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Pat Cummins has been named Australia’s 47th Test captain and will lead them to the ashes following Tim Paine’s resignation. There are a number of key challenges that he faces in the role.

The story of Australian bowling captains

Cummins is the first Australian fast bowler to captain the team since Ray Lindwall led them in a Test against India in 1956. Richie Benaud was the last frontline bowler of any description to lead Australia’s Test team with the leg-thrilling all-rounder as captain 28 times, the last of which was in 1963. Australia, as with the game as a whole, has had a preference for batting captains, although globally there have been many examples of bowling captains who have had success in the test arena. The most recent was Jason Holder, who led the West Indies 37 times, taking 100 wickets at 26.76 with seven five-wicket draws and a 10-wicket haul, not to mention his two test-hundred in that time, including 202 not out against England. Cummins himself acknowledged the challenge of being a bowling captain, which is why he prefers to have Steven Smith as his vice-captain.

“There are a few strangers more about having a bowling captain, and that’s why I think from the start I was absolutely determined to be the captain, to have someone like Steve as the vice captain next to me. ,” he said.

Lack of captain experience

Cummins has been a professional cricketer for more than a decade, playing 252 games 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 resounding recommendation for his brief captaincy on Thursday, and Cummins was unmoved by his lack of experience and being rushed into the role.

“I’ve been vice-captain for two or three years,” he said. “Even though I have not had too much experience as a captain, it was always in the back of my mind that this could show up at some point. Yes, it’s right at the start of an Ashes series, but I feel like I have been really well equipped. “

Workload management

When to bowl, how much to bowl, and more importantly, when to take yourself out of the attack, will undoubtedly be Cummins’ biggest challenge as a test captain. It was something that definitely challenged Andrew Flintoff, who was the talisman in England’s attack when he took the lead, just as Cummins is now. Flintoff struck himself 51 overs in an innings and 68 in a match after enforcing the follow-up against Sri Lanka at Lord’s in 2006 when he had a five-man attack at his disposal and the extra part-time support from Paul Collingwood. Cummins already has a game plan in place to mitigate such situations.

“I think it’s going to be one of the most important things I need to be aware of. And that’s why I want to lean on people like Steven, lots of senior guys around. I’m not out there alone. There There’s a lot of people leaning up. You know, David Warner is there, Nathan Lyon, Starcy, Joshy Hazlewood. There’s a lot of experience in the side. Sometimes I might have to listen to what they have to say. , more than I have to say to myself. “

There are also concerns that Cummins is captaining an era where bowlers are being rested and rotated for workload reasons, but this fear may be unfounded at Cummins. Despite the fact that he suffered several injuries and missed big chunks of cricket in the early part of his career since returning to the Test side in 2017, Cummins has played 33 out of 35 possible Test matches where he has only missed one tour , the two-test series against Pakistan in the UAE 2018. He has twice played all five tests in an Ashes series and completed three four-test series. Cummins believes he will only rest in limited-overs cricket and as a result, he is confident he is unlikely to captain Australia’s limited-overs team on a permanent basis.

Risk of too many cooks

A byproduct of Cummins’ role, inexperience, and desire for Smith to be his deputy could cause command problems. The vice captain has traditionally been a submissive role that requires subtle leadership and respect for the captain. Cummins made no secret of the fact that 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, especially when bowling. This will be a rare dynamic and requires very strong relationships and trust to work well.

“I think it could potentially look different than what you’ve seen partnerships work in the past,” Cummins said. “There will be times in the field where I throw to Steve and you will see Steve move fielders around and maybe make bowling shifts, take a little more of an elevated vice captain role and that’s what I really want, that’s it. asked, and I’m really glad Steve’s happy too. So we want to elaborate on exactly how it works, but it’s going to be a real collaborative approach. “

Expectation burden

Australia’s last two Test captains have been left in their post in disgrace. Smith has returned as vice-captain, but the irony of how it has arisen will be lost to very few. It is a worn-out joke in Australia that the test captain is considered the second highest office in the country, 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. seems, rightly or wrongly, to be higher based on the experiences of Smiths and Paine. The burden of perfection is already on Cummins’ shoulders, but he is prepared for what is to come.

“It does not worry me so much,” he said. “I know the role comes extra scrutiny. But for 10 or 11 years I’ve been playing for Australia in public. I’m not always going to get things right. I’m certainly not perfect. There will be things popping up. But. as long as I can sleep at night, I feel really good about the responsibility. “

Alex Malcolm is the Associate Editor at ESPNcricinfo

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