Why Pat Cummins is not your typical Australian captain

He is the first fast-bowling Australian captain since Ray Lindwall in 1956

PTI11_19_2023_001115A PTI

HE WAS NOT supposed to be the one lifting the World Cup in Ahmedabad. His team had spent a night at the bottom of the table early in the tournament, and his opposition in the final had breezed through unbeaten.

But he was also not supposed to captain Australia in the 2021-22 Ashes, when captain Tim Paine resigned over a sexting scandal. Australia won those Ashes 4-0.

That is Pat Cummins for you. Not only is he a fast-bowling Australian captain―the first since Ray Lindwall in 1956―he also breaks the mould of what an Aussie skipper should be. Or at least how the rest of the cricketing world sees one. They are supposed to be aggressive, ruthless, in-your-face, beer-guzzling, hard-nosed, sledging-for-pleasure “alpha males”. Not all of those qualities are negative in sport, and Cummins might even have some of them inside him. But, as captain, he has been composed, pragmatic, frank and professional.

Such was his dignified demeanour that a few players of the past have blasted him for being too soft. They have also criticised him for being too “woke” and taking up the issue of climate change. Cummins had pulled out of being in promotional material for Alinta Energy, the Australian team’s sponsor, for the last year of the multimillion-dollar deal, and had also launched a campaign to set up solar panels at Australia’s cricket clubs.

“I usually get ‘Captain Planet’,” he told The Sydney Morning Herald earlier this year. “A few mates say that. I don’t even know what ‘woke’ means. It popped up again with the Black Lives Matter stuff against the Windies when we took a knee. If anyone thinks that is a bad thing, that these five minutes out of our lives is the worst thing that can happen to them, we do not care.”

Another episode that made him a villain in the eyes of some past greats was the resignation of Justin Langer as coach. Apparently, it was a rift between a section of the senior players that had led Cricket Australia to coax him out of the job. There was a media storm, with fingers being pointed at CA and Cummins for disrespecting a legend. The captain, though, stayed with his convictions. “Just as you have always stuck up for your mates, I’m sticking up for mine,” he said in a statement, referring to the former players.

This bond shone through in the World Cup. Having been written off after two initial losses, he and the team kept their cool. They had, after all, won a Test in India, retained the Ashes in England and won the World Test Championship, all in this year.

At times the campaign looked shaky, with individual brilliance like Glenn Maxwell’s 201* against Afghanistan bailing them out. But, come the final, the Australians played a near perfect game, and Cummins’s leadership shone through. He gave overs to spinners Maxwell and Travis Head when he knew the Indians were not trying to attack, he cut off Suryakumar Yadav’s favourite area behind the stumps and his pacers bowled slow bouncers to him, and he brought himself on in the middle of the innings and got Virat Kohli.

But before all that, Cummins won the toss and chose to bowl, which not many were expecting. “If you get that call wrong and you lose the game, that is a huge decision to make for a relatively young captain,” former Australian captain Ricky Ponting said after the match. “I thought his leadership actually got better and better right through the tournament.”

After the final in Ahmedabad, there was a heartwarming clip on X showing Pat Cummins taking a photo of his team’s support staff holding the trophy. As one Indian user put it aptly, “At least we could hate Ricky Ponting.”