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Put some respect on Pat Cummins the captain’s name

Last updated on 17 Nov 2023 | 01:13 AM
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Put some respect on Pat Cummins the captain’s name

He is one win away from becoming one of the most successful Australian captains of all time

Steve Smith couldn’t bear to watch. Marnus Labuschagne was in disbelief. The South African players had their hands on their heads and the 45,000 in attendance let out a collective gasp. 

After curbing his instincts for no less than 37 balls, Mitchell Starc finally let his intrusive thoughts take over on the final ball of the 47th over of the chase.

At 211/7, needing just 2 more runs for victory, all Australia needed to do to get over the line was keep their composure and not do something silly. But as Aiden Markram invitingly tossed one up, Starc gave in and threw the kitchen sink at the ball, going for a wild slog across the line. 

Starc missed, but luckily for Australia, so did Markram. At this exact point, the tension inside the stadium was off the charts. 

However, amidst the madness and chaos, one man remained calm and nerveless, and let out a wide, beaming smile, seeing the funny side of the near-tragedy that was Starc’s attempted slog-sweep. 

Two balls later, the same man in question ever-so-coolly dispatched a wide delivery from Marco Jansen to book his country’s spot in the World Cup Final. 

Finishing the job off made it the third instance (in five months) of him looking at the concept of 'pressure' right in the eye and making a mockery of it, killing it with his unparalleled tranquility.

Cold as they come. Ice in his veins, as they say.

Just how lucky are Australia, that this man happens to be their captain?

Cummins’ strained relationship with ODI captaincy

On Sunday in Ahmedabad, Pat Cummins will become the sixth Australian captain to lead the country in a World Cup Final. However, it is hard to think of an Aussie skipper that’s been disparaged, denigrated and criticized more than what Cummins has been.

Cummins has officially been Australia’s ODI captain for just over a year now, and almost for the entire duration of his stint, he’s had to fight for acceptance. 

When he was announced as Aaron Finch’s successor back in October 2022, few — if any — believed that it was the right call. 

Cummins being the Test skipper made logical sense due to how influential he was in the format, but that was not the case in ODIs. At the time of him being named skipper, there were genuine doubts whether Cummins would actually fit into Australia’s best XI if they were to play two specialist spinners.

A few months later, in March this year, that question seemed to answer itself as Australia, led by Steve Smith in the absence of Cummins, waltzed India 2-1 in their own backyard.

March was probably when the clamoring for Cummins to be removed as ODI captain — replaced by Smith — was the loudest. And frankly, there was merit to the argument. 

Admittedly, though, Cummins had done absolutely no wrong up until that point, having captained in two ODIs and won both. And this talk was also fueled by recency bias as while Smith had led Australia to victory in the Indore Test and drew in Ahmedabad, the Kangaroos had lost both the Tests in which they were led by Cummins.

The IPL, The World Test Championship Final and The Ashes meant that uncomfortable conversations surrounding Cummins’ ODI captaincy got delayed for a good while but as Australia reeled at the very bottom of the World Cup table at the end of their second game, the pitchforks were out. 

It’s been some turnaround since then. Australia have won eight in a row, are in the final of the World Cup, and Cummins now has the opportunity to do something neither Ricky Ponting nor Michael Clarke managed to do, which is both win the World Cup AND retain the urn on English soil.

It speaks volumes of Cummins’ character and leadership that he’s managed to turn the tide around this drastically despite coming under unprecedented pressure, with his own countrymen clamoring for him to step down in the middle of the World Cup. 

With Cummins, the ice-cold persona we’re witnessing on the field is nothing but an extension of his off-field self, where he’s mastered the art of shutting out the outside noise, merely focusing on the task at hand. 

Believe it, it takes one tough character to stand strong against an entire army of former cricketers (The Clarkes and Haydens and Johnsons) who don’t like you because you stood with your teammates and spoke against the coaching methods of one of their dearest friends in Justin Langer. 

Leading by example (on all fronts)

Unquestionably, the injury to Ashton Agar has ended up organically solving a huge headache for Australia, and has prevented them from making really uncomfortable calls. Cummins is fortunate that way, for had Josh Hazlewood gotten the axe to accommodate Agar (though he is the better ODI bowler, just because Cummins is captain) , there would have been never-seen-before outrage. 

Agar’s absence has enabled the ‘Big Three’ to operate together and Cummins has consistently provided moments of inspiration with the ball, leading from the front.

Predominantly operating as a middle/ death-overs enforcer with the ball, Cummins’ ability to break partnerships has been second to none. 

In this World Cup, no bowler has broken more 50-run stands than Cummins, who’s done it a staggering five times (joint-best). On Thursday, his wicket of Gerald Coetzee (which broke a 53-run stand) significantly dented the Proteas, halting the momentum they’d gathered.

It’s not just the partnerships, though. It’s the magnitude of wickets Cummins has taken in this World Cup (and their timing). In the semi-final on Thursday, he accounted for the wicket of David Miller (101) with 16 balls still left in the innings. With his strike, he probably helped Australia shave off at least 25-30 runs. 

He picked up a similar game-defining wicket in Dharamshala against New Zealand (that of centurion Rachin Ravindra) and dismissed both the openers in quick succession in the Sri Lanka game after a 125-run opening stand. The wicket of Dawid Malan in Ahmedabad, meanwhile, was what set up the victory against England. 

Being a seamer that largely bowls outside the powerplay can be unforgiving but Cummins has been aided by two things: clear plans (clarity in thought) and the ability to execute the said plans.

Off-cutters into the surface have been Cummins’ go-to in this WC and they’ve worked like a charm. He’s taken 6 wickets bowling off-cutters and has averaged 15.8 while bowling the slower ones. In fact, he’s bowled more off-cutters (85) than any seamer in this World Cup. 

On Thursday, it was an off-cutter that helped him take the decisive wicket of Miller.

What the off-cutters have done is turn him into a ridiculously tough bowler to put away at the death. In this World Cup, Jasprit Bumrah is the only bowler to have bowled more death overs than Cummins at a better economy. 

Not a lot needs to be said about Cummins’ batting exploits in this World Cup but the skipper’s also been a gun on the field. He’s taken a couple of game-turning catches, the best of the lot being Babar Azam’s catch in Bangalore, where, stationed at short mid-wicket, he dove to his right to pluck a difficult chance. The catch of Quinton de Kock on Thursday, under extreme pressure, was also a superb grab, considering the circumstances. 

Cummins has a chance to become an all-time-great Aussie skipper

There are still many who have their reservations about Pat Cummins the captain (and understandably so, due to his defensive nature) but the fact is, he is one win away from becoming one of the most successful Australian captains of all time. 

Cummins is already the first Aussie skipper since Steve Waugh to win the Ashes at home and retain it away. He has already delivered the team a World Test Championship title. He’ll clinch the 50-over World Cup with a victory on Sunday and that will, without question, seal his legacy as one of the greatest Australian captains of all time, at least in terms of what he’s been able to achieve (relative to the time he’s been in charge of).

Regardless of what happens in Ahmedabad on Sunday, it’s time to put some respect on Pat Cummins the captain's name. 

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