Mitchell Johnson has offered a reality check for those calling for Steve Smith to return to the full-time captaincy of Australia's Test cricket side, saying Pat Cummins is still the best man for the job. Smith led Australia to victory in the third Test against India, with Cummins back in Australia to be with his sick mother.
Smith will once again lead the side for the fourth Test in Ahmedabad after it emerged on Monday that Cummins won't be returning. The Aussies were thrashed in the first two matches of the series, but bounced back in brilliant fashion under Smith's leadership in the third Test.
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The win has sparked calls for Smith to replace Cummins as Test captain on a permanent basis, after he lost the role in the wake of the sandpaper scandal in 2018. Smith was suspended for 12 months and banned from holding a leadership role in Australian cricket for two years for his role in the scandal - which amounted to the fact he didn't know the full extent of a plan hatched by David Warner that resulted in Cameron Bancroft rubbing sandpaper on the ball.
Smith was elevated to vice-captain when Cummins became Test skipper at the start of the 2021-22 Ashes series. He has since filled in for Cummins on three occasions - winning all three.
But according to former teammate Johnson, being a good captain is about more than wins and losses. In an editorial for the West Australian, Johnson wrote: “Smith’s captaincy acumen should serve as a reminder of what a valuable asset his cricket brain is to the Australian team."
Johnson said he believes Cummins is still the best man for the job, but said it is “time for (Smith) to be a bit more forthright in his vice-captaincy." It has emerged in recent months that Smith seems to do more of the field placements and tatcical changes, while Cummins is more of a leader and people manager.
Discussing the situation on SEN radio, commentator Gerard Whateley said: “It was probably as well as Steve Smith has ever captained. His body language on day two and how into the fight he was, it was captivating.
“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.”
Leading cricket writer Robert Craddock said Smith was more suited to the “occasional appearance” as captain. “It just works well,” he said of the dynamic between Smith and Cummins. “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.”
Steve Smith content as Test vice-captain
Speaking to reporters after the third Test, Smith admitted he enjoyed the extra responsibilities of being captain and believes it brings out the best in his play. However he said his time as Test captain is over and the team belongs to Cummins.
"I like captaining in this part of the world. I feel like I understand the conditions really well and the intricacies of the game,” Smith said. “There’s an event every ball … it’s a lot different to the other parts of the world. I think I did a reasonable job this week.”
Former Test bowler Geoff Lawson recently pointed out that Cummins is still learning the intricacies of being a captain due to the fact he was never a skipper in Sheffield Shield cricket. Lawson said Cummins clearly hasn't got the knowledge of how to utilise spinners just yet, but it will come with experience.
Wicket-keeping great Ian Healy then made the staggering call that he believes Cummins should eventually give up the Test captaincy to focus on his bowling and be free of the extra 'burden'. However Healy highlighted the fact that there doesn't appear to be any leaders coming through the ranks who could eventually take over.
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