After the Australians’ clinical victory in Indore to bring the series back to 2-1 despite missing a bevy of stars in captain Pat Cummins, opener David Warner, and Josh Hazlewood, questions are being asked as to whether the Test team is being led by the right man for the job.
Cummins had only lost one Test as captain since taking over the job in 2021 before the tour of India, but Smith’s masterful performance deputising for him while he returned to Australia to be with his ailing mother has sparked calls for Smith’s reinstatement.
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Smith was banned from leadership positions for twelve months following the Newlands sandpaper scandal, and a return to the captaincy would require a specific Cricket Australia process that took into account the condition of “his acceptance by fans and the public, form and authority among the playing group,” in line with the sanctions placed on him in 2018.
Smith himself has established he is happy as a deputy, declaring this Australian side as “Patty’s team”.
News Corp cricket writer Robert Craddock and broadcaster Gerard Whateley discussed the leadership dynamic between Smith and Cummins on SEN, agreeing that while Smith was masterful in leading the side, the national set-up is best placed to keep Cummins as leader.
The Indore Test saw Smith’s captaincy at its finest, setting his trademark in-out fields to keep India under constant pressure whilst managing his bowlers effortlessly.
“It was probably as well as Steve Smith has ever captained,” said Whateley.
“His body language on day two and how into the fight he was, it was captivating,” he said.
“Watching it live in Delhi, Smith was running the in-field, the field setups, not Cummins, they have tapped into that as captain and vice-captain.
“I also think that’s what redemption looks like, he didn’t need to return as Australian captain, he got it, he got this moment, he’s captained three Test matches for three wins as vice.”
Robert Craddock agreed, but said Smith was best suited to the “occasional appearance” as captain.
“It just works well,” he said.
“It’s so obvious to say, ‘oh, he should be full time captain’, but I agree with him, I think it’s the best fit.”
Meanwhile, former fast bowler Mitchell Johnson wrote in the West Australian that “Smith’s captaincy acumen should serve as a reminder of what a valuable asset his cricket brain is to the Australian team,” but that there was more to leadership than purely tactics.
Johnson stopped short of calling for a change in captaincy, saying it was simply “time for (Smith) to be a bit more forthright in his vice-captaincy,” and to extend upon the dynamic that seems to have arisen in the national side, where Cummins leads as an excellent manager of people, while Smith takes care of the tactical side of the job.
With Cummins reportedly in doubt to return for the fourth Test in Ahmedabad, Smith may get another chance to captain Australia and to level the series, with Australia trailing 2-1.