By Geoff LawsonDecember 18, 2021 — 1.30pm
There have been some interesting interpretations arising from the Pat Cummins “close contact” saga. Most of them have been about as reliable as England’s catching and as insightful as an anti-vaxxer’s rationalisations.
Cummins was quite rightly complimented for his conduct of the Gabba Test, his first as captain. Not only did he get the bowling changes just about spot-on, but he succeeded in putting the fieldsmen in about the right places: that bat-pad on the offside with Nathan Lyon operating to Dawid Malan on the fourth morning was sheer genius. And all those complex operations were done in the heat and sweat of a bowling spell. Who’d have thought it, eh?
He calmly negotiated DRS referrals, appealed with vigour and took rejection with good manner and a smile. Yes, the game went very much Australia’s way, apart from the hard-fought Joe Root-Malan partnership, and England threw up very few challenges.
Cummins handles the press conferences with a refreshing air of no nonsense, common sense and that ring-of-confidence smile that is quickly becoming a trademark. He was making Test cricket look more like a game of fun and consequence, rather than of do or die. Perhaps his perspective is shaped by the seriousness of world events and the role that sport, even something as nationally sensitive as the Ashes, really plays.
Which brings us to a certain Adelaide dining spot on Wednesday night.
The commentary that suggests Cummins made an incredibly thoughtless decision that jeopardised an entire industry just to “eat indoors”, rather than on the curbside, misses the point completely. It goes without saying that the “Sydney grade cricketer”, who knew Cummins, knew he would have approached him whether he was inside or out, and that Pat, being a friendly, outgoing, genuine man of the people, would have responded with a handshake and a chat. Being the captain of the Australian cricket team actually means you should connect more with the man/woman in the street rather than less.
The new Australian skipper has shown leadership on and off the field.Credit:AP
According to South Australia Health rules, if the identical encounter had occurred on the footpath (or maybe at the table where Nathan Lyon and Mitchell Starc were dining), there would be no definition of “close contact” and everyone could go on their way.
The congress of physical contact and shared exhalations would be no different, the real health risks would be the same, just the definitions change.
Cricket Australia and SA Health are agreeing to disagree on who made the call to reveal the contact after the post-meal revelation that the grade cricketer had tested positive to COVID, which put Cummins on ice, but it must be said that erring on the side of caution was not the worst outcome.
The whole encounter could only be revealed because Cummins, the Australian captain on a single outing, chose to inform the relevant health professionals and then let the chips fall where they may. There was never a thought to cover up or conceal: truth and integrity must be served whether there was a Test about to start or otherwise.
The game was important, of course – and the leader is very important – but following the rules was more so, whether they were shaped by concessions to common sense or not.
The Pat Cummins smile has become the skipper’s trademark.Credit:Getty
Cummins’ response to be being quarantined was to send a cheerio to his replacement in the bowling line-up, Michael Neser, wish him the best on his debut and assure sundry doubters that Steve Smith would be just fine doing a job he was well versed in. Through all this shone the Cummins smile. He was “gutted”, but the sun would come up on the ’morrow and the lights would illuminate the evening. His absence was no disaster, it was just “one of those things”.
There was no descent into indignant paroxysms, no ranting at the health bureaucrats or the politicians, just a cheery, boy-next-door calmness and a desire to move on.
In a television promotion for this series, Cummins is asked to stare down the barrel of the camera and make a stern face. He can’t do it convincingly. His eyes flick furtively away from the lens on a couple of occasions as if he is embarrassed to be asked to be the frontman, or even to be considered more important than a teammate.
He plays cricket seriously all right, but the gravity of the “second most important leadership position in the country” doesn’t define him. He was completely calm as he withdrew from the Test. This was leadership away from the playing field.
“Cummins has the duty to add some new rooms to Paine’s renovation, and has quickly set an example that fans can be proud of.”
Unlike some recent captains, Cummins doesn’t appear to want to “own” the team and look to create his “legacy”. He just wants to play and let others play, expressing their talent.
The Australian cricket team is not “his”; it belongs to everybody who wants to make a genuine contribution.
Buzzwords such as “leadership group” have infected many sporting codes. They used to be called “senior players”. Cummins has some excellent senior players to run the show without him.
Smith has copped some barbs for the mere consequence of being promoted from vice- to full captain.
Notably, he is referred to in some quarters as the “stand-in captain” – a reasonable obliqueness, I suppose, but a fair one that recognises Cummins’ absence is short term.
As Tim Paine was charged with restoring an ethical footing to the national team while maintaining a
winning visage, Cummins has the duty to add some new rooms and redo the tiling on Paine’s renovation, and has quickly set an example on and off the field that his team can follow and the fans can be proud of.
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