Tim Paine’s Test career was on a thin rope and yesterday he declared of taking an indefinite mental health break from the game which means he is unavailable for the start of the Ashes and raised the prospect that he played his last Test.

When Paine resigned the captaincy a week ago, the Cricket Australia board said he remained available for selection as a player and Paine himself restated his desire to face England despite the fallout.

Cricket Australia declared their new captain and vice-captain for the upcoming Ashes and for the first time in 65 years, Cummins would be the first specialist fast bowler to captain Australia’s men’s Test side since Ray Lindwall served the role in one match in 1956. Medium-pace all-rounders Monty Noble and Jack Ryder captained the side in the early 1900s.

“I am honoured to accept this role ahead of what will be a massive Ashes summer.  I hope I can provide the same leadership Tim (Paine) has given the group in the past few years,” said Cummins.

“With Steve and I as captains, a number of very senior players in this squad and some great young talent coming through we are a strong and tightly-knit group.”

“This is an unexpected privilege which I am very grateful for and am very much looking forward to.”

“I think there’s a couple of more unknowns about having a bowling captain and that’s why from the outset I was absolutely determined if I was captain to have someone like Steve as vice-captain next to me. I feel like I’ve got quite a lot of experience to draw on. A lot of the problems or potential issues around being a fast-bowling captain I’m sure we’ll be able to work through.”

“Obviously, it’s not our decision who is captain and vice-captain. I made it pretty clear that if I was given the captaincy that this is how I saw the team running and I tried to bring Steve along for that as well. He’s so central to how I see my captaincy style but [also] how I see the team functioning.”

Cummins said, “There’s going to be times where I’m out in the middle, it’s a hot day, I’m in the middle of a spell and I need to turn to people for advice, for tactics, for experience and that’s the main reason, one of the big reasons why I wanted Steve to be vice-captain. How does that look? I think it potentially could look differently to [how] you’ve seen partnerships work in the past. I think that will remain pretty fluid.”

“A 22-degree day might look differently to a 40-degree day. There will be times on the field where I’ll throw to Steve and you’ll see Steve move 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 is happy with that as well. We’ll nut out exactly how that works, but it’s going to be a real collaborative approach. Steve has got such huge strength especially around tactically out on the field.”

Smith, whose captaincy tenure came to an unseemly end in 2018, has been backed to take the reins in the absence of Cummins when needed.

Smith admitted that his return to a leadership role may not be universally accepted.

“I think there will be some negativity from some people about it. I understand that and I get that. But for me, I know that I’ve grown a great deal over the last three or four years. I’m a more rounded individual and in turn, I think it’s turned me into a better leader.”

“We are also great friends, as is the whole group.  As a team, we want to play good, positive cricket and also really enjoy each other’s company. They are exciting times ahead as we focus on the Ashes and beyond.”

“I’m completely guided by Patrick and whatever he needs on the field,” Smith said.

“If there are times when Patrick hands to me and wants me to take over and do some different things out on the field I’m there for that. My job is to support Patrick as much as I can.”

“Pat is an outstanding player and leader. He has earned enormous respect from his teammates and from all corners of the game for his attitude and achievements, both on and off the field,” Cricket Australia chief Nick Hockley said.

“We are extremely fortunate to have an experienced group of senior players who themselves are superb leaders. I have no doubt that Pat and Steve will be well supported in their respective leadership roles.”

Ricky Ponting endorsed the decision of investing faith in a fast bowler as the skipper.

Ponting suggested Cummins’ reputation among fellow leaders had increased earlier this year during tough conversations with Justin Langer amid feedback from players on his coaching methods.

Among pacemen, only Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad have bowled more overs in Test cricket than Cummins since his return from injury in 2017, and would likely have eclipsed them had Australia played as many games as England.

Cummins has missed just two Tests out of Australia’s 35 across that period and long spells became commonplace under previous captain Tim Paine, who turned to his leading quick for seven- and eight-over spells when Australia desperately sought victory against India last summer during the final two Tests.

Ponting said, “There were times I reckon last summer when they just had to keep bowling Pat. In Sydney and Brisbane, there were long spells when he looked the most likely to get wickets.”

“The only concern I have is if it’s the same again, where Pat’s the standout fast bowler, is he going to keep bowling himself? Because the team is going to need it, or will he be worried about what people are going to think if he just keeps himself on the whole time?”

“That’s where vice captain’s role is really important in this whole thing because it might go the other way that he doesn’t bowl himself enough because he’s getting physically tired.”

“But sometimes you need someone to push you or direct you, and that’s where I think the vice-captain is going to be important.”

Regarding Smith Ponting said, “We’ve all made mistakes. We all said at the time it was a severe penalty for all those guys – and it had to be, that’s the way it was at the time. But it’s a long time ago now.”

“He’s played some great cricket since then and has not stepped a foot wrong with anything he’s done in his life since then.”

“So as far as I’m concerned, if Cricket Australia think it’s okay, then I’m not surprised they have given him the job.”

While Cummins has been Australia’s ironman after overcoming early struggles with his body, fast bowling remains a risky profession.

Even if he manages to avoid injury, Australia have previously looked to rotate their seam bowlers over the course of longer Test series. While Cummins played all five Tests during the 2019 Ashes, Josh Hazlewood, James Pattinson, Peter Siddle and Mitchell Starc were all rotated during that campaign.

Getting through five Tests in little more than six weeks against England marks his first physical challenge as skipper, while he could be in for more gruelling campaigns given Australia have a backlog of Test series to complete in the coming years of having not sent their Test team abroad since the start of the pandemic.

Those physical demands are the main reason Test teams do not generally appoint fast bowlers as captain but Ponting stressed that’s now of little importance.

“I don’t think Pat will be thinking about what’s happened in the past, I don’t think he’ll be looking at other fast bowlers to have done it,” said Ponting.

“He’ll do it his own way, and that’s the way you have to do it anyway. As a leader, you’ve got to put your own stamp on it.”

“He’ll have a really good understanding of what the team requires and what the team wants and what individual players want from their captain.”

Ponting, a close friend to both Langer and Paine, suggested Cummins had played an important part in discussions with that pair (and white-ball captain Aaron Finch) earlier this year following rumblings of discontent within the dressing room.

“I’m hearing a lot of good things about how Pat’s leadership has really shone through with some of the stuff around Justin and a lot of the conversations that happened there,” said Ponting.

“There were some honest conversations with some of the senior players back towards Justin, I think that’s been well documented.”

“The way he handled himself and handled that whole situation was what you’d expect from a leader, and someone who can captain the country.”

The Australians are a professional unit and are well drilled regarding the management of workload and burden of expectations. He would have a system to support him while the rest depends on how he acts on the field as a captain – especially, during the crucial phases of a match when a lot depends on the smart moves of the skipper.


Note: Inputs from ICC, ESPN and cricket.com.au

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