Is Steve Smith the right man to captain Australia again?

At 35, it almost goes without saying that this is likely to be Tim Paine’s last summer as an international cricketer.

The break from cricket due to the COVID pandemic is likely to extend careers, but in the case of cricketers, you can’t do anything about reflexes slowing down as both a batsman and wicket-keeper.

The job Paine has done since stepping up to lead the Australian test team in the wake of the Cape Town ball tampering scandal two years ago has been an admirable one.

To contend against India without Steve Smith and David Warner at home, then to notch up a historic draw in the sub-continent against Pakistan where the tourists had to bat 140 overs to save the game, and to win the Ashes in England.

No one can knock the job Paine, who was on the verge of retirement before his shock call up to that 2018 tour of South Africa, has done.

However, it’s time for Australia to move in a new, fresh direction come the end of this summer, which brings with it one Test against Afghanistan, and four against India.

Paine must be allowed to keep the c next to his name for this summer. Given the turmoil surrounding sport, particularly international sport, it wouldn’t be the right time to go changing captains right now.

But Australia must have the succession plan in place. They must be ready for the inevitability that this will be Paine’s last summer, both as captain, and keeper, in the Australian side.

The transition of keepers seems a far easier decision, given Matthew Wade is comfortably holding his spot down with the bat in the Australian middle order, and has improved his own keeping out of sight since he was last given the opportunity to do that for the national team.

But the decision of who becomes Australia’s next captain, rated as the second-most important job in the country, is a far trickier proposition.

Steve Smith, who was captain up until that Cape Town debacle and has now served all the time included in penalties by Cricket Australia, would seem the most obvious option. You only need to listen to the man speak to realise he has well and truly learnt his lesson and would never take such an opportunity for granted again.

But, would the Australian public buy it? Would they be happy with the reformed Smith, rated the best batsman in the world by many good judges, taking the mantle as captain of the Australian cricket team again?

There will be sections of the media who call for it not to happen, but the choices apart from Smith appear bleak.

And not down to a lack of leadership qualities - but rather - for having a secure spot in the side.

The number one rule when selecting a captain, a little bit like when selecting who will lead the team song, is to ensure said player isn’t going to get dropped in the foreseeable future.

When you run the rule over the Aussie cricket team right now, the only players who appear to have their long-term spots sealed are Smith, David Warner (banned from captaining or being in any sort of leadership role for the duration of his career), Pat Cummins and Nathan Lyon. Everyone else, you could find a reasonable argument for why they may not even see out this summer, let alone the next one.

And that, in a nutshell, is why Smith comes into contention.

Out of the other players there, neither Cummins nor Lyon have leadership experience of any great deal. Cummins, who has plenty of his career ahead of him and has, in many ways, carried the Aussies in all three formats of the game over the last 18 months, is the likely contender.

But you simply couldn’t make a bowler who has never captained a side at a high level before the skipper.

Cummins is likely to be selected as the vice-captain, but simply put, there are no viable options outside Smith, who, as we know, seems to excel under the pressure of captaincy anyway.

There may be other options who cement their place over the course of the summer, and you’d love to see players like Marcus Harris or Travis Head do so, but right now, Smith is the most secure player, and the one with leadership experience to take a turbulent Aussie cricket team into the future.


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