Cricket Australia has confirmed that Steve Smith is being considered to replace Tim Paine as Australia's Test cricket captain, despite previous thoughts that he would never receive the role again.
Paine stepped down as Test captain on Friday after a historic sexting scandal was made public for the first time.
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Paine's tenure as Test captain ended just as it began - with the national men's team in crisis and in the shadow of a Cricket Australia integrity unit investigation.
The 36-year-old was made captain in 2018 when Steve Smith and David Warner were both suspended for their roles in the infamous ball-tampering scandal in South Africa.
Warner is barred from holding any captaincy roles in the Australian team for the rest of his career, while Smith was thought to be highly unlikely to ever be elevated back to the captaincy as well.
Current vice-captain Pat Cummins is thought to be the frontrunner to take over from Paine, but Cricket Australia boss Richard Freudenstein admitted on Saturday that Smith is being considered.
"There is going to be a very thorough, and now quite quick, process," he told reporters.
"We are going to look at a range of criteria and there are a range of candidates who are available for that role.
"Steve Smith is one of the candidates that is available for that role."
The unlikely man brought in to lead Australia in the wake of the sandpaper scandal, Paine was also called upon to burnish the side's image off the field.
Pre-match handshakes were on the agenda, while "elite honesty" became the catchphrase of he and Justin Langer's first home summer in charge.
But no one could have predicted the ugly way Paine's time in charge would end on Friday as the lewd texts that he sent to a female colleague in 2017 resurfaced.
Tim Paine admits sexting scandal was a ticking time bomb
Paine has since admitted he believed the sexting scandal was a ticking time bomb that was always going to become public at some point.
The ramifications of Paine's resignation from the captaincy are continuing to flow in Australian cricket in the lead-up to the Ashes, with the search for a new captain to include background checks for possible integrity issues.
Paine was cleared of any misconduct in a 2018 integrity unit investigation, after he sent lewd messages and a graphic image to a Cricket Tasmania colleague.
Freudenstein and Cricket Australia CEO Nick Hockley on Saturday admitted they would have axed Paine as captain had they been in charge at the time.
But they defended the inaction since, claiming they'd felt no need to delve deeper into the investigation after being made aware of it when they joined the organisation in 2019 and 2020 respectively.
However Paine has conceded he always felt the issue could come back to haunt him, after previously being aware of other attempts for the story to be revealed publicly.
"I thought the issue was dealt with, but it always popped up around a big series, or at the start of the cricket season," Paine said in a Herald Sun interview beside his wife Bonnie.
"Over the last three years, there have been numerous times where media agencies have put to us that they had evidence, yet they never chose to write it.
"But I knew it was going to come out at some point, as much as I didn't want it to."
Paine said he is certain he can continue as a player in Australia's Test team, having indicated the home Ashes summer had been his target for potential retirement.
"I see that as the ultimate high, to be able to finish your Test career after winning an Ashes series in Australia," he said.
"That's the dream. That's what I want to do."
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