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Pat Cummins captaincy talking points: going against history, when to bowl and learning on the run

Australian cricket heads into a new era following a tumultuous week

Alex Malcolm
Alex Malcolm
Pat Cummins admitted he may need to listen to advice on when to bowl himself  •  Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images

Pat Cummins admitted he may need to listen to advice on when to bowl himself  •  Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images

Pat Cummins has been named Australia's 47th Test captain and will lead them in the Ashes after the resignation of Tim Paine. There are a number of key challenges that he is set to face in the role.
History of Australian bowling captains
Cummins is the first Australia fast bowler to captain the team since Ray Lindwall led them in one Test against India in 1956. Richie Benaud was the last frontline bowler of any description to lead Australia's Test team with the legspinning allrounder captaining 28 times, the last of which was in 1963. Australia, as with the game as a whole, have had a preference for batting captains although globally there have been many examples of bowling captains having success in the Test match arena. The most recent being Jason Holder who led West Indies 37 times, taking 100 wickets at 26.76 with seven five-wicket hauls and a 10-wicket haul, not to mention his two Test hundreds in that time, including 202 not out against England. Cummins himself acknowledged the challenge of being a bowling captain, hence his preference to have Steven Smith as his vice-captain.
"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," he said.
Lack of captaincy experience
Cummins has been a professional cricketer for over a decade and played 252 matches across all three formats, but the extent of his captaincy experience is just four 50-over Marsh Cup games for New South Wales last season. Nathan Lyon gave Cummins a ringing endorsement for his brief captaincy spell on Thursday and Cummins was unfazed by his lack of experience and being rushed into the role.
"I've been vice-captain for two or three years," he said. "Although I haven't had too much experience as captain it was always in the back of the mind that this might pop up at some stage. Yeah, it's right at the start of an Ashes series, but I feel like I've been really well equipped."
Workload management
When to bowl, how much to bowl, and more importantly when to take himself out of the attack will be arguably Cummins' greatest challenge as a Test captain. It was something that certainly challenged Andrew Flintoff who was the talisman in England's attack when he took over the captaincy much like Cummins is now. Flintoff bowled himself 51 overs in an innings and 68 in a match after enforcing the follow-on against Sri Lanka at Lord's in 2006, when he had a five-man attack at his disposal and the added part-time support of Paul Collingwood. Cummins has a game plan in place already to mitigate against such situations.
"I think that's going to be one of the main things that I have to be aware of. And that's why I'll be leaning on people like Steven, plenty of senior guys around. I'm not out there by myself. There's plenty of people lean on. You know, David Warner's there, Nathan Lyon, Starcy, Joshy Hazlewood. There's a lot of experience in the side. Sometimes I might need to listen to what they've got to say more than what I've got to say myself."
There are also concerns about Cummins being captain in an era of bowlers being rested and rotated for workload management reasons but those fears may be unfounded with Cummins. Despite the fact he suffered multiple injuries and missed large chunks of cricket in the early part of his career, since returning to the Test side in 2017 Cummins has played 33 of a possible 35 Test matches, missing only one tour, the two-Test series against Pakistan in the UAE 2018. He has twice played all five Tests of an Ashes series and completed three four-Test series. Cummins believes he will only rest in limited-overs cricket and as a result, is comfortable that he is unlikely to captain Australia's limited-overs teams on a permanent basis.
Risk of too many chefs
A byproduct of Cummins' role, inexperience, and desire for Smith to be his deputy could cause issues in terms of the chain of command. The vice-captain has traditionally been a subservient role requiring subtle leadership and deference to the captain. Cummins made no secret of the fact he wants to be a collaborative captain and wants Smith to be prepared to step in to make tactical decisions while Cummins is out on the field, particularly when he is bowling. This will be a rare dynamic and requires very strong relationships and trust to work well.
"I think it potentially could look different to what you've seen partnerships work in the past," Cummins said. "There'll be times in the field where I'll throw to Steve and you'll see Steve moving fielders around maybe doing bowling changes, taking a bit more of an elevated vice-captaincy role and that's what I really want, that's what I've asked and I'm really glad Steve's happy with that as well. So we'll nut out how exactly that works, but it's going to be a real collaborative approach."
Burden of expectation
Australia's last two Test captains have been left their post in ignominy. Smith has returned as vice-captain but the irony of how it has come about will be lost on very few. It is a well-worn joke in Australia that the Test captain is regarded as the second-highest office in the land, but the reality is that there is often more reverence for the Test captain than the Prime Minister and the moral standards in some ways appear, rightly or wrongly, to be higher based on the experiences of Smith and Paine. The burden of perfection is already on the shoulders of Cummins but he is prepared for what it is to come.
"That doesn't worry me too much," he said. "I know with the role comes added scrutiny. But for 10 or 11 years I have been playing for Australia in the public eye. I won't always get things right. I'm certainly not perfect. There's going to be things that pop up. But as long as I can sleep at night I'm really comfortable with the responsibility."

Alex Malcolm is an Associate Editor at ESPNcricinfo