Cricket legends are split on whether Pat Cummins remains the right man for the captaincy long-term but Ricky Ponting is among those strongly throwing their support behind the Aussie skipper.
Under Cummins’ watch Australia has ensured it will return from England with the urn but his tactics have been regularly scrutinised throughout the series.
Former Victorian state captain Darren Berry has been among the biggest critics, suggesting Cummins will relinquish the captaincy at the end of this Ashes series.
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Australian legend Mark Waugh didn’t go that far, but also suggested Cummins’ long-term credentials were debatable, describing the skipper as “frazzled” in recent Tests.
“I think in India we saw Pat struggle in a couple of Test matches, and then in this series, I think he struggled in nearly every Test match,” Waugh said on Fox Cricket’s Ashes Preview Show ahead of the first Test.
“We’ve got a bit lucky leading this series 2-1. We probably should have lost Edgbaston and we probably would have lost Old Trafford so that makes it 3-1 if things go normally.
“I just think he’s looked tired. He’s looked frazzled. It’s affecting his bowling, his captaincy, it’s affecting his fielding. He dropped catches and you don’t want that from potentially the best cricketer in your team.
“So I think moving forward they’re going to have to think long and hard about this. Is Pat Cummins the right man for the long-term captaincy? Because when it’s tough I don’t think he is. I think he’s OK when it’s easy and he doesn’t have to think too much, but it’s a real question mark.”
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Glenn McGrath also questioned whether the job was taking its toll on Cummins’ performances.
“Pat Cummins just looks a little bit tired and jaded to me, and that was always a risk of having a fast bowler as captain,” McGrath told BBC Test Match Special.
“It’s one of those things; it’s about momentum, it’s about energy. England’s got the momentum now, and it’s always hard to steal it back off the team that has it, especially when they’re playing well.”
Tim Paine, the man Cummins replaced as Australian captain, echoed the sentiments but disagreed with Berry’s suggestion the current skipper would step down.
“I know it’s not correct. I’d be staggered if he steps down,” Paine said on SEN Tassie Breakfast.
“… But what worries me, not just about Pat but also with ‘Starcy’ (Mitchell Starc) going into the fifth Test, is they both look really tired.
“Not just looking at them with their body language, I thought the speeds of their bowling (were an issue). When Patty is bowling low 130s (km/h), I think that’s a concern. Starcy had something wrong with his shoulder from diving, there was talk he might have had a sore hamstring.
“The next Test match is so crucial, you would want both of those fit. When it’s starting on Thursday, it is a concern. Pat is going to play his sixth Test in six or seven weeks which is a huge workload just for a bowler alone, but then you put on top of that the mental stress and fatigue of captaining a side in a big series and the scrutiny he’s under every day. It’s probably something he hasn’t had to deal with so far in his Test career.
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“He is obviously a huge key for us winning the fifth Test but we need him at his absolute best. When he can’t get a rest, he can’t get away from it, it’s difficult for him both physically and mentally.”
Former Australian captain Ponting, though, mounted a strong defence of Cummins and said more pressure should be on Ben Stokes’ leadership ahead of the fifth Test.
Ponting says Cummins will learn from the brutal second day demolition at the hands of England’s batters in Manchester and cannot be expected to “have the exact right answer” every time while captain.
“I think Pat’s done a terrific job … for a couple of hours on day 2, things looked like they were getting out of control, but the captain can’t be expected to have the exact right answer 100 per cent of the time,” Ponting told the ICC Review podcast.
“I don’t think it’s got the better of Pat – in fact, for Australia to be 2-1 up where they are right now you’d have to say that Pat’s done a terrific job.
“Everyone’s been talking about how England have outplayed Australia … if that’s the case, maybe there’s some questions to be asked about Ben Stokes’ captaincy then.
“If the fact is they’ve outplayed Australia and are still trailing in the series, I don’t think there should be too many questions about Pat, that’s for sure.”
Another former Australian skipper Ian Chappell also threw his support behind Cummins, despite questioning some “stupid” tactics in the Ashes series.
“The bouncer barrage is stupidity. What’s the definition of insanity? When you keep doing the same thing and expect a different result. Both sides have done it a bit,” Chappell told Wide World of Sports
.“The first thing you’ve got to do … certainly in Test cricket is you’ve got to keep trying to get guys out. If you put nine on the boundary that’s really not designed to get people out — not good batsmen out anyhow.”
On suggestions Cummins should lose the armband Chappell added: “Well, it’s easy to sack someone but you’ve got to replace him with someone better. So, who’s his replacement? Ask Darren Berry that,” Chappell said.
“I think Pat Cummins was the right choice.
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“Some of his tactics in this series I would question, but the fact that none of the senior players have been speaking up and saying, ‘Mate, this is stupid’ … Where the hell are they?
“Darren Berry can have his opinion about Cummins, but you’ve got to come up with an alternative. It’s no good just saying, ‘This is no good’. OK, say it’s no good, but say, ‘This is what the alternative is’. Don’t just mouth off and say get rid of him.
“I think Pat Cummins was the right choice at the time and I haven’t seen a reason to promote another captain.”
Australian coach Andrew McDonald weighed in on the captaincy debate on Monday when speaking to reporters in London, describing Berry’s comments as “a bit far-fetched”.
“I was across those comments from Darren,” McDonald said.
“They were most interesting. What I would say is leadership takes on all different shapes and forms.
“If we’re living and dying in the world of tactics only, then I think it’s fair and reasonable to critique some of the execution and tactics that we implemented. But to go as far as suggesting that the captain resign post-series I think is a bit far-fetched.
“There’s opinions that we respect and opinions that we don’t.”
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