Pat Cummins has been named Australian Test captain and Steve Smith his deputy in a leadership shake-up following Tim Paine’s controversial resignation last week.
On the same day as Paine took an indefinite leave of absence from the game, Cricket Australia confirmed the worst-kept secret of the week by appointing the steady hand of Cummins to lead a shell-shocked team through an Ashes defence now less than two weeks away.
The 28-year-old said he was honoured to accept the role, which marks a major departure from tradition in that he will become the first fast bowler to lead the country since Ray Lindwall in a one-off Test in 1956. He also paid tribute to his predecessor Paine.
“I hope I can provide the same leadership Tim has given the group in the past few years,” Cummins said in a statement. “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.”
For Smith, it is a return to a leadership position for the first time since the batter was stripped of the captaincy following the ball-tampering scandal of 2018.
“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. “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. They are exciting times ahead as we focus on the Ashes and beyond.”
Cummins has been the favourite to take over since Paine stepped down a week ago in the wake of a text message scandal. CA reportedly ratified the decision at a board meeting on Thursday night after both he and Smith were interviewed earlier in the week.
“Pat is an outstanding player and leader,” CA chief executive Nick Hockley said. “He has earned enormous respect from his teammates and from all corners of the game for his attitude and achievements, both on and off the field.
“We are extremely fortunate to have an experienced group of senior players who themselves are superb leaders. I have no doubt that Pat and Steve will be well supported in their respective leadership roles.”
Both step up amid a backdrop of distress for Paine, whose manager on Friday announced the 36-year-old would take a “mental health break” which throws into serious doubt his availability for the Ashes and his future in the international game.
“Confirming that @tdpaine36 is stepping away from cricket for an indefinite mental health break,” James Henderson posted on Twitter. “We are extremely concerned for his and Bonnie’s wellbeing and will be making no further comment at this time.”
Paine last week said he remained available for Ashes selection, indicating his desire to end his Test career on the “ultimate high” of an Australian series defence at home, which begins in Brisbane on 8 December.
He had been called up and set to bat at first drop in Tasmania’s one-day match against Western Australia on Friday, giving him a chance to play five consecutive days of cricket after a low-key return via the state’s second XI. following neck surgery in September. But Cricket Tasmania confirmed the veteran wicketkeeper-batsman will step away from the game.
“Following discussions over the last 24 hours, Tim Paine has advised Cricket Tasmania that he will be taking a leave of absence from all forms of cricket for the foreseeable future,” Cricket Tasmania said in a statement.
“Tim’s decision makes him unavailable for selection for today’s Marsh One-Day Cup match against Western Australia. His place in the squad will be taken by Charlie Wakim. Cricket Tasmania will continue to support Tim and his family both professionally and personally over the summer.”
CA said it as committed to supporting Paine and his family during “an incredibly difficult time”. “We respect and understand Tim’s decision to have a break at this time to focus on his and his family’s wellbeing,” Hockley said in a statement.
Speculation over Paine’s place in the Australia Test team has been rife since his resignation after revelations that he had been investigated for sending sexually explicit text messages to a female former Cricket Tasmania staffer four years ago. While he was cleared by the 2018 investigation, he said last Friday he did not want the controversy to be a distraction during the Ashes. The news of his omission from the Test team altogether means Alex Carey and Josh Inglis will likely vie for his spot behind the stumps.
The former Australia captain Ricky Ponting said this week Paine’s selection would still be distracting for the team. But teammates had hoped he would remain in the side, with Nathan Lyon calling him the “best keeper in the world”.