JASON GILLESPIE: Australia must find a way to help captain Pat Cummins in the Ashes


Mitchell Starc’s place in the Australia XI for the first Test has been questioned by a few former players, but I am not among them. 

Here is a guy who has 255 Test wickets, who is a proven, big-time performer and even though I concede he needs to put in a few more consistent displays, I am backing him all the way.

He bowls fast, swings the ball, his record in pink-ball Tests is incredible and remember that the second match in Adelaide is under lights. His left-arm variety creates foot marks for Nathan Lyon, the off-spinner, to work with too.

Australia are pinning their hopes on Pat Cummins to lead them to glory at this year’s Ashes

During the last Australian summer, he wasn’t at his best but if you look a bit deeper into things, he was having some issues away from the game. He lost his father Paul to cancer, was living in a challenging bubble environment and to play through that and not be able to see his dad before he passed away in February was heart-breaking.

Having to deal with that as well as staying focused on his game was a big ask. Forget that he’s an international superstar. First and foremost, he is a son. It was a tough time for him and his family.

I am a huge fan of the Australian bowling line-up, what each bowler brings and how they work together as a unit. The trio of fast bowlers in Starc, the new captain Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood, complemented by Lyon, will go down as one of the best attacks Australia has ever put on the park. They’re going to cause England’s top order batting some issues.

Mitchell Stark has had his involvement in the Australia squad questioned but deserves it

Mitchell Stark has had his involvement in the Australia squad questioned but deserves it 

I will be surprised if Australia do not begin the series with that first-choice quartet, although I see Starc and possibly Hazlewood rotating at some point through the five matches.

Jhye Richardson and Michael Neser are waiting in the wings and with the Ashes being more condensed than ever — an entire series being played within the space of 42 days must be a record — I expect the bowlers to be in and out. 

Captaincy will be a huge challenge for Cummins, but he’s made it really clear that he wants a collaborative approach to his leadership role and specifically asked for Steve Smith to be his deputy for that reason.

There will be occasional overs when he leans on senior players such as Smith to take ownership while he heads to fine leg to catch his breath.

Some will argue that a captain should never place himself in such a fielding position, but I don’t have a problem with him focusing on what he needs to do as a premier fast bowler — having a bit of a drink and a mental refresh.

Steve Smith will be alongside Cummins to help spread some of the duties of the captaincy

Steve Smith will be alongside Cummins to help spread some of the duties of the captaincy 

If the team can’t function for six balls while the captain is out in the deep, there is something wrong, isn’t there? Surely, they can find a way to get by without him directing traffic every delivery.

My only experience of captaincy came after I retired, when I went back to district cricket and chose to play B grade at Adelaide, the decision not to play in the As mainly because we started an hour later in the Bs. 

I vowed not to bat higher than six, bowled off a short run, and only sent down one or two spells a day. The reason I did it? Simple. I knew I wanted to go into coaching but had never been in charge of a side.

Until you’ve done it, it’s hard to empathise and understand what a captain’s role constitutes, so at the age of 35 I lived it, throwing myself into the responsibility with a team of 18 to 21-year-olds. Yes, it was a lot of fun but it also taught me a lot about leadership.

It's hard to empathise with what captaincy is like, I only experienced it at the district level

It’s hard to empathise with what captaincy is like, I only experienced it at the district level 

Not many fast bowlers tend to be captains and I would argue the main reason for that is that they tend to get injured. By and large, you want continuity and someone who is putting their body under strain, might play a couple of games, then miss a couple due to injury, doesn’t fit the bill.

I am in a situation as coach of Adelaide Strikers whereby Travis Head and Alex Carey are in Australia’s Test squad, so Peter Siddle is going to lead us in the Big Bash from Tuesday.

I can’t say that I haven’t had a bias towards picking wicketkeepers and batters as captains in the past, but I do feel that the main selection criterion is individual personality and that was the over-riding factor in the decision to choose Siddle.

Learn lessons over Rafiq

From thousands of miles away, it’s been pretty heart-breaking to see what has transpired at my old club Yorkshire.

Everyone now acknowledges that things could have been handled better when Azeem Rafiq first raised all those issues.

From the outside, it appeared that some people had a problem with him as an individual instead of the club dealing properly with the concerns that he had raised.

I was interviewed during the investigation process and there was nothing that I could recall from my time as first-team coach at the club from 2012 to 2016 that would have constituted racism.

Lessons have to be learned after Azeem Rafiq's revelations caused a racism storm in cricket

Lessons have to be learned after Azeem Rafiq’s revelations caused a racism storm in cricket 

I remember a couple of incidents when Azeem was really battling with his game, and on one he was in tears in the viewing area of the nets at Headingley.

I checked in with him to see if he was OK, and he said he was struggling.

I had watched him train earlier and he was bowling head high full tosses, double-bouncers and you could see he was pretty low.

Whether it was just my naivety, I thought it was purely about his bowling and that’s why I reached out to him.

It transpired that in part he had been referencing the racism stuff but I just went off what I witnessed. Clearly lessons have to be learned from all this and there should be no place for racism within our sport or in society.



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