Marnus Labuschagne admits he was taken aback by the surprise move from selectors to name Josh Hazlewood Australia's stand-in skipper ahead of Steve Smith, for the second one-day international (ODI) against England.
Smith's snub left fans and former players in shock after selectors opted to elevate fast bowler Hazlewood to the captaincy role, with regular skipper Pat Cummins rested for Saturday's series-clinching win.
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Cummins sat out Saturday's 72-run victory at the SCG after just one game as Australia's 50-over skipper, following long-term captain Aaron Finch's retirement from the format.
Many thought Smith would return to the captaincy role to stand in for Cummins but selectors threw a curve ball by giving Hazelwood the nod instead.
Smith brushed aside any issues around the shock call by sounding another ominous warning, with Mitchell Starc also sending a message with the ball as Australia clinched the three-match ODI series in game two.
Steve Smith is having an excellent year in ODI cricket 💪 pic.twitter.com/2zdC8FNfGT
— ESPNcricinfo (@ESPNcricinfo) November 19, 2022
Labuschagne said like many Aussie cricket fans he assumed Smith would take the reins as skipper in the absence of Cummins, and was initially caught off guard when the star batter was overlooked.
However, Labuschagne says giving Hazlewood the honour of leading his country for the first in the paceman's career shows Australia's desire to create a side with a number of strong leadership options.
"It was probably a little bit of a surprise (Smith's snub) but I think as a squad and as a group, we're trying to make sure that we're not just kind of becoming a team that can be focused on one specific person to captain," the Queenslander said at the MCG on Monday.
"Josh and Steve are great leaders and Steve's got a wealth of captaincy experience. Obviously the thought was to give Josh an opportunity in that leadership space where he hasn't had much opportunity prior to that."
Smith was appointed Australia's Test vice-captain when Cummins accepted the top job last November after Tim Paine was forced to resign.
It took just weeks for the 33-year-old to be back as captain, with Smith leading Australia in the second Test of last year's Ashes when Cummins was ruled out of the Adelaide match due to Covid-19 protocols.
That Test against England marked Smith's first game as captain since the infamous ball-tampering scandal in South Africa in 2018.
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Despite the debate around the captaincy issue swirling around him, Smith has let his bat do the talking and looks to have returned to the sort of form that gained him a reputation as one of the most feared batters on the planet.
After hitting an unbeaten 80 last Thursday, Smith backed it up with 94 two days later in an ominous warning for the West Indies ahead of the first Test of the summer, starting on Wednesday week.
Labuschagne (58) and Smith combined for a crucial 101-run stand in a good sign for Australia ahead of two Tests against the Windies and a three-match battle with South Africa.
Smith declared on Friday his knock in Adelaide was the best he has felt at the crease in six years.
"For him, it was a feel thing and he felt like his grip was right. His momentum into the ball, he was a bit more side-on, so all that came together and I think that's what gives him the confidence, Labuschagne said.
Australia will take an unassailable 2-0 lead into the final game of the ODI series against England at the MCG on Tuesday.
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