Australian cricket heads into a new era following a tumultuous week
History of Australian bowling captains
“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
“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.”
“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.”
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