‘I hate this – I’ve made a mistake’: Pat Cummins’ controversial year as Australian captain
By Andrew Webster
Pat CumminsCredit:Louie Douvis
Pat Cummins was one spell into the Australian captaincy when he wondered if his eyes had been too big for his belly.
He’d been thrust into the job after Tim Paine’s shock resignation because of a sexting scandal then days later shovelled into the furnace of the first Ashes Test at the Gabba in Brisbane in December 2021.
Considered debate had bubbled along for a year or so about Cummins and whether a fast bowler should take on the captaincy, something that hadn’t happened since Ray Lindwall – in one Test – in 1956. Even such a respected figure as Allan Border was adamant he shouldn’t do it, fearing the added burden would hurt his standing as the world’s No.1 bowler.
As Cummins left the field for lunch that day, he wondered if Border was right.
“I hate this,” he thought to himself. “I think I’ve made a mistake.”
As Cummins recalls now: “That first spell was terrible. I didn’t bowl particularly well. My mind was worried about field placements and other things. Then I bowled another spell, and I was fine. But it made me understand why other people thought I shouldn’t take the captaincy on.”
Those two hours represent the last known time Pat Cummins doubted himself. He took five wickets in the first innings, and a further two in the second, as Australia wiped England within four days before retaining the Ashes later that summer. Since then, he’s led his country in away series against Pakistan and Sri Lanka, against the West Indies and South Africa at home, and is yet to suffer series defeat as skipper.
Pat Cummins stands by his views on climate change, even though his popularity has suffered.Credit:Louie Douvis
The 29-year-old has needed an unshakeable belief in himself after being caught in a maelstrom of angry and irrational commentary about his thoughts on climate change.
Cummins has issued two denials that he pressured Cricket Australia chief executive Nick Hockley into abandoning a sponsorship deal with energy company Alinta because of its carbon footprint. So did CA. An Alinta spokesperson confirmed on Friday: “The end of our sponsorship was finalised and announced months before the recent reports. They had no bearing on our decision.”
‘I don’t even know what ‘woke’ means. If anything, some people would say it’s a good thing. It’s a label, it means nothing. You declare, you’re woke. You don’t declare, you’re woke.′
And still it’s not enough for some, although that barely surprises. Once the genie is out of the bottle, especially on a topic such as climate change, the narrative becomes impossible to rein in.
One Sky News presenter called him a “climate catastrophist clown” with “far-left views”. On social media, he was branded “Captain Woke”, the catch-all phrase many people toss out in the absence of an actual argument, about anything.
The most absurd accusations came during the rain-affected Sydney Test earlier this month when, chasing an improbable victory, he was branded “woke” for leaving Usman Khawaja stranded on 195.
“I usually get ‘Captain Planet’,” Cummins laughs. “A few mates say that. I don’t even know what ‘woke’ means. If anything, some people would say it’s a good thing. It’s a label, it means nothing. You declare, you’re woke. You don’t declare, you’re woke. It popped up again with the Black Lives Matter stuff against the Windies when we took a knee. If anyone thinks that’s a bad thing, that these five minutes out of our lives is the worst thing that can happen to them, we do not care.”
Cummins tells me this outside the Clovelly Hotel in Sydney’s eastern suburbs, not far from where he lives. I’d interviewed him at this same venue in 2017 when he was making his way back from the stress fractures in his back that had plagued the start of his career.
Pat Cummins during his comeback in 2017.Credit:AP
At that point, barely a negative word had been spoken or written about Cummins. The caricature that’s been painted of him in the past year barking at Hockley about sponsorship, or demanding that Justin Langer be sacked, is certainly at odds with the man I met that day.
But people can turn, especially someone as bombastic as broadcaster Alan Jones, who was once one of Cummins’ great supporters.
In August 2020, Cummins appeared via Skype on Jones’ now-defunct Sky News program. “Well, a bit of cricket royalty,” Jones fawned in his introduction. “People are saying he’s the next in line to captain Australia. Knowing him as I do, he’s the last person who will be thinking about that …”
In October 2022, on his YouTube channel, Jones skewered Cummins, telling him that he was “wrong” on climate and that “he should keep his political views to himself”.
“I kind of know him,” Cummins says of the veteran broadcaster. “I met him a few times and he was a supporter, he helped me out in my younger years, but I haven’t talked to him in quite a while.”
Cummins doesn’t watch Sky News – “I don’t think many do,” he laughs – nor does he buy into the commentary about him. That doesn’t make it any easier to understand.
Cummins critic Allan Jones.Credit:Kate Geraghty
“In my 12 years in the Australian team, I’ve seen 10 instances when players don’t want to be involved with things like KFC, or they don’t drink alcohol, or they’ve done an ad three years in a row for a sponsor and they think it’s a bit cheeky asking for a fourth year.”
For example, he talks about leg-spinner Adam Zampa, who is vegan.
“If they made ‘Zamps’ eat chicken at a KFC, is he going to get hounded?” Cummins asks. “Just eat a chicken! Just eat a chicken! Some of these things, I’m passionate about. I don’t think it’s irrational. I don’t think I shout it from the rooftops. In the climate space, I’ve tried to change a few things in my life. It’s a really divisive topic – and I can’t understand why. We’ve all got one planet, if you think you can do one thing better, that’s a good thing. Doesn’t mean you have to live in a cabin in the woods to care about the environment.”
There’s certainly a feeling that CA and Hockley hung Cummins out to dry by not defending him over the Alinta scandal.
“I’ve sometimes wondered, ‘Do I get on the front foot and explain myself and get frustrated that it’s not entirely correct? Or do I just spend my life doing that?’” he says. “If you did that, you’d never get out of the bed in the morning. I know who I am.”
Cummins’ climate position became a talking point at the same time Australian netballers supported Indigenous player Donnell Wallam, who didn’t want to wear the logo of Gina Rinehart’s Hancock Prospecting because of racist comments made by her late father.
A few weeks later, a handful of Socceroos players distributed a video supporting the LGBT community before playing in the FIFA World Cup in Qatar, where homosexuality is illegal.
Cummins was accused of leading a player revolt against former coach Justin Langer.Credit:Getty
It followed Langer’s resignation after CA offered him a six-month contract extension following a reported player revolt against him.
The concept of “player activism” and “player power” have been topics of debate ever since, even if athletes have had opinions on issues important to them for decades and bringing down coaches even longer.
Surely, there’s a line, though?
“Players should have a voice, they’re real partners in what sport they’re playing,” Cummins insists. “These aren’t black-and-white topics.”
And what of Langer? Did player power scalp him as many, including Langer himself suggested in a podcast, have claimed?
“So far from the truth,” he says. “This was a high-performance decision, a CEO decision. We weren’t part of the decision process at all … We’re constantly being reviewed, and I did what I thought was best for the team and Australian cricket. If that’s my North Star, that will determine every decision I make. I can sleep at night knowing I went about it the right way.”
Amazon’s second season of The Test provides a fascinating insight into the inner workings of the Australian team, including the tumultuous departures of Paine and Langer within four months. The viewer is left with the impression the team is content and that Cummins has seamlessly slipped into the captaincy.
Most Australian Test captains eventually impose their personality on their teams, perhaps none more than Steve Waugh. During the 2019 Ashes series, Cummins discussed the art of captaincy with him.
“He said to get out of the way and let the bowlers shine,” Cummins recalls. “I asked when to make big fielding changes and he said the bowlers know what fields they want most of the time. If you don’t give it to them, they get angry anyway. I’m just trying to keep things simple. Over the last 12 months, I’ve stripped away some of the things that have been done in the past, just for the sake of being done. Extra meetings, extra training sessions …”
Cummins has weathered heavy criticism while captaining a side that hasn’t lost a series — so what happens if it starts to lose in the next four months?
Australia meet India next month with the first Test in Nagpur starting February 9. The team then heads to the UK for a likely appearance in the ICC Test Championship Final at The Oval in June before the Ashes series starts later that month.
“I could go from being captain of the best Aussie team to the worst,” he smiles. “These are the biggest 10 Tests you’ll ever play in your career and we’re doing it in the next four months.”
On the day we met, Cummins wasn’t aware that England captain Ben Stokes been named ICC Test captain of the year, doubtless because of the all-out attacking mindset used by England.
Will Cummins join the “Bazball” revolution?
“I don’t think so,” he smiles. “I’ll never change for the sake it.”
That much is clear.
Sports news, results and expert commentary. Sign up for our Sport newsletter.
Most Viewed in Sport
Source: Read Full Article