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Cricketers of the year

Pat Cummins - The Leading Men's Cricketer in the World in 2023

Australia's captain was the most influential figure in men's cricket last year

Gideon Haigh
Gideon Haigh
Pat Cummins captained Australia to World Cup glory to complete a dominant year  •  Alex Davidson/ICC/Getty Images

Pat Cummins captained Australia to World Cup glory to complete a dominant year  •  Alex Davidson/ICC/Getty Images

Moulds are there to be broken, and Pat Cummins has left a path of scattered fragments in his wake. Before his ascension in November 2021, Australia's captaincy had been the preserve of leathery, hard-bitten, horny-handed men - and batters to boot. Pace-bowling skippers are incomparably rare: of the 64 men to lead their country in 25 Tests or more, only six have regularly bowled fast, and Imran Khan, Kapil Dev, Shaun Pollock, Wasim Akram and Jason Holder might more accurately be described as all-rounders.
If 2022 was a promising beginning to Cummins's captaincy career, 2023 became a passing-out parade. Either side of retaining the Ashes, his Australians lifted the World Test Championship and the World Cup. The team had fallen short only in the Border-Gavaskar Trophy in India, of which Cummins missed the second half to be at his mother's side during her final illness.
Australia completed the year retaining the Benaud-Qadir Trophy against Pakistan, in which Cummins's 19 wickets - the most in the series - cost just 12 each, and included only the second match bag of ten by an Australian captain (the other was Allan Border). On a more vernacular scoreboard, the Indian Premier League auction, he fetched nearly £2m. Ian Chappell likened him to Dennis Lillee, than which there is no higher praise.
In other respects, this has been an unusual Australian success story. Cummins leads as Cummins is, with a smooth veneer on a hard core. His smile is one of cricket's most fetching; his team are as approachable and courteous as any their country has fielded, but every bit as remorseless. When the Australians faced obloquy over Alex Carey's stumping of Jonny Bairstow, Cummins stood his ground with the right mix of agree-to-disagree civility: "I 100% think spirit of cricket is a real thing," he said. "At times there is nuance, and everybody might see it a bit differently, which is fine. It is one of the beauties of our sport: it's a gentleman's sport, and you want to maintain respect at all times for the opposition, the umpire, the fans, the game." If you can keep your head when heads all about you are exploding from sheer rage…
Cummins treads a narrow line with certain older members of Australia's cricket constituency, who parse his every remark for supposed wokeness after he expressed a belief in anthropogenic climate change, and an interest in its mitigation. For a dangerous adjacency to books containing words of more than one syllable, and a reported reluctance to appear in advertisements for an energy-company sponsor of Cricket Australia, he ran a gauntlet of whataboutist abuse. Response was muted even when he partnered Nathan Lyon to secure Australia's two-wicket, eleventh-hour victory at Edgbaston. Injury to Lyon at Lord's then made his job all the more formidable, as England slipped the lead at Headingley, Old Trafford and The Oval.
Second Cummins's day-in, day-out durability, however, nobody could fault. In the English summer, he was Australia's main bowler through six Tests in 54 days. And this completed a remarkable turnaround. In his first five and a half years as an international cricketer, his frail young body could withstand but a single Test and a handful of one-day internationals. Now, it is as if the fairy godmother has turned Cinderella's glass slipper into a motorcycle boot. In the last Test of the year, Cummins became the tenth Australian to 250 Test wickets, of which 42 came in 2023; among all teams, only Lyon (47) had more.
The campaign that counted, however, was probably in India, where the hosts had already cleared a space in the trophy cabinet for the World Cup, and Australia came into the tournament in no sort of form. At their nadir, they had lost seven one-day internationals out of eight, and were under severe pressur when Sri Lanka reached 125 for none in Lucknow. Just then, however, Cummins broke through, having Pathum Nissanka caught at deep square leg, and bowling Kusal Perera; later, he ran out Dunith Wellalage from mid-off.
From that point, Australia proved themselves, if not the best, then at least the most resourceful team in the competition, winning their last nine matches, from every position and in all conditions. In taking two for 34 in the final, including bowling Virat Kohli off an inside edge, Cummins became only the second in the tournament - after team-mate Adam Zampa - to bowl a full complement of overs without conceding a boundary. He captained deftly, subtly, conjuring overs from his attack like a magician doing card tricks while simultaneously stealing India's wallet.
What now of that received wisdom about fast-bowling captains? Some revision to the mould is due in light of new data, including Richie Benaud's famous line that captaincy is 90% luck. Cummins is notoriously unsuccessful at tosses. But he is blessed as a captain in another respect: he plays in his own team.

Gideon Haigh is a cricket historian and writer