Gideon Haigh believes that while Pat Cummins may excel at opposing conservative politicians, he is not truly a champion for cultural values.
It is often said in the news media that the position of captain of the Australian cricket team is the second most significant role in the country, following the prime ministership.
One way to interpret this is as an exaggeration, according to a former prime minister’s description of “hyperbowl.” However, it could also be argued that in terms of status, the comparison is reversed.
The role of captain has been around longer than that of prime minister, with a 147-year history compared to 123 years. Being a captain requires consistently winning, while the prime ministership only comes around every four years.
A larger number of individuals residing in England, India, Pakistan, South Africa, Sri Lanka, the West Indies, and Bangladesh are aware of the current leader of Australia’s cricket team compared to their knowledge of the leader of the government. Currently, Pat Cummins is performing more effectively than Anthony Albanese.
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Over the past year, Cummins has achieved unprecedented success by guiding Australia to win the World Test Championship and World Cup, while also keeping the Ashes. Meanwhile, Albanese failed to address the cost-of-living crisis and instead focused his political efforts on a potentially self-indulgent undertaking.
Cummins is now excelling at what Albanese once considered his expertise – “battling Tories”.
We should maintain a sense of balance. Cummins is not someone who actively seeks out conflicts regarding cultural beliefs. It’s more that the extreme individualism of the Australian conservative group makes them easily agitated by those who support renewable energy or are interested in reading Dark Emu.
Cummins tends to express his opinions in a reserved manner. He is known for giving direct responses to direct inquiries rather than evading the question by claiming that he is just an athlete who did well, you know.
Cummins began his most recent statement with a declaration of patriotism: “I have a deep love for Australia, which I believe is the greatest country in the world.” He then suggested that while Australia Day should still be observed, a more suitable date may be found for its celebration.
Cue the usual hysterics, the social media drive-bys, the mirthless cartoons. Sports people should stay in their lane, right? Although, were Cummins to have donned a slouch hat and wrapped himself in an Australian flag spun from coal, he would now be fending off invitations to deliver the keynote address at this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference.
What was Cummins’ perspective on the matter? It wasn’t a demand to rename Thursday’s game against the West Indies as the Invasion Day Test and burn an effigy of Captain Cook. Rather, it was simply acknowledging the negative connotations associated with Australia Day. Celebratory dates can be altered. If they weren’t, we would still be commemorating Empire Day and toasting on St. Andrews Day.
Before the colonies in Australia were unified, the sport of cricket had already taken on a political aspect, reflecting its widespread influence and significance. In fact, it was even utilized to support the movement for federation.
Edmund Barton and George Reid, who were once rivals but have now come together for the federal cause, bid farewell to Joe Darling’s 1899 Ashes team at a ceremony held at Sydney town hall. Both Barton and Reid also served as vice-presidents of the NSW Cricket Association.
The report from The Australasian at that time was stirring: “Mr Barton urged the Eleven to stay loyal to the nation they would return to … Joe Darling stepped up, placing his hand on his heart, and proclaimed that should be their sole focus.” Imagine a pre-federation version of Sky After Dark: “Come on, Joe Darling! Read the situation! What about our customs revenues? And have some respect for the NSW Mounted Rifles!”
The most successful captains have all represented the larger cultural and historical context of their times. Donald Bradman, with his strong moral values and loyalty to the British Empire, was seen as the ideal conservative role model. Ian Chappell, with his distinctive sideburns and safari suits, was a typical supporter of Prime Minister Gough Whitlam during his progressive leadership in the 1970s. Allan Border symbolized the uncertainty and change that came with the deregulation of the cricket world, remaining steadfast as Australia adapted to the new landscape. Steve Waugh effectively tapped into the nostalgic reverence for the iconic “baggy green” cap, much like how former Prime Minister John Howard created a sense of reverence for the nation’s past.
Cummins stands out for his unique qualities: he is careful yet insightful, and has a balanced but assured demeanor. Despite criticisms, he has achieved success which bothers his naysayers. There is no proof that he is neglecting his main duties due to his opinions on unrelated matters, nor is he suffering financially for embracing progressive ideas. In fact, he is excelling and earning well.
Which foreshadows its own challenges. What we are prepared to say is one thing; what we are prepared to sacrifice is another. What we are yet to see from Cummins is a conviction that might cost him a dollar and tarnish his super-slick brand.
This year, Cummins will rank as the second-highest earner among foreign players in the Indian Premier League, a league closely tied to the rule of a religiously biased authoritarian leader. Cummins also participates in international competitions funded by Aramco, a company owned by Saudi Arabia and responsible for the largest amount of carbon emissions in the business world.
In the previous year, there was a lot of discussion about Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund potentially focusing on cricket as their next investment. This is the country’s large and secretive sovereign wealth fund that also endorses LIV Golf and has ownership of Newcastle United.
If this scenario occurs, Cummins will likely be prioritized on the list of items to purchase.
He currently holds a significant position, but there may be even more crucial roles in his future.
Gideon Haigh is the author of Cricketetal.substack.com.