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Steve Smith should never captain Australia again - and it has nothing to do with morality

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Steve Smith should never captain Australia again - and it has nothing to do with morality

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Anirudh Suresh

03/30/2020

In the next 12 months or so - presumably when Tim Paine calls it a day - Australia will have a decision to make, a decision that will arguably be tougher than the one they made in 2018. After everything that’s unfolded in the last 2 years, do they go back and hand the reins over to Steve Smith?

Smith’s two-year leadership ban - that was imposed on him post the Newlands ball-tampering scandal that all of us have spoken way too much about - ended a few hours ago, meaning from this very moment, Cricket Australia (CA) are free to name him skipper. But of course, as early September 2019, when Smith’s heroics helped the Aussies retain the Ashes, there were already murmurs and chatter about Justin Langer & Co. handing the baton over to the New South Welshman as soon as the ban ended.

Smith seemingly ‘guiding’ and ‘helping’ Paine on the field added fuel to the fire and Paine had to publicly come out and admit that it was him - and not Smith - who was calling the shots. Perhaps Australia can consider themselves lucky that the world in the midst of a global shutdown; under any other circumstance, the media would have bullied the personnel involved, spewed out an answer from them and would have made a controversy out of it. But saying that, this does nothing but merely buy Cricket Australia more time. Eventually, they would need to address the elephant in the room sooner or later and hence must prepare themselves for it. 

The decision in question here is whether Steve Smith should be reinstated back to captaincy. And to me, the answer is simple - Steve Smith should never captain Australia again. And no, this does not have anything to do with his ‘tainted’ reputation; that’s a thing of the past - he served his time and arguably bore the brunt of all the wrongdoings his predecessors had done over the years. He is not a criminal nor is the game of cricket so pure to not give people second chances, so let us not take a ‘moral’ stance here; that would be a dunce-like, hypocritical argument.

It also has nothing to do with the ‘legacy’ Tim Paine has left over in the past 18 months. At the end of the day, the only way you can survive and sustain success at the top is by taking harsh decisions and sometimes, it might have to come at the cost of hurting the sentiments of a few individuals. Steve Smith should never captain Australia again because he is a bad leader who does not have it in him to propel Australia to the heights they envision themselves to be at.

And by labelLing him a ‘bad leader’, I’m not referring to his role in the ball-tampering scandal nor am I implying that he is a terrible captain. Smith just did not have it in him to visualize how things can be improved and he also failed to rally his players to move towards that better vision. In his three-year tenure as captain of the Australian cricket team, there were several questionable decisions, lows and embarrassments that were given a pass by the management all due to the fact that he, most of the time, made up for all those mistakes with his inhumane ability with the bat.

Under Smith, Australia did not have a team; rather, it was Smith + 10. And it became detrimental to the team and hurt them in the long run. It was also one of the primary reasons why the side had to rebuild from scratch once he was ousted from the team in 2018. With his batting, Smith held together a team that was deranged, disoriented and disorganized and while it speaks heaps about his ability as a batsman, it also reflects terribly on his captaincy and leadership.

But to sympathize with Smith, though, he was thrown into the line of fire by Cricket Australia not because he was the best fit for the role, but simply because they had no other option. With all of Michael Clarke, Shane Watson, Chris Rogers, Brad Haddin and Mitchell Johnson set to leave the sport - or at least the format - in the following 18 months, they had no choice but to go with someone who had the ability to shoulder responsibility and carry the team like their predecessors Clarke and Ponting.

And to be fair, Smith did manage to do a pretty good job as captain - under his leadership, Australia managed to regain the Ashes by beating England 4-0, came excruciatingly close to winning their first series in India in over 12 years and also blanked a quality New Zealand side in their own backyard. But it increasingly became evident with time that the team did not have a vision and were led by a man who had little idea of what he was doing or what he was supposed to do and merely relied upon his god-gifted batting skills to bail the team out of trouble.

Smith’s rather ‘conservative’ approach also did not adhere to the ‘Aussie way’ of killing off games - something that was religiously followed by Steve Waugh, Ponting and Clarke - and there was evidence of the same as early as his second Test match in charge against India at the MCG when he shook hands with MS Dhoni despite Australia needing just four wickets in the final hour to go 3-0 up in the series.

As revealed to Cricbuzz by Smith’s personal ‘mindset coach’ Dr Maurice Duffy, Cricket Australia, too, recognized this as a growing concern and felt that Smith had to ‘toughen up’, being the skipper of Australia. Getting Smith to inherit some of Warner’s ‘tough’ qualities is also believed to be one of the reasons for CA elevating the latter to the role of vice-captaincy. 

From getting whitewashed by Sri Lanka to the eventuality of the ‘Hobart debacle’, there were points in Smith’s tenure which gave one the feeling that it was nothing more than a ticking time bomb, a disaster waiting to happen. That it exploded and had to end the way it did in such unfortunate circumstances in South Africa was a shame, but the journey, as a whole, had too many holes and patches for it to inspire hope heading into the future. Perhaps it was ideal for both the player and the team that it came to an abrupt end, for there was going to be no other way that the ride was going to end. 

Smith might be the greatest batsmen Australia have produced after Sir Don Bradman, but he is far away from being a good leader - let alone a great one - and reappointing him as captain would hinder the team’s progress heading into the future. Who the alternative is, is for the board to think through and decide, but reverting back to Smith would be a considerable step backward. 

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