As he marches towards his World Cup destiny, Australia's skipper remains the coolest head in the room
Calm, consistent, relaxed: Inside captain Cummins' World Cup
A common theme emerges when Pat Cummins' teammates are asked to reflect on his captaincy.
"Cummo's incredibly intelligent and reads the game very well," says Sean Abbott. "He's a very calm and relaxed person, and not much fazes him," says Mitchell Starc. "His nature is very calm and consistent in his thought patterns, and his communication," says Travis Head.
Calm. Consistent. Relaxed. Intelligent. Starc knows they are not words typically used to describe their kind. "It's funny; the old analogy of the fast bowlers being the dumb ones. You look at the batters in our squad and question that," Cummins' long-time bowling partner says with a wide smile.
If the bar had been set high for fast bowlers to become captains in the first place, the ones who have cleared it have raised it again. The last one to win a men's ODI World Cup became Prime Minister of his country. Both Imran Khan, who led Pakistan to glory in 1992, and the only other quick to lift the trophy as skipper, Kapil Dev (with India in 1983), are among the greatest cricketers in history.
If Australia can win two more matches, in Kolkata in their semi-final against South Africa and then Sunday's final in Ahmedabad, Cummins will find himself in the same conversation.
Five weeks ago, the prospects of all that seem far-fetched. The Aussies had lost their first two games of the tournament. Their first-up defeat to India, Cummins said, had seen them play in a way that "was against the philosophy of how we wanted to approach this World Cup". Against South Africa, perhaps equally as worrying, he thought they were simply outplayed. That loss marked their seventh defeat in eight ODIs.
Consistent. Relaxed. The traits that Cummins' teammates value so highly in him have been integral to turning it all around. The message Cummins, and coach Andrew McDonald, preached through their slump remained the same.
"Being really clear that if we're going to fail, this is how we want to fail," said Cummins. "If it's being meek and being dictated to, that's not acceptable.
"But if we go out, take the game on, try to shift the pressure back on the opposition and it doesn't work, that's okay. We can live with that. Just trying to keep getting that message across."
After his side went 0-2, there were a telling couple of hours for Cummins at the beginning of Australia's suddenly-must-win clash with Sri Lanka. It was a nightmare start; after losing the toss, he burnt a review on the first ball of the game on an lbw appeal Pathum Nissanka had inside-edged, and then failed to review another lbw off Nissanka before the Powerplay finished, which would have been out. When a Cummins bouncer was pulled for four in front of square by Nissanka, Sri Lanka were motoring at 0-125 in the 22nd over.
Cummins stayed true to what he had preached. Consistent. Intelligent. The ball after Nissanka had dispatched him, he went short again and had him caught on the leg-side boundary. Cummins then took himself off, changed ends, and bowled the other opener, Kusal Perera, with a peach. Sri Lanka lost 10-84. It kick-started Australia's seven-game winning streak.
"There's certainly been times when we've been pushed, we've been pressured and we've not performed well on the field, certainly this tournament," said Starc.
"I don't think that affects how he acts on the field as captain. It's still very calm and when the captain's calm and not visibly affected by that pressure, that rubs off on the rest of your players."
His request to attack when in doubt has emboldened Australia's batters, particularly the top-order which has been given a license to play far more aggressively than in previous World Cups. That has showed in David Warner hitting more sixes in this World Cup (20) than in the previous two combined (nine in 2015, eight in 2019). It has paid off with Travis Head smashing a 59-ball century in his first game back from a broken hand. Mitch Marsh has further embodied the shift, hitting the first or second ball he has faced for a boundary in four of his past six innings at a tournament where he has hit the two highest scores of his 87-match ODI career.
"We're at our best when we are taking the game on," said Cummins. "I think it brings the best out of our batters and our bowling group, when you've got that real focus on: 'let's be aggressive and shift that pressure back onto the opposition'."
That Cummins remains a remarkable cricketer only adds to his credibility as a leader. It might not necessarily show in the numbers; his 10 wickets for the tournament have come at a higher cost (43.00) than all eight South Africans to have claimed at least one scalp in this tournament.
But in key moments, he has delivered. It is notable that, including the two Sri Lankan openers to spark that tournament-turning collapse, half of Cummins' victims had already passed fifty when he dismissed them.
And it is no coincidence his two best individual efforts have come in Australia's two closest games. The first was in the thriller against New Zealand in Dharamsala, decided by just five runs, where he landed decisive late blows with the bat (hitting four sixes on the way to 37 off 14 balls), with the ball (removing the irremovable Rachin Ravindra on 116) and then finished as the game's only pace bowler to concede fewer than 7.5 per over. The second was in Mumbai when he doggedly blocked Afghanistan's spinners for two hours to allow Glenn Maxwell to make his impossible match-winning double century.
The great fear for fast-bowling captains is that the job will affect their bowling performance. But Cummins stressed: "I don't think I've ever seen it as a burden.
"There are definitely times when you're bowling and in the back of your mind you're thinking further ahead than you'd otherwise be if you were just bowling," he added. "(But) I'm sure for batting captains it's the same, if your mind's ticking over when you just want to be a batter."
Cummins arrived in India having captained just two ODIs. Having been in the Test job for nearly two years by the time the World Cup started, he was hardly a stranger to leadership in high-pressure moments. But the delicate balance of the task in 50-over cricket, particularly in the field where two new balls, the restriction of four fielders on the boundary for the middle overs and the availability of only four frontline bowlers, has put a microscope on every tactical decision. Teammates have noticed swift improvements.
"I don't think you can say that he was poor at it at the start, it just takes time as a leader (with) that in-game stuff," said Head. "It's not something he's done a lot of, being a bowler – it's probably something he never thought about too much. You're exerting energy and you're working hard."
One of Cummins' predecessors in the role has made similar observations. "I think he's improved as it's gone on," Steve Smith said last week. "He's got the tempos of the game, he's understanding the pace of the game a lot more.
"He hasn't done it a lot so he's working into it, but I think he's done a terrific job after we were particularly 0-2 to get us in the position where we are now."
Having a short memory can be helpful. Cummins has enjoyed the rhythm of a World Cup that has allowed little time for brooding. A week is the longest break they have had between games. For the most part, he feels like he has pulled the right levers.
"There's some games where I've walked off and thought I probably could have done some things a little bit differently, and then three or four other games where I walked off where I thought every move I tried to pull there worked, which is pretty rare," he said.
"It's fun, I've really enjoyed having a few parameters in one-day cricket where you've only got five bowlers and four fielders out – I have quite enjoyed that aspect of it."
Most importantly to the teammates who know him best, he has remained the exact same Pat Cummins who took on the job. Calm. Consistent. Relaxed. Intelligent.
"He knows how to flick through the gears of being a captain, putting his foot down and needing to make a decision around cricket and then he's also able to still be one of our best mates off the field, still have a joke, take the mickey, have a drink with the guys and celebrate when we need to," said Starc.
"He's done that extremely well and I'm sure there have been (other captains) who haven't been able to do that, or haven't felt like they have been able to do it for whatever reason.
"Patty just seems to be able to do it really well."
Australia's 2023 ODI World Cup fixtures
October 8: Lost to India by six wickets
October 12: Lost to South Africa by 134 runs
October 16: Beat Sri Lanka by five wickets
October 20: Beat Pakistan by 62 runs
October 25: Beat Netherlands by 309 runs
October 28: Beat New Zealand by five runs
November 4: Beat England by 33 runs
November 7: Beat Afghanistan by three wickets
November 11: Beat Bangladesh by eight wickets
November 19: Final, Ahmedabad (D/N), 7.30pm AEDT
Australia squad: Pat Cummins (c), Sean Abbott, Alex Carey, Cameron Green, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head, Josh Inglis, Marnus Labuschagne, Mitchell Marsh, Glenn Maxwell, Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc, Marcus Stoinis, David Warner, Adam Zampa