Australia’s vice-captain in all three formats, Cummins is the favourite to succeed Paine but there are queries over his suitability to the job despite him being one of the first picked in the XI and his squeaky clean image.
Fast bowlers as captains have been a rarity in Australian cricket due to the concerns over their ability to juggle the physical demands of bowling with the added pressure of tactical changes – a view aired recently by former Test captain Mark Taylor. Cummins’ lack of leadership experience at senior level is also seen as a drawback.
But by giving Cummins the chance to lead, albeit in the 50-over arena, the fast bowler will not only get the chance to learn on the job but also decide whether it’s a career path he wants to persist with.
State selectors are yet to finalise their squad but it’s almost certain Nevill, 35, will not be behind the stumps in the one-day team as the Blues look to use the format in the hunt for their next long-term gloveman. That has created the leadership vacancy.
The opportunity for Cummins to take over arose after the Test tour of South Africa was scrapped this week due to that country’s struggles to contain the second wave of the pandemic.
Kurtis Patterson is seen as a future Blues skipper but CNSW sees a responsibility to develop future Australian leaders and wants to give Cummins every chance at the top job.
Pending availability, Cummins will have about four or five games in charge, starting February 15 when the state season resumes after the Big Bash League break, before jetting off to the Indian Premier League.
There would be major sighs of relief for CA if Cummins was to perform the job well, and enjoy it, as head office looks for a candidate to eventually take over from 36-year-old Paine. Despite his troubles this season, Paine still holds the full support of the board and senior management at Jolimont.
Queensland Cricket is under pressure to give Test star Marnus Labuschagne, 26, leadership opportunities but Usman Khawaja is ensconced in the Bulls captaincy.
Labuschagne is not seen as the leading candidate to succeed Khawaja, which may force the Test No.3 to leave Brisbane for the chance to captain a state.
Australia’s Test stars have been given the all clear by CA to turn out for their state but Will Pucovski, Mitchell Starc and David Warner are under injury clouds.
If Australia do not qualify for World Test Championship final, as seems likely, they will not be pulling on the baggy green until next summer’s Ashes with no long-form matches in the current schedule.
The Blues have a maximum of six Shield games left this season, including the final in mid April if the team qualifies, but multi-format stars Steve Smith, Josh Hazlewood, Starc, Cummins and Warner are likely to leave early for the Indian Premier League.
Australia’s off-season program this year is dominated by Twenty20, with a tours to the Caribbean and Sri Lanka before the Twenty20 World Cup in India in October and November. The World Cup will clash with the start of the Shield season, meaning red-ball opportunities could be scarce.
Andrew Wu writes on cricket and AFL for The Sydney Morning Herald