It’s hard to see how perfectly the rise of Australia’s Test captain has gone for Pat Cummins.
The way he got to work was anything but perfect – an emergency after an off-court scandal and the dismissal of his predecessor and friend Tim Paine.
This was part of the task just before the ashes – the most feverish part of Australia’s cricket calendar. Had his series started badly, he could have crashed and burned.
Instead, Cummins has led a series victory – and ensured the retention of the ashes – in 12 days of play, where he himself bowled beautifully while bringing his other bowlers to perfection.
Lots of factors have voted in his favor. He has mostly bowled on cool days and lively surfaces, unlike other Australian summers. Due to his team’s dominance, he has only had to send 58.1 overs down in the two games he has played.
Even the match he missed while sitting out in Adelaide after a Covid-19 scare has given him a break during a tightly packed series, without him having to make a choice as to whether or not to take one. He returned fresh and fresh to Melbourne.
Of course, there will be far more difficult days. When a batting team is at the top and he is captain while he is in his sixth inning after 150 overs in the field, the load will come. But so far, none of the concerns that a bowler is too tired or distracted to make captain decisions have been realized.
Throughout his career to date, a key characteristic of Cummins has been that he remains calm during the game. He moans and does not get annoyed when he beats the bat. He is not drawn into quarrels with batteries. He does not stand up to claim injustice from the hands of the judges. He goes back and bowls the next ball.
This is demonstrated in the process that Cummins has initiated to send decisions to the third judge. Lots of bowlers will insist to their captain that any referee refusal should immediately go upstairs and Cummins as captain could turn around and fire the T-sign every time his appeal is rejected.
In England’s second round in Melbourne, as he nailed a ball back that thundered into Haseeb Hameed’s pad, he had a measured conversation with his wicketkeeper Alex Carey and Steve Smith on the slip, and then continued to bowl. He can remain separate from his work in a way that few others do.
His bowling shift has been excellent. When Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Starc were on the team in Brisbane, he did not let the ego dictate that he should use the new ball, and handed it to them instead. Since Starc has been stubborn, Cummins has quickly replaced him and then chosen good moments to bring him back.
The last night in Melbourne, he and Starc bowled in tandem like a dream, reducing England to 22-2 over 10 overs. With two overs left in the fading light, the obvious thing would have been to continue.
Instead, he picked up his Melbourne specialist, Scott Boland, confident that the local player did not need an adjustment period to hit the right length on that pitch. Boland duly took two wickets in three balls, but sealed all of England’s fate the following day.
Everything we have seen so far suggests that Cummins is very ready for the task as a leader and tactician on the field as well as politically off the field. He has the tools to embark on shaping a very successful era.
The more difficult challenges begin soon. Australian teams have a generally bad record in Asia and in 2022 this team will play nine Test matches there. This is likely to involve more of the long hot fruitless days in the field, on surfaces that do not help fast bowlers.
But given the way Cummins hit a sleepy pitch in Ranchi when he returned for Test cricket against India in 2017, you would not put it past him to find a way to succeed.
If he can stay calm on the field and keep making good decisions, he might also be the captain to lead his team to success.