Say hello again to Captain Smith
- Steve Smith was destined to be captain once he was made vice-captain to Pat Cummins before the Ashes. It came to him suddenly on Thursday because of Covid-19.
Four times before Thursday have Australia had three different captains in three consecutive Tests. Never before were a mutating virus and a sexting scandal cited as reasons for change. That the baton was ultimately handed to a tainted, once-banned captain who happens to be a batting genius is also a quirk of fate possible only in a troubled sport like cricket.
Steve Smith was destined to be captain once he was made vice-captain to Pat Cummins before the Ashes. It came to him suddenly on Thursday because of Covid-19.
The pandemic has changed the equations to such an extent that Pat Cummins’s pre-Test dinner at a restaurant set into motion a chaotic chain of events after he was deemed a close Covid contact, prompting Smith to go to the toss next morning wearing what appeared to be Cummins’s blazer.
From Cape Town to Adelaide, life has come around a whole circle for Smith. “It’s a huge honour obviously,” Smith said at the toss on Thursday. “Been a pretty interesting morning, a bit has been going on. Feel for Patty missing this game, but I’ll try and lead the way he started last week, and hopefully we can have a really good week.” What did Cummins tell him? “Just good luck, go for it, it’s your team this week, control the boys and keep moving forward.”
As fairytale this comeback is in every sense, Smith’s brief fling with captaincy seems to be just that—a fling. Cummins is expected to join the team after completing the government-mandated seven-day isolation and normal service is set to resume from Boxing Day. Yet this could be an early tester of a man stripped of every right to play competitive cricket for a year after being escorted through Johannesburg airport and breaking down in front of flashing cameras.
Before March 22, 2018, Smith was more secure than any other contemporary captain. That Smith would throw all that away in one moment of brain fade was, and still probably is, held against him in many quarters. But Australia were never averse to the idea of Smith returning to running the team. Or else he wouldn’t have been barred from holding leadership positions for just two years.
Return to favour
Expediting Smith’s ascent to this position of faith were a steady trail of emphatic hundreds—starting with two in the Birmingham Test (his first after Cape Town) to a double hundred in Manchester and 131 against India in Sydney earlier this year—that made him the face of resistance every time Australia’s batting stumbled. There were reportedly gaping trust issues within the team, especially in the fast bowling group. But Smith’s performances couldn’t have been ignored for long. That and a relatively low profile in white-ball cricket helped Smith slowly tide over the negative consensus till Australia were in a happy headspace again, winning a T20 World Cup before throwing the Ashes gauntlet to England.
So, say hello again to Steve Smith, the Australia Test captain. Australia are 1-0 up and home Tests are not exactly the greatest curveballs but this day-night contest comes with it a unique set of problems: no Josh Hazlewood, no Pat Cummins and a pink ball that retains shine longer than the red Kookaburra on a pitch considered a batters’ bastion. Is it probably reading too much, given Australia being in a dominant position after Day 1? Smith would think not. New faces have trickled in but Australia haven’t learnt to live without Smith the batter. This is a chance to show they miss the captain in him too.