There are (increasingly debunked) reasons why, when it comes to being regarded as captaincy material, bowlers are put in the shade. It was nice then to see Pat Cummins throwing a bit of his own as he took up the reins of Australia following Tim Paine’s departure from moral purity. Alongside the standard stuff about being incredibly honoured, Cummins’ acceptance tweet referred to “my man Steve Smith” and included a photo of the two of them celebrating a victory together. All as expected, except that the photo showed Smith, agitating rival for the role and newly appointed vice-captain, cast as a besotted Barbie to Cummins’ particularly buff Ken. It was, intentional or not, a superb bit of bitch-slapping to kick off his tenure.
Admittedly it is possible Australia’s new captain merely googled for a snap of the two and chose that one. Probably actually quite likely in truth, but it should be hoped there was a more sinister motive lurking. After the last few years of nauseating ethical preening under Paine, it would be welcome if Australian captains could just get back to openly being fucken’ pricks. Not a criticism, just a request. If that photo choice is an early indication Cummins is moving from being Justin Langer’s dream son-in-law to more like Donald Trump’s actual son-in-law then everyone should welcome it.
There has also been some talk of Nathan Lyon being unlucky to never get a look in for captain but here, as in Sandpapergate, the adroit eyes of South African cameramen come into play. On debut in Cape Town, Cummins tore through South Africa in their second innings then ably escorted Mitchell Johnsons’s thumping biceps to a one-wicket win. As Australia moved towards victory Lyon, next and last in, sat terrorised on the balcony, his hunched, chelonian trepidation not missed by the ever watchful SuperSport crew. It certainly wasn’t the look of a leader, future or otherwise. And, in any case, the off-spinner himself has now said he is happy just being guardian of the team song, which could be regarded as both ludicrous and ludicrously unambitious until you recall Simon Katich once literally strangled Michael Clarke for not singing it.
In reality there was only ever one clear rival to Cummins and that was Smith, who can also have much cause to regret Paine’s fruity texts. Australia’s keeper didn’t just end his own career with them, he effectively kiboshed any residual chance Smith had of resuming the role. Once scandal, probably of any sort, came into play it was curtains for the former skipper’s hopes. That it was a scandal involving the man sent in, like some cricketing Winston Wolf, to clean up Smith’s initial mess meant the world’s best batsman had to shuffle over - something he is at least accustomed to doing - and make way for Big Pat.
Ultimately thwarted, Smith had made no secret of his desire to reclaim the role snatched away from him by Cameron Bancroft’s shifty underpants. When Cummins captained New South Wales for the first time last season, Smith was asked about his team mate's performance: “'I don’t think there was too much to do - not a tough day,' was the possibly accurate but certainly catty assessment. That photo from Cummins was an equally feline riposte. What a leadership group this could turn out to be.