Fast bowler Pat Cummins was confirmed as Australia’s 47th Test captain on Friday, tasked with galvanising the team at short order before the Ashes amid the fall-out from Tim Paine’s resignation and decision to take a break from cricket.
Cummins will be supported by new vice-captain Steve Smith, who returns to a formal leadership role for the first time since losing the captaincy during the Newlands ball-tampering scandal in 2018.
As former skipper Paine’s vice-captain, Cummins was considered a shoo-in to replace the wicketkeeper, who on Friday stepped away from all cricket to take a ”mental health break” after damaging revelations of a ’sexting’ scandal.
However, the appointment is still remarkable given that Australia has almost always favoured batsmen as captains.
Cummins becomes only the second fast bowler to captain the side after Ray Lindwall, who led for one Test against India in the mid-1950s.
”There’s a couple of more unknowns about having a bowling captain and that’s why I think from the outset I was absolutely determined if I was captain to have someone like Steve as vice-captain next to me,” Cummins told reporters from the team’s Gold Coast base.
”I feel like I’ve got quite a lot of experience to draw on. I think a lot of the problems or potential issues around being a fast bowling captain, hopefully — I’m sure we’ll be able to work through.”
Popular, telegenic and amiable in public, Cummins becomes captain a decade after his sensational Test debut as an 18-year-old, when he took a seven-wicket match haul at the Wanderers to help beat South Africa.
He had to wait nearly six years for his next Test due to injuries but now tops the world’s Test bowling rankings.
The appointment of Cummins was hailed by former players and pundits but Smith’s promotion, coming three years after ’Sandpaper-gate’, did not sit well with some.
Smith served a 12-month ban from internationals and a two-year ban from leadership roles completed last year.
Former spinner Shane Warne was completely opposed to Smith’s promotion, saying it would invite ridicule.
”We need to go into the Ashes now with a clean slate, not open up old wounds,” Warne wrote in a column for News Corp.
Smith, sitting beside Cummins in a white team polo shirt, said he understood there would be ”negativity”.
”But for me, I know that I’ve grown a great deal over the last three or four years,” he said.
”I’m a more rounded individual, and in turn, I think it’s turned me into a better leader.
”I’m excited to be in this position next to Patrick.”
One of the duo’s first tasks will be to help selectors pick a wicketkeeper before the Ashes opener in Brisbane on Dec. 8.
The uncapped duo of Alex Carey and Josh Inglis, along with Matthew Wade, have been touted as potential replacements for Paine, whose international future is now in doubt.
From there, Cummins and Smith will need to work out quickly how they operate together on the field.
While taking the captaincy quicker than planned, Cummins has served something of an apprenticeship as New South Wales skipper in the domestic one-day competition.
Like Paine, who succeeded Smith after the Newlands scandal, Cummins has been described as a ”cleanskin” in the media, a poster boy who can help Australia move on from scandal.
Cummins said he was not entirely comfortable with such titles.
”I think that’s probably really hit home in the last few days, seeing Tim (Paine),” said Cummins.
”A lot of the pressure and the responsibility of being perfect is unreasonable. I think it’s too much to ask of anyone.
”I think we’ve got to be a bit kinder and a bit more a bit more understanding at times.”