Is it wise for Pat Cummins to learn on the job during a World Cup?

Published on: Oct 03, 2023

When Australia take on India on the 8th of October in their World Cup opener, Pat Cummins will be leading his country for only the fifth time in the ODI arena. You have to go back to 1979 to find the last time Australia had a captain who was as inexperienced at a World Cup. On that occasion, it was Kim Hughes who had never captained his country in limited overs. Somewhat ominously, the Australians would be dumped out in the group stages after losing two of their three pool fixtures.

Australia's 2023 World Cup prediction

As things stand, Cummins’ men are tipped to do better than the class of 1979, with the latest Cricket World Cup 2023 odds pricing Australia at 4/1 to win the showpiece in India.

While the majority of cricket bets have been placed on India who are the outright favourites at 9/5, the expectation is that Australia will make the semi-finals.

But is that an overly optimistic prediction for the five-time World Cup champions, considering their lack of leadership experience among the current 50-over think tank?

Before answering that question, it should be noted that Cummins has shown himself to be a competent captain in the longest format. The 30-year-old led Australia to the World Test Championship trophy in 2023 after emphatically beating India by 209 runs during the final at Lord's. Following that, Australia retained the Ashes with Cummins at the helm following a 2-2 tied series against England.

In short, Cummins has had considerable success as Australia's Test captain since his appointment in November 2021.

The unique challenge of captaining in white-ball cricket

However, the quick has been virtually absent in the ODI arena due to injury and Cricket Australia's efforts to manage his workload.

The result is that Cummins hasn’t had time to cut his teeth in the 50-over format as far as captaincy goes. For Australian fans, the concerning reality is that leading in red-ball cricket is vastly different from leading in white-ball cricket, with fielding restrictions and powerplays coming into the equation in the allotted overs format.

Captains often have to be aggressive in ODIs and hold their nerve which is something that Cummins was uncomfortable doing against England during the Ashes. More than once, the fast bowler opted to start England’s innings with a host of fielders on the boundary. In Cummins’ opinion, this was to combat the now famous ‘Bazball’ onslaught where England threw caution to the wind at the top of their innings.

This is not a luxury that Cummins will have in ODI cricket as only two fielders are permitted to be outside the 30-yard circle during the first ten overs. Of course, this increases to four until the 40th over and after that, five fielders are allowed outside the circle for the remainder of the innings.

The wider point is that field placement tactics appeared to be Cummins’ Achilles heel during the Ashes and made him look like an overly cautious captain. In the 50-over format, this type of hesitancy is quickly exposed as teams fiercely go after the bowling during the initial powerplay.

How Cummins gets this particular balancing act right remains to be seen but without much time out in the middle for trial and error over the last few years, Australia’s ODI captain will be learning on the job at the World Cup.