Cummins to bring unique look to his captaincy dream team
Australia's 47th men's Test captain has foreshadowed his on-field leadership will differ from those before him, including periods where his deputy Steve Smith takes the helm
26 November 2021, 05:39 PM AEST
Australia's newly ordained men's Test captain Pat Cummins has foreshadowed his on-field leadership is likely to differ demonstrably from those who came before, and that is largely because he'll be juggling fast bowling responsibilities with other elements of the job.
In his first media appearance as the nation's 47th formally appointed Test skipper, Cummins presented an open and engaging picture of his captaincy style by admitting he wouldn't "always get things right" and he would adopt a collaborative approach to captaincy.
The most obvious display of that philosophy, Cummins advised, would be the sight of his deputy Steve Smith – the man who was Australia's 45th Test captain before falling from grace – taking stints at the helm where he will appear for all intents and purposes to be back in charge.
And Cummins revealed that was an essential criterion for his pitch to take over from Tim Paine, recognising both the onerous dual workload he's about to embrace and the keen tactical insights Smith brought to the job during his tenure from 2015-2018.
"It might look a little bit different from the outside potentially to other captains in the past," Cummins said of his captaincy, which begins with the first Vodafone Ashes Test against England starting at the Gabba on December 8.
"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.
"There will be times on the field when I throw to Steve, and you'll see Steve moving fielders around, maybe doing bowling changes and taking a bit more of an elevated vice-captaincy and that's what I really want.
"That's what I've asked for, and I'm really glad Steve is happy with that as well.
"Steve's got such huge strengths, especially around tactically out on the field and sees it differently from first slip, huge experience with spinners, bowling changes and mapping out a game so I'll be leaning on him hugely for that.
"We'll nut out how exactly that works, but it will be a real collaborative approach."
Smith had previously attracted attention from some observers who claimed he was "undermining" Paine by being involved in on-field decision-making even though he held no formal office within Australia's Test team after returning from a year-long suspension in 2019.
Following discussions between themselves over recent days, the new Test leadership pairing presented themselves effectively as a joint-ticket when interviewed by a five-person panel of Cricket Australia board members, chief executive Nick Hockley and national selectors this week.
"It's obviously not our decision who's captain and who's vice-captain," Cummins said of the process that was implemented after Paine's announcement he would stand down as captain but before today's decision he would also take an indefinite leave of absence from the game.
"I made it pretty clear if I was given the captaincy that this is how I saw the team running and tried to bring Steve along for that as well because he's so central to how I see my captaincy style and how I see the team functioning.
"We both got a chance to think quite a lot about it over the last few days before we presented to a couple of board members and selectors, and that was after chatting between us two as well.
"I could not think of a better bloke, and a bloke that gives you more comfort if I was to be injured or miss a game.
"Steve could take right over and it would be seamless."
Smith was at pains to point out his primary function is to act as sounding board and support for Cummins who will be the first fast bowler to lead Australia's Test outfit since Ray Lindwall earned the honour for a single match 65 years ago.
And while the duo admitted the practicalities of how their job-sharing arrangement might work will be "fluid" depending on match conditions and game circumstances, Smith is expecting it will meet with inevitable disapproval from some quarters.
"I'm completely guided by Patrick and whatever he needs out on the field, that's my job," Smith said today.
"If there's times where Patrick hands to me and wants me to take over and do some different things on the field, I'm there for that.
"We've known each other a long time, we're close friends and this could be a really great partnership, and hopefully one that will be successful, and one Australia can be proud of.
"I think there will be some negativity from some people, and I understand that, and I get that, but for me I know I've grown a great deal over the last three or four years.
"I'm a more rounded individual, and I think it's turned me into a better leader and I'm excited to be in this position."
The fact Cummins, who made his Test debut a decade ago but has played 34 Tests compared to Smith's 77, has seen from close quarters the difficult circumstances in which his two predecessors' tenures have ended allows him even keener understanding of the jobs demands and expectations.
However, he noted the events of the past week that have seen Paine lose the captaincy and now face doubts as to whether he will play cricket at international level again have brought the challenges into even sharper focus.
The 28-year-old noted that when it came to character judgements, he was "probably my own harshest critic" but added he believed the notion a captain could be blemish-free in demeanour or deed was as unrealistic as expecting similar perfection from his teammates.
I feel incredibly honored, privileged and excited to be named the Australian Mens Test Captain. I’ll be trying my best and can’t wait to get started at the Gabba in a couple of weeks! Also very lucky to have my man @steve_smith49 alongside me as VC. #ashes pic.twitter.com/iVPurweQP7— Pat Cummins (@patcummins30) November 26, 2021
"A lot of the pressure and responsibility of being perfect is unreasonable," he said.
"I won't always get things right, I'm certainly not perfect.
"It's too much to ask of anyone, and you've got to have permission to grow.
"We're going to have players come into our side that are teenagers, who are just out of school and are growing up.
"They've got to be able to know they can fail and grow from that.
"I think at times that sends a bad message that everyone's perfect, that nobody's got any flaws.
"I'm certainly going to be standing up for players if they make some minor mistakes, they're opportunities to grow from – it's not always ideal, but they happen.
"We've got to manage our expectations of everyone a bit more.
"We've got to be a bit kinder and a bit more understanding at times."
But while he acknowledges the expectations placed on a captain can be unrealistic, he adds he remains undaunted by the role he assumes having led New South Wales in just four Marsh One-Day Cup matches, and never at first-class level.
Cummins joked he was in some ways grateful he's currently undertaking quarantine on the Gold Coast having recently returned from Australia's triumph at the T20 World Cup in the UAE, because it meant he was effectively shielded from the brouhaha that can accompany a captaincy announcement.
However, he revealed his parents were "super excited" by the news and had shed a few tears, although his fiancée Becky was "probably impressed for about two minutes" because her immediate priority was the couple's seven-week-old son, Albie.
And he gave a foretaste of the persona he will bring to the Australia Test captaincy, which was last held by a specialist bowler when leg-spinner Richie Benaud led the team with panache from 1958 to 1963.
"I'm quite a calm positive, quite positive and I really love people, I'm a people person," Cummins said.
"I'm going to look to be really collaborative ... I'll be leaning on everyone.
"I'm a big one for empowering individuals to really own their role and take control of that.
"So, you won't see me telling someone how to bat or how to bowl, they're playing for Australia for a reason."
Vodafone Men's Ashes v England
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