is up to the job.

"He's an intelligent guy but more than that, he's got real cricket smarts," said the Test legend as part of the piece published to coincide with the 10th anniversary of Cummins' Test debut.

"He's a born leader. He's 110 per cent all the time, whether the wicket is flat or not, and I admire that in a fast bowler. He's a leader of men and they look up to him.

"There's been fast bowlers who have captained. Imran Khan, Bob Willis – In Imran's case, he was batting and bowling. They are modern cricketers that have proven really strongly that a fast bowler certainly can captain the side."

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Wasim Akram, Shaun Pollock, Courtney Walsh and Jason Holder are other recent examples of fast-bowler skippers.

But while captaincy has largely been the domain of specialist batters in Australia, Steve Waugh sagely noted on SEN earlier this month: "They say bowlers can't do it, but they said keepers couldn't do it."

The former Test captain did say, however, that he expected Cummins would need to lean heavily on his deputy, particularly while he is bowling.

"I've always thought that if he's bowling the vice-captain could set the field to give him a mental break," Waugh said. "He has good acumen, the respect of the players and he's ready to go.

"I think when Tim Paine steps down, Pat Cummins is the man to step in."

In the case of Cummins, the old stereotype of fast bowlers being short of brainpower hardly stacks up.

The speedster graduated from the University of Technology Sydney with a Bachelor of Business in 2017 and has since studied a Certificate in Executive Management from the University of New South Wales.

He showed great compassion in leading donations to a UNICEF fund while at the IPL with India in the grip of a devastating COVID-19 wave earlier this year, and has more recently taken in active role in promoting the need to address climate change.

Well-read and a fan of cryptic crosswords, his teammates have spoken about glowingly about Cummins' thoughtful approach to leadership.

Head, who briefly served as a co-vice-captain of the Test side with him, has praised his lead-from-the-front mentality.

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"He's someone that oozes leadership, not only in the way he presents himself, the way he speaks, the way he goes about things, the way he trains but also when he's on the field," the South Australian said on Friday.

"When you look at leaders, and I know it's something I tried to do when I was becoming a leader and captain of South Australia, if I didn't really know what to say in the morning the best thing I could do was go out and try and perform and try and own my own game.

"That's what he does exceptionally well.

"I think he's well-rounded and if he does get his opportunity, which I'm sure he will in the future, whenever that may be, I'm sure he'll do a fantastic job."

Cummins noted that one of the challenging parts of his captaincy debut with the Blues last summer was ensuring he managed the overs allocations of his bowlers effectively.

"My mum is a maths teacher so I wouldn't have lived that down if I didn't get that right," he joked at the time.

Although he will not face that particular problem in Test cricket where bowlers do not have overs restrictions, Cummins will have the added challenge of knowing when to drag himself from the bowling crease or when to bring himself on.

But he sees that as no reason why a bowler cannot do the job.

"I don't think just because you're automatically a bowler or a wicketkeeper rules you out of captaincy," Cummins said in February.

"No doubt there are a few more challenges about being a bowler but also it brings some opportunities.

"You hope that our skill is trying to get wickets as a bowler and that's a lot of the time what you're trying to do as a captain out in the field."

Vodafone Men's Ashes v England

Tour Matches

Nov 23-25: England v England Lions, Brisbane

Nov 30 – Dec 3: England v England Lions, Brisbane

Dec 1-3: Australian intra-squad match, Brisbane

Dec 9-12: Australia A v England Lions, Brisbane


First Test: December 8-12, The Gabba

Second Test: December 16-20, Adelaide Oval

Third Test: December 26-30, MCG

Fourth Test: January 5-9, SCG

Fifth Test: January 14-18, Perth Stadium