Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

Winning the ODI World Cup is a career highlight for me: Pat Cummins

The Australia captain on the chatter in the dressing room in the build-up to the high-octane World Cup final against India, his leadership philosophy and the opportunities for bowlers in T20s, a batter-dominated format

Kathakali Chanda
Published: May 13, 2024 11:05:51 AM IST
Updated: May 13, 2024 11:28:05 AM IST

Winning the ODI World Cup is a career highlight for me: Pat CumminsPat Cummins, Australian cricketer; Image: Alex Davidson-ICC/ICC via Getty Images

The smile hardly ever leaves his face as Pat Cummins sits down for a 15-minute chat with Forbes India. Except for those few minutes when it transforms into a grin, perhaps broader than 22 yards, as the Australian cricket captain speaks about his sweetest victory in the past year. Of course, the 31-year-old with over 450 international wickets has achieved multiple milestone moments in 2023, but, for him, nothing outshines his team’s crowd-silencing heroics in November, when Australia beat hosts and favourites India in the final of the ODI World Cup at the Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad. Cummins reveals the conversations ahead of the marquee game, straddling the dual roles of being a captain and the team’s premier bowler, and how bowlers should recalibrate their thinking to survive the onslaught of batters in T20 cricket. Edited excerpts from an interview on the sidelines of the launch of Mumbai’s first New Balance store.

Q. You’ve won the World Test Championship, the ODI World Cup and the Ashes in 2023. Of the string of successes, which has been your most favourite?

Yes, last year was a wonderful year. Everything seemed to go right on the cricket field. But I think I can't go past the ODI World Cup. It only happens once every four years. To play in a World Cup is amazing, to reach a final in India in front of a huge Ahmedabad stadium, I don't think we'll ever beat that moment. That's a career highlight for me.

Q. Let's talk about the World Cup final…

Happy to [laughs].

Q. You were playing India in India, you knew the home crowd would be cheering against you. India was coming into the final with a 10-match winning streak. The odds were stacked against you in every which way. What conversations did you have as a team to overcome the mental hurdles?

You can tell yourself any story [but] it's going to be a huge match. It's going to be one that you're going to remember for the rest of your career, you're going to look back at forever. You can get caught up in the moment, or else you can see it as an opportunity where you can go out and try and perform. It's a game of cricket we've played thousands of times before, so that part of it is familiar, [and] you try and keep it as familiar as possible. Just know that there's going to be nerves, so how do you deal with that? We took the angle of: Let's embrace that, let's try and make sure we have no regrets, let's play with complete freedom and just look back on this day in 10 years’ time not wishing that you played a bit more aggressive or you tried something different. If it's not good enough against a really good Indian side, that's okay, we can live with that. But at least we gave it our best chance.

Q. You are one of the most successful cricket captains in the world now, not just in terms of winning titles but also how you bring out the best in players. Travis Head, for instance, who's giving sleepless nights to bowlers now, has been talking about how you gave him the gumption to play fearlessly. What’s your style of leadership, and whom do you take inspiration from?

I wouldn't say one person in particular. There are lots of people that I've looked up to in the past or have learnt of in the past. I've been playing for Australia for 13 or 14 seasons—I've had lots of different captains and leaders along the way to learn from, and situations where I thought, ‘oh, that helped me when I was a 20-year-old, and if I was ever in that position, I'd like to bring that to the role’. I remember when I was really young, I was at my best when I felt I was backed and supported by the coaches and the senior players. And they supported me to be my own player. That's what we try and instill in our players—we don't care how it looks, you are a great batter, you score runs, don’t worry about playing in a certain way. As long as you're committing to that style, if it doesn't work, that's fine.

Q. When you were growing up as a cricketer, who were the captains that you were looking up to?

In the early 2000s, when I started watching, the Aussie cricket team was amazing. Steve Waugh was the captain, and the team was full of greats. Then came Ricky Ponting; I played a little bit with Ricky, but Michael Clarke was my first captain. But, not just the captain, the senior guys…when I first started playing, I learnt so much from guys like Shane Watson, Mike Hussey, Brad Haddin. These are legends of Australian cricket, and I felt really welcomed by those guys when I first walked into the change room.

Q. Ricky Ponting had once told us in an interview that when he walked in to bat, he wasn’t the captain, but only the No. 3 batter. As a bowler captain, you've got the dual responsibilities of strategising your own bowling as well as marshalling the resources on the field at the same time. How do you straddle the two and does one inform the other?

It gets spoken about a lot, how the extra responsibility of captaining can affect bowling. I think there are a lot more positives to being a bowling captain. We spend our life as bowlers trying to work out how to take wickets and that's mainly your biggest role in the field—you try ways of taking wickets, you try how to navigate different batters and conditions.

I've felt that with my experience, while talking to fellow bowlers, I come from a place of someone who's actually bowled on that same wicket to those same batters. It feels like we can work really well as a unit. No doubt there are some times when it's 40 degrees and you just want to bowl and switch off. But it's very rare that that happens. The rest of the time it feels that as a bowler I can add some value.

Q. Unlike when you're playing for Australia, when you're playing for Sunrisers Hyderabad [in the IPL], you stay with the team for a short period. How do you build a winning, cohesive unit within that time?

It's a little bit different [than Australia] because you don't have those years of rapport that you've built up. But we want everyone to buy into a certain style of how we want to play. That's what we talk about—here's how we want to play, this you as an individual, and this is how you fit into the style. And we'll be quite honest of how we want you to play. But outside of that, go and do it your own way. We try and create a lot of freedom for the players, especially the younger ones. The IPL is the biggest stage that a lot of these guys have played on under huge pressure. We just try and strip that away and [tell them to] have some fun, and go and express themselves. We tell them we're not worried that you're going to fail because it's T20 cricket, not everything is always going to go right. So just go out, have a crack, and buy into the style that the team wants to.

Also read: Pat Cummins on leading: Think clearly and don't get caught up after decision is made

Q. T20 cricket has tilted balance in favour of the batters. You are a frontline international bowler. How do the bowlers pull themselves back into the game?

It gets harder and harder. With the scores getting a lot bigger, you can have some games where it's quite brutal for you as a bowler. You've got to really pick yourself up and bounce back quickly. But it also does present some opportunities where you might bowl an over at the end where the team needs 15 runs in an over; if you bowl an over that goes for 7 or 8 at this stage, that's not just an average over, that's a match-winning over. So I think you've got to reframe it and see each over and each ball as an opportunity to try and make a difference, even if it does feel like the odds are stacked up against you sometimes.

Q. One of the things being talked about in the IPL is the impact sub rule. Some say it makes the game exciting, some others have said it's ruining the chances for all-rounders. Which side of the debate are you on?

It's an interesting one. I understand the debate. It's funny [that] with Sunrisers, we actually have quite a few all-rounders in the team, so we don't have a lot of conversations around it because we've already got Nitish [Kumar Reddy] and Shahbaz [Ahmed] who can bowl some overs for us. We feel we've got all bases covered. Obviously, the scores have gone up, which as a bowler is annoying, but sometimes as a captain, knowing that we're able to pick five frontline bowlers is also not a bad thing as well. I'm going to stay on the fence on that one.

Q. You are the brand ambassador for New Balance. How does the brand fit into your notions of excellence?

I've been with New Balance now since 2011.That's close to 14 years. They've been a game changer for me. Bowling boots are the biggest tools of a fast bowler, and I'm really particular about my fast-bowling boots. I've flown over to Boston to work with their team to handcraft the bowling boots to my specifications. They're just an incredible brand, and for me, as an athlete, they just bend over backwards to make sure I've got everything I need.