Vodafone Men's Ashes
Ponting's sole concern facing new leader Cummins
Australia legend Ricky Ponting welcomes the appointment of Pat Cummins as Test captain, and highlights the 'really important' role vice-captain Steve Smith must now fill as his deputy
26 November 2021, 02:03 PM AEST
Pat Cummins' biggest challenge as Test captain will be his own humility.
That's the opinion of one of his most successful predecessors, Ricky Ponting, whose only concern over the speedster's appointment to the Australian job is whether he will be willing to bowl himself for as long and as often as the team needs.
Cricket Australia today confirmed they had broken with tradition, naming Cummins as the Test side's first ever permanent fast bowler-captain, while Steve Smith was reinstated in a formal leadership role in being announced as the vice-captain.
It's a decision endorsed by Ponting, who suggested Cummins' reputation among fellow leaders had increased earlier this year during tough conversations with Justin Langer amid feedback from players on his coaching methods.
Among pacemen, only Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad have bowled more overs in Test cricket than Cummins since his return from injury in 2017, and would likely have eclipsed them had Australia played as many games as England.
Cummins has missed just two Tests out of Australia's 35 across that period and long spells became commonplace under previous captain Tim Paine, who turned to his leading quick for seven- and eight-over spells when Australia desperately sought victory against India last summer during the final two Tests.
"There were times I reckon last summer when they just had to keep bowling Pat," Ponting explained to cricket.com.au. "In Sydney and Brisbane, there were long spells when he looked the most likely to get wickets.
"The only concern I have is if it's the same again, where Pat's the standout fast bowler, is he going to keep bowling himself? Because the team is going to need it.
"Or will he be worried about what people are going to think if he just keeps himself on the whole time?
"That's where vice captain's role is really important in this whole thing,
"Because it might go the other way that he doesn't bowl himself enough because he's getting physically tired.
"But sometimes you need someone to push you or direct you, and that's where I think the vice-captain is going to be important."
And in Smith, Cummins will have an experienced leader at his side.
Australia won more than half of the 34 Tests Smith was in charge of the Test team before the Cape Town ball-tampering controversy saw him stripped of the captaincy and given a two-year leadership ban.
In addition to re-establishing himself as one of Australia's greatest ever Test cricketers since his playing ban expired in 2019, Smith has earnt praise for his positive dressing-room presence during Paine's tenure as well as his off-field growth.
"We've all made mistakes. We all said at the time it was a severe penalty for all those guys – and it had to be, that's the way it was at the time. But it's a long time ago now," said Ponting.
"He's played some great cricket since then and has not stepped a foot wrong with anything he's done in his life since then.
"So as far as I'm concerned, if Cricket Australia think it's okay, then I'm not surprised they have given him the job."
Smith may well need to lead again during Cummins' tenure.
While Cummins has been Australia's ironman after overcoming early struggles with his body, fast bowling remain a risky profession.
Even if he manages to avoid injury, Australia have previously looked to rotate their seam bowlers over the course of longer Test series. While Cummins played all five Tests during the 2019 Ashes, Josh Hazlewood, James Pattinson, Peter Siddle and Mitchell Starc were all rotated during that campaign.
Getting through five Tests in little more than six weeks against England marks his first physical challenge as skipper, while he could be in for more gruelling campaigns given Australia have a backlog of Test series to complete in the coming years having not sent their Test team abroad since the start of the pandemic.
Those physical demands are the main reason Test teams do not generally appoint fast bowlers as captain but Ponting stressed that's now of little importance.
"I don't think Pat will be thinking about what's happened the past, I don't think he'll be looking at other fast bowlers to have done it," said the 46-year-old.
"He'll do it his own way, and that's the way you have to do it anyway. As a leader you've got to put your own stamp on it.
"He'll have a really good understanding of what the team requires and what the team wants and what individual players want from their captain."
Ponting, a close friend to both Langer and Paine, suggested Cummins had played an important part in discussions with that pair (and white-ball captain Aaron Finch) earlier this year following rumblings of discontent within the dressing room.
"I'm hearing a lot of good things about how Pat's leadership has really shone through with some of the stuff around Justin and a lot of the conversations that happened there," said Ponting.
"There were some honest conversations with some of the senior players back towards Justin, I think that's been well documented.
"The way he handled himself and handled that whole situation was what you'd expect from a leader, and someone who can captain the country."