Steve Smith in huge captaincy twist after sad news about Pat Cummins

The Aussies will have a different captain and a depleted side for the third Test against India.

Steve Smith and Pat Cummins, pictured here in action for Australia.
Steve Smith will captain Australia in the third Test against India. Image: Getty

Steve Smith will return to the Test captaincy for the third time since the sandpaper scandal of 2018 after news emerged on Thursday that Pat Cummins won't be returning to India. Cummins revealed that he will miss the third Test in India to be with his mother in Sydney, who is seriously ill.

"I have decided against returning to India at this time as my mother is ill and in palliative care. I feel I am best being here with my family," Cummins said.

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"I appreciate the overwhelming support I have received from Cricket Australia and my teammates. Thanks for your understanding."

The sad news means Smith will once again be captain in Cummins' absence, which also occurred twice over the last two summers. Cummins has missed both of the last two day-night Tests in Adelaide against England and the West Indies due to Covid-19 in 2021 and injury in 2022.

On both occasions, Smith was elevated from vice-captain to captain and led his side to victory. The Aussies will be hoping for more of the same when Smith leads the side against India in Indore, with the tourists trailing 2-0 in the four-match series.

However the sight of Smith wearing the captain's blazer will prove grating for many. Smith was infamously banned for 12 months after the Aussies were caught applying sandpaper to the ball during a Test match against South Africa in 2018. Captain at the time, Smith was also handed a two-year leadership ban despite admitting he wasn't aware of the plan to tamper with the ball.

That ban has long expired, but there are still some in the cricket world who feel uncomfortable about Smith captaining his country again. Speaking in 2021, Aussie great Ian Chappell said he didn't know why Smith was allowed to return to a leadership role when David Warner was banned for life in that regard due to his involvement in the sandpaper scandal.

Warner (who was vice-captain at the time) is believed to have been the 'architect' behind the plan to cheat and encouraged Cameron Bancroft to rub sandpaper on the ball. Bancroft copped a nine-month ban, while Warner was suspended 12 months and banned from ever holding a leadership role again.

Steve Smith, pictured here after captaining Australia in the absence of Pat Cummins against the West Indies in December.
Steve Smith captained Australia in the absence of Pat Cummins against the West Indies in December. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

"I have a problem – why is Steve Smith looked upon as a different punishment to David Warner? In fact, if anything, I think Steve Smith's crime was greater. For a captain to say, ‘I don’t want to know’ when cheating is involved, is not correct. A captain has got to know, he’s got to find out and he’s got to do something about it," Chappell said.

"Either Steve Smith has a two-year ban from captaincy and so does David Warner, or Steve Smith has a life ban and so does Dave Warner. Same thing. Cheating is cheating, whether it's big cheating or little cheating, it's still cheating in my book."

Michael Clarke expressed similar sentiments, saying: "I see it as very inconsistent. I find it very hard to believe it's okay for one but not okay for the other to have a leadership role.

"If Cricket Australia decided that all the guys involved in South Africa, none would play a leadership role, that's a fair call. But if it's okay for Smithy, then it has to be okay for Bancroft and Warner. This is the last thing cricket needed."

Cricket world reacts to news about Steve Smith

Smith will be captaining a depleted team in the third Test, with Josh Hazlewood and David Warner already ruled out for the rest of the tour and returning home. With Cummins also missing, Mitchell Starc will almost certainly come into the XI after missing the first two matches of the series.

Travis Head will likely remain at the top of the order with Warner missing, while all-rounder Cameron Green is expected to come into the side and bat at No.6. If the Aussies decide against playing three spinners like they did in Delhi, Scott Boland will likely come in as well in place of either Matt Kuhnemann or Todd Murphy.

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