Pat Cummins is as curious as everyone else in Australian cricket about whether he can be the first significant fast-bowler captain in the system for nearly 30 years, and has indicated his eagerness to lead New South Wales if granted the opportunity over the coming weeks now he’s available after the postponement of the South Africa Test tour.
Not since Geoff Lawson was a successful and hugely influential captain of NSW in the early 1990s – bowing out after a narrow defeat in the 1992 Sheffield Shield final – has an outright paceman gained the opportunity, and fast-bowling captains of Australia are rarer still.
However, amid the current leadership vacuum in Australian cricket, with the Test captain Tim Paine and white-ball captain Aaron Finch both far closer to the end of their careers than the beginning, steadily more conversations are turning towards gaining leadership experience for the likes of Cummins, Alex Carey and Marnus Labuschagne. While Peter Nevill is ensconced as NSW skipper, state selection and Board discussions have already turned towards finding ways for Cummins to have the chance to lead.
“Absolutely – at the moment I haven’t got too much experience at all, just a couple of warm-up games in England and other than that it’s Under-16s cricket when I last captained. So for sure it’s something that’s going to be more on the radar,” Cummins told ESPNcricinfo. “Even to increase my experience as vice-captain if I ever need to step in or help out Painey or Finchy, I think it is something I’d like to have a crack at to find out either way, whether I enjoy it, whether I’m no good at it or whether I find it manageable.”
Reflecting on how his own routines would need to change as a fast-bowler captain, Cummins said that a tendency to move a gear or two down on the mental focus scale when not bowling would need to be altered, with experience the only way to determine whether this would be a “small step or a big step” for him.
“I think that would be the big one, at times, just the nature of not having to totally switch on, you take the opportunity to switch off,” Cummins said. “That’d probably be the biggest change, but whether that’s a dealbreaker or not, I’d have to try it first I think. Naturally you try to stay pretty involved in a game, so always thinking about the game in the background. Just taking that extra step to be a decision-maker, it might be a small step or a big step, but keen to give it a crack and see how it goes.
“Just because someone is captain doesn’t mean they’re not allowed to lean on other resources, and something about my teams, whether it’s NSW or the Aussie team, there are lots of experienced guys there who’ve played a lot of cricket. Of course you’ve got specialised coaches in the sheds who you spend a lot of time with, so you’re certainly not out there by yourself, like all leaders you’ve got to delegate at certain times, give certain people certain roles. I’m sure you could find a way if you have to.”
Lawson spoke recently about how he felt that Cummins was more than capable of making the jump to leadership. “He’s an intelligent guy, he’s got a business degree during his injuries, he’s had the discipline to study and use his brain not his body,” Lawson told the Young Witness this week. “He’s the vice-captain, if they make you the vice-captain surely that means if the captain is unavailable he’s the new captain. I’m not sure why they’d bring someone else in.
“People have done it before, just not very often Australia. If you’re going to do it, Cummins is the guy. He ticks the boxes except the fact he hasn’t captained other cricket teams. They don’t have a chance in today’s environment. I have no doubt Cummo would make a super captain.”
The decision not to go to South Africa has opened up a vast array of domestic cricket options for players previously set to spend a month in a Test match bubble, and Cummins did not hide his happiness at the opportunity to play with the Blues. “We’ve got to work through that, over the next 24 hours or so we’ll get a final schedule and work it out,” he said. “The intention is of course to play for NSW. I’m not sure I’ll play every game, but we’ll map out a bit of a plan, and still not sure whether that’s Shield or one-dayers, probably a combination of both.”
As for the now gaping hole in Cummins’ Test schedule, where if Australia do not make a fortuitous appearance in the World Test Championship final they will play no more long-form games between now and December, he said while it was still a bit to get his head around, he had no doubt the South Africa scenario was too risky.
“It’s strange isn’t it, maybe an Afghanistan Test next, but that’s still November or December, so you’re talking 10 or 11 months way, so it’s crazy,” Cummins said. “At the start of this summer before the first Test I thought ‘I haven’t played a Test in 10 months, this is probably as fresh as I’ll ever be going into a Test series, and now we’ve got another 10-month break.
“It’s the way it is unfortunately, especially for the guys who only play Tests as their main format for Australia, it’s a long layoff. Hopefully we can get a World Cup and a few other tournaments in, but it is certainly strange. We’ve just come off a great series versus India and we won’t get another chance for another nine or 10 months to have another crack at it.
“For a lot of people it didn’t seem right that if worst came to worst you had to leave some players behind over there with no certain way of getting home or things like that. They were all considerations. Us players, along with CA, were absolutely comfortable with going to South Africa if it was able to happen and all those kinds of questions were able to be answered. But unfortunately it’s the middle of a pandemic and too much risk to head over there.”
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig
ESPN Sports Media Ltd.