Pat Cummins is Australia’s 47th men’s Test captain and Steve Smith has been picked as his deputy in a return to the leadership team for the first time since the infamous sandpaper scandal.
Cummins, 28, will lead Australia out against England at The Gabba on December 8, replacing Tim Paine.
Friday’s decision comes a week after Paine sensationally resigned following a texting scandal which had lingered in the background for years but not come out in public. Paine on Friday withdrew from all forms of cricket and a new player will wear the gloves.
Sport’s greatest rivalry is just around the corner and you can catch the Ashes live and ad-break free during play. New to Kayo? Start your free trial today >
The board met and made its decision at a meeting on Thursday night before officially naming Cummins and Smith as leaders.
“I am honoured to accept this role ahead of what will be a massive Ashes summer,” Cummins said in a statement.
“I hope I can provide the same leadership Tim (Paine) has given the group in the past few years.
“With Steve and I as captains, a number of very senior players in this squad and some great young talent coming through we are a strong and tightly knit group.
“This is an unexpected privilege which I am very grateful for and am very much looking forward to.”
Cummins and Smith were the only two candidates interviewed for the positions after Australian cricket’s most dramatic week since the ball tampering scandal saw Smith stripped of the captaincy in 2018.
Smith will captain Australia again if Cummins is absent for any reason, Cricket Australia said.
“I am pleased to return to the leadership of the team and look forward to helping and assisting Pat in any way I can,” Smith said in a statement.
“Pat and I have played together for a long time, so we know our respective styles well.
“We are also great friends, as is the whole group. As a team, we want to play good, positive cricket and also really enjoy each other’s company.
“There are exciting times ahead as we focus on the Ashes and beyond.”
Cummins is the first Australia fast bowler since Ray Lindwall in 1957 to captain his side in Test cricket.
Lindwall, a member of Don Bradman’s invincibles squad of 1948, took on the responsibility for a single Test.
Cummins took over the captaincy of NSW’s one day team last season but has to lead the side in a Sheffield Shield match.
Australian pundits have been split as to whether Cummins should take over the captaincy, citing the heavy workload the world’s best fast bowler will shoulder.
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.
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.”
Given Cummins is a three-format player, the decision to make Smith vice-captain will pave the way to the prolific run-scorer returning to the captaincy at some point.
The 32-year-old was banned from any leadership positions for two years following his role in the sandpaper scandal, where it is alleged he turned a blind eye on what his openers David Warner and Cameron Bancroft were planning.
Smith earlier this year said he was ready to return to a leadership position and craved the Australian cricket captaincy.
His public announcement led to rumblings at a Cricket Australia board level, with some believing he should not be allowed to return to the top office.
Shane Warne expressed a similar sentiment in a News Corp column on Friday.
“We all love Steve Smith and are proud that he’s the best Test batsmen in the world again.
But he should not be the Australia vice-captain,” Warne wrote.
“Everyone makes mistakes, we know that and we’ve all moved on from sandpaper-gate. But that happened under Steve Smith’s captaincy, he allowed that to happen on his watch.
“I think the punishment he was given was way too severe, which I said at the time. He paid a huge price for his mistake.
“But his second chance is getting to play for Australia again and in my opinion announcing him as vice-captain opens up CA for ridicule and criticism, and they should throw the code of conduct out the window.
“CA has to stand for something. They made those decisions at the time — which were right in the interests of Australian cricket. So why should they go back on it now?”