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ESPNcricinfo Awards 2023 Captain of the Year: Pat Cummins rules over them all

Australia's captain had a year of the sort that few can even dream about

Alex Malcolm
Alex Malcolm
20-Feb-2024
Pat Cummins has a glut of trophies in his cabinet, all accumulated over the course of last year  •  Alex Davidson/ICC/Getty Images

Pat Cummins has a glut of trophies in his cabinet, all accumulated over the course of last year  •  Alex Davidson/ICC/Getty Images

Tests: P11 W5 L4 D2
ODIs: P13 W10 L3
If Cummins captained any other nation to a World Test Championship, an ODI World Cup, and a 2-2 draw against a white-hot England in England, he would be a demigod. Yet, in Australia, it took a while for some people to grasp the sheer gravity of what he achieved in 2023.
It will be a curiosity for historians and sociologists decades from now. But what he has done is defy all conventional wisdom that fast bowlers can't be successful captains, having led Australia to two world titles in two separate formats in the same year.
His year began in difficult circumstances. Australia were humbled in the first two Tests in India before he returned home from the tour to be with his dying mother. His vice-captain, Steven Smith, took over and led the team to victory in Indore and a draw in Ahmedabad, which prompted questions from some quarters about Cummins' future in the role.
But he returned reinvigorated in England, where Australia walloped India in the WTC final. Cummins then carried his team on his back at Edgbaston in the first Ashes Test. Despite criticism in England and at home about defensive field settings, he made 38 with the bat and then took four wickets with the ball to keep Australia in touch before steering them home in a fourth-innings chase with a nerveless 44 not out.
He weathered further storms at Lord's, where his integrity was questioned over a legitimate if controversial dismissal, Jonny Bairstow's stumping, to lead his side to another win, despite Nathan Lyon's series-ending injury and another mind-bending innings from Ben Stokes.
But his captaincy faced its sternest tests at Headingley, Old Trafford and The Oval, as Australia gave up a 2-0 series lead to draw the series despite chances to win in two of the last three games. It again led to some questions about his long-term position.
More queries were raised when he entered the World Cup having only captained in four ODIs before the event. Australia then lost their first two matches. But from there his leadership grew in stature and his credentials increased with every win, culminating in a tactical masterclass in Ahmedabad to defy all odds and win the title against India.
He finished the year winning the first two Tests against Pakistan to seal a home series win, having become only the second Australia captain behind Allan Border to take ten wickets in a match at the MCG, and passed 250 Test wickets in the process.

Key moment

When the coin fell his way in the ODI World Cup final, it was assumed Cummins would take the age-old route of runs on the board and opt to bat first. His decision to instead bowl first was truly shocking. It was the biggest gamble of his tenure. If it went wrong, he would have been derided for the rest of his days. Instead, it was a legacy-defining moment. He looked two steps ahead of India with every move he made. His bowlers and fielders backed up the plans to perfection. It was a showcase of top-shelf tactical nous in every sense. The type only the great captains in the history of cricket are responsible for. Australia marched to victory on the back of a Travis Head century, but their captain had set the game up. He joined Border, Steve Waugh, Ricky Ponting (twice) and Michael Clarke as Australia's male ODI World Cup-winning captains.

The numbers

45.47 Cummins' bowling strike rate in Tests in 2023, when he took 42 wickets. Only Imran Khan has more wickets at a better strike rate as captain in a calendar year.
1 Number of captains to win a World Test Championship and an ODI World Cup.

What they said

"You look at their overall Test record since he's been captain, it's outstanding. And now he's a World Cup-winning captain, a World Test Championship-winning captain and a captain who retained the Ashes, so that negativity needs to be put aside now. He thoroughly deserves every plaudit that comes his way as far as leadership is concerned. "
- Ricky Ponting, former Australia captain

The closest contender

Rohit Sharma
Rohit led his side to a home series win over Australia, an Asia Cup title, a World Test Championship final, and an ODI World Cup final. But they were twice beaten by Australia and Cummins in the key moments at The Oval and in Ahmedabad.

Alex Malcolm is an associate editor at ESPNcricinfo