Brett Lee would make Steve Smith Australia’s Test captain again for the Ashes, saying that the role is “too hard” for a fast bowler, like Pat Cummins.
Cummins, Australia’s vice-captain and beloved poster boy of the team, is the raging favourite to be named as the successor of Tim Paine, who resigned in disgrace over a sexting scandal last week.
He would be the first bowler to captain Australia’s Test team since Richie Benaud in 1963, and the first quick since Ray Lindwall took his only match in charge in 1956.
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Speaking to foxsports.com.au this week, Australia pace legend Lee said Cummins has all the right attributes to be a great Test leader — but the impediment of being a fast bowler can’t be ignored.
“I’d go Steven Smith. I think Steven Smith has earnt his right to lead Australia again,” Lee said.
“Could Pat Cummins do it? 100 per cent he could do it and I think he’d do a good job because he’s got a great cricket brain, he’s got a real, real good image, he understands the fundamentals of cricket.
“But I don’t want to put pressure on Pat Cummins. Honestly, it’s too hard for a fast bowler.”
Lee pointed to the need for bowlers to rehydrate and reset mentally between overs as key reasons why the captaincy is not suited to the quicks.
While not a necessity, bowlers will typically field on the boundary when in rotation as that’s the easiest way to access fluids, speak to coaching staff and to relieve any mental fatigue.
The captain, meanwhile, typically features in the infield where they can talk to the bowler, wicketkeeper and umpire, and set fields more easily.
“If he’s going to have to bowl 20 overs a day in a Test match, how’s he going to get the hydration in? Is he going down to fine leg when he has to captain the team?” Lee said.
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“When you’re down at fine leg, that’s your three minutes to zone out. You sort of watch the game, of course, and field, but you can zone out and get your mind fresh again in order to go back in and bowl another four overs in that spell.
“So it’s taxing on the body, taxing on the mind when you’re looking after yourself. When you’ve got to look after another 10 players it’s a real, real tough job and that’s the reason why the last bowler to do it for Australia was Richie Benaud, who was a spinner.”
Speaking of Cummins, he added: “He could definitely do it. I’m not saying he’s not capable of doing it, I’m just saying I wouldn’t want to put pressure on the world’s No.1 bowler. I want Pat Cummins to take wickets for Australia.”
‘HE CAN GET THE BEST OUT’
Former Australia spinner and fellow Fox Cricket expert Kerry O’Keeffe, however, is of a different opinion.
O’Keeffe noted that there is a precedent for strong fast bowling leaders in the modern era — and that Cummins has recently provided evidence that he’s suited to juggling the captaincy with bowling.
“People say, ‘he’s a fast bowler’. But you look back and one of the most successful Test captains, who never gets mentioned, is Shaun Pollock from South Africa,” O’Keeffe said. “His win-loss ratio is incredible, yet he was taking the new ball for South Africa but orchestrating wins as well.
“And I see Pat Cummins doing a similar thing for Australia.”
He added: “I’d pick Pat Cummins because I think he’s a leader, I think he can get the best out of his team.
“I know he’s short of captaincy experience but he captained New South Wales in four One-Day matches last year and won four, and he contributed in each one, so it (the captaincy) may elevate his own performance.
“I’m loath to say he’s got the right image. He has a presence and people follow him, so I think he’ll do the job if he’s appointed.”
Drawn on the potential issue of fielding on the boundary, O’Keeffe said Cummins has proven himself as a sharp fielder at mid-on and mid-off and could keep himself close to the action.
Instead, he said the main issue would be the internal battle Cummins might have over whether he is bowling himself the right amount.
“That is the key because he’s such a strike weapon for Australia,” O’Keeffe said. “If the tail is there to be struck he has to bring himself on because he’s probably the most likely guy to do it, so he’ll wrestle with that.
“Overall, I think the players respect him, he knows the way to go, he’ll show the way to go and I think they’ll follow him.”