Australia is scheduled to tour South Africa in February and March 2020 to play three one-day international matches and three matches of 20Twenty International.
Tim Paine has done more than credible work as an Australian test captain in extremely difficult conditions. Despite his effectiveness, there is a lot of speculation about his successor – partly because of that. Smith’s ban on capitulation ends in April 2020, and by then, Paine may well decide he’s tired of this demanding job.
In the meantime, it will be interesting to see if candidates to the captaincy appear as viable alternatives. How has Australia, once considered the best groomer of captains in the world of cricket, reached such a state of destitution?
Like many cricket problems, it stems in part from the tedious international schedule. International requirements ensure that the best young players are seldom available for club cricket or Sheffield Shield cricket, both of which were an important part of the Australian captains’ education system.
Players with captaining potential had ample opportunity to lead teams of senior cricketers, who gave advice or reported errors in judgment. As a captain, the only way forward is to do the job and learn from the inevitable mistakes.
Not only did the Australian system traditionally offer a candidate the opportunity to graduate with honors, but it also provided breeders with evidence (or not) of leadership potential.
The dramatic reduction in the number of matches played by Australian touring teams was another way to prepare the captains.
In the past, the vice-captains sometimes had the opportunity to display their captain’s titles and, in so doing, players could acclimate to their leadership style as they progressed to the rank of captain.
Australian cricket faces another problem in this regard: mental health. Good young drummers are essential to Australian cricket, especially because they are a source of future captains.
When players like Will Pucovski are forced to isolate themselves from the game to solve their mental health problems, the pool of leaders potentially decreases. It will take a brave coach to charge a player like Pucovski’s homework duties when one says to himself, Will the extra responsibility lead to another failure?
So far, only drummers seem to have been affected, suggesting that bowlers should be more considered for leadership roles. Once, I made the mistake of saying to Richie Benaud that drummers tend to be the best captains.
“Ah yes,” thought Benaud, her lower lip protruding, “but these are just drummers who say that.”
There have not been many bowling captains but these few have generally been very good leaders. Benaud was in that category and, although he was a versatile player, he was primarily a bowler.
Imran Khan was very successful and, like Benaud, his main skill was bowling. Englishman Ray Illingworth was another versatile bowling player and I learned a lot about the captaincy while opposing him in two series of Ashes.
The high success rate of these captains confirms Imran’s opinion that captains must understand bowling. CA may be on the right track, as they named Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins, vice-captains of the test team.
Another problem faced by CAs in their search for leadership is the inability of young drummers like Travis Head to establish their qualifications at the highest level. The leader has experience as a captain of his state but still has to find a place in the batting order.
Paine, the outgoing president, is not one to subscribe to the theory that being a goalkeeper is more difficult than doing the drummer job. There is every chance that Paine will further strengthen his leadership reputation by the end of the summer with a win over Pakistan and New Zealand.
At that point, he will decide if he wants to take advantage of this reputation or let it fall while he is in front. If this is the latter case, CA would be better off hoping that a good candidate has arrived at the top of the line or that Smith is in the right mind to tackle the task a second time.
If Paine’s successor is Smith, it means that the Australian captain’s production line needs a serious recharge.
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