Ed Cowan says Pat Cummins is the right man to lead Australia into the Ashes

Former Test opener Ed Cowan has defended Cricket Australia’s decision to hand Steve Smith the vice-captain role for the Ashes Test team, while lauding the decision to pick Pat Cummins as skipper.

Speaking on The Grandstand Cricket podcast with Corbin Middlemas, Cowan said Cummins was the perfect man to lead Australia into a new era of Test cricket.

“I’m excited by this,” Cowan said.

“It was probably pooh-poohed a little bit when the whole Sandpapergate story went down. I was calling for Pat Cummins to be captain then.

“I’ve got no issue with him being a fast bowler and captaining, for listeners [of this podcast], that’s one of the great fallacies [that fast bowlers can’t be captains].

“He’s going to be well supported. I’m excited by the person he is, the cricketer he is. I think he’s going to lead by example on and off the field.”

Cummins will replace Tim Paine as captain after the wicketkeeper stood down over a sexting scandal from 2018.

Paine, in turn, had replaced Smith as skipper after Australian opener Cameron Bancroft was caught using sandpaper on a ball against South Africa in 2018.

Cowan said he was surprised some cricket fans has reacted with animosity towards Smith being announced as vice-captain.

“My view on this is that people love taking the moral high ground and forget very easily that we’ve all made mistakes,” he said.

Cricketer Steve Smith looks pained in front of press conference
Steve Smith’s captaincy of Australia ended in tears amid his suspension for the ball-tampering scandal.(AAP: Brendan Esposito)

“What happened in many ways was a watershed moment. You’re allowed to learn, you’re allowed to grow. He’s not the captain.

Cowan said he thought Cummins and Smith would work well together and fill any perceived gaps in their leadership style.

Two cricket players smiling for a photo
Ed Cowan believes that Pat Cummins and Steve Smith’s strengths and weaknesses will complement each other as a leadership team.(Getty: Ryan Pierse)

“Without doubt, someone with the tactical nous that Steve Smith has, he understands the game of cricket better than anyone than I’ve ever seen. He’s got a wonderful cricket brain, and it allows him to focus purely on thinking about how to add value to the team and the leadership group through that tactical lens,” Cowan said.

“I think, as a duo, they’re really going to complement each other from a strength and weakness capability point of view.”

The Khawaja and Head debate

As spots in the starting 11 for the Ashes start to tighten up, Cowan said the battle for a place in the top order between Usman Khawaja and Travis Head would come down to who had the greater match-winning ability.

Two smiling Australian cricketers walk onto Adelaide Oval to field in a Test match wearing their Baggy Greens.
Travis Head and Usman Khawaja have been Test teammates for Australia — but, right now, it appears only one of them will be able to be in the Ashes team.(Getty Images / Cricket Australia: Daniel Kalisz)

“I would love to see Travis Head in the Test team at some point in time, he is a fine player. But, when it comes head to head with someone else and selection is inherently that, who is the best person for the job at some point in time?

“Usman is 34, genuine leadership capability … he can help Pat Cummins without doubt, not just tactically, but leading people.

“His Test record speaks to that, his first-class record speaks to that and, I think, for the next 18 months, with the Test team having not performed recently and having not played much Test cricket, let’s go for the Test team. There’s going to be plenty of time for Travis Head when he’s 29 to play 50, 60, 70 Tests.”

Who replaces Paine as wicketkeeper?

While the decision on who would captain the team after Paine stood down has been sorted, the debate over who comes in as wicketkeeper rolls on.

Alex Carey and Josh Inglis are the leading candidates, and Cowan said there was a delicate balance between picking a strong wicketkeeper and a strong batter.

“I would pick who is the best keeper to spin bowling because we’ve seen in the past what happens to Nathan Lyon as a key member of the Australian team,” Cowan said.

“If you start dropping catches off the spin bowler, either in Australia or travelling to the subcontinent, it puts a hell of a lot of pressure on the fast bowlers. 

“My only question around Inglis … he’s a good keeper, he’s got X-factor with the bat, but he has to be picked as the best keeper. Is he the best keeper? He keeps at the WACA or Perth Stadium, he doesn’t keep to spin bowling.

“Alex Carey, who has kept to Zampa, he’s kept around the world in one day internationals, he’s done a good job when he has had to keep in tricky conditions and I think is a superior keeper, maybe just by 10 per cent, maybe by 15 per cent, not sure, but it’s enough for him to be picked solely as a wicketkeeper.

“If Inglis gets picked, so be it, I think he’ll do a great job.

“He’s done it in international cricket. He was in the team of the tournament at the ICC World Cup, he basically single-handedly held the Australian middle order together. This guy loves pressure, he loves it.”

When does the Ashes start?

The first Test is scheduled to begin on December 8 at the Gabba. Listen to all the action live on ABC Grandstand and follow the match through the live blog at abc.net.au/sport.

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