Even before the end of captaincy ban on Steve Smith, talks had started about who was going to lead Australia in the longest format after his comeback. Now, as the ban has ended on 29 March 2020, the whispers off the wicket are increasing in decibels and the debates are getting tense. The battle of captaincy is between Steve Smith and the current captain of Australian Test side, Tim Paine.
Steve Smith’s Journey:-
Steve Smith, titled by many ‘The Modern Don’, is the best Test batsman in the world. Everyone knows that. There is no contradiction to this. His record in Test matches is enough to put rest to any claim otherwise. The journey which started as a leg spinner ended with him being crowned as the best batsmen of modern times.
After making his comeback in 2013, he established himself as a permanent member of the squad in every format. In 2015, by the age of 25, he was a World Champion. The same year he was appointed as the captain of the Australian Test side. He led his side in home series wins against New Zealand, West Indies, Pakistan, while also winning the return Test series in New Zealand. It wasn’t that there were no hiccups in between. Australia were whitewashed in the 3 match Test series in Sri Lanka and lost a home series against South Africa.
His own batting however, was flourishing as he churned out runs everywhere he went. Everything was falling in place. The stars were aligning perfectly. By 2017, he was ruling Test matches in a way not seen since Donald Bradman.
The 2017 Test tour of India will remain an integral point in Smith’s career. It was here that he showed everyone that he is a cut above the rest. The century in the 3rd innings at Pune on a venom spitting pitch remains one of the finest overseas century in Test Cricket. Courtesy that century, Australia registered a rare Test win in India (even rare is an exaggeration of sorts).
The Ashes Down Under in 2017-18 just affirmed his position at the peak. He scored 687 runs in 7 innings, 242 more than the next best. Led by him, Australia defeated England 5-0 to take the Urn back from England. By the time the Ashes was over, the world was his oyster, until the doom fell in March 2018 in Cape Town.
Tim Paine’s Moment:-
An obnoxious decision in the 3rd match of the 4 Test match series against South Africa led to Smith’s defamation in the cricketing community. He was suspended for a year alongside David Warner and Cameron Bancroft (he was suspended for 9 months). He was also ripped from captaincy for two years. Coach Darren Lehmann also stepped down.
Enter Tim Paine in the mainframe. After Cricket Australia snubbed both the captain and vice-captain of the Test side, the duty to lead the nation came in the hands of Tim Paine. The nation was distraught over what happened in Cape Town. Together with Justin Langer, the new head coach, Tim Paine started the revival of Australian Cricket. They were all over the place for the first few months, losing the ODI series 0-5 against England. Although they lost the Test series against Pakistan in the UAE, the resistance they showed in the 1st Test in Dubai was a sign of change.
The home summer in 18-19 was mixed for Australia as they lost to India (1-2) but won against Sri Lanka (2-0). That was just the beginning. His main task was the Ashes in England. The ban on Steve Smith, David Warner, and Cameron Bancroft had been over by that time and it was going to be a tough series. The last time Australia went back home from England with the Urn was in 2001, under the leadership of Steve Waugh. It had been 14 years since then. Many formidable Australian teams came to England but returned without the trophy. Not this time though.
The 2019 Ashes will surely go down in history as one of the most close-fought series of recent times but it’ll also be remembered how Time Paine carried his team after the devastating loss at Headingley. That loss would easily have taken away confidence from any team around the world. He learned from his mistakes at Headingley and corrected them at Old Trafford. The move to give the ball to Marnus Labuchagne in the final hours of the fifth day was a risky gamble that paid off. Emerging from the loss in the previous match, the Aussies defeated England and took the possession of the Urn. Although the series was drawn at The Oval, it was Australia who had the Urn in the bag.
As Steven Moffat wrote, “Everything ends and it’s always sad, but everything begins again, too. And that’s always happy.” The Ashes campaign in England reinstated the old belief in Australia. The belief that they can be the best in the world again. The 2019-20 summer saw them whitewashing Pakistan and New Zealand.
The Right Man :-
It’s a well agreed upon fact that Tim Paine’s batting is nowhere near that of Steve Smith. He scores at a meagre average of 31.69 in the 31 matches he has played in while Smith goes at a huge 62.84 in 73 matches. However, that’s not it. Captaining a side such as Australia is no easy task but leading the nation at a time of turmoil is a whole different challenge. Tim Paine did it and never even complained.
Steve Smith’s captaincy record in Test :-
Matches – 34, Won – 18, Lost – 10, Draw – 6
Tim Paine’s captaincy record in Test :-
Matches – 19, Won – 10, Lost – 6, Draw – 3
Who would’ve thought that the two players who made their Test debut together at Lord’s back in 2010 would one day compete for national captaincy. The two of them have developed a good friendship over the course of time. They both often help each other on and off the field. When Ian Chappell accused Steve Smith of white anting (undermining) the captain, Tim Paine was among the firsts to refute the claim.
It’s up to Cricket Australia to decide whether Tim Paine will continue as the captain or will Steve Smith will be appointed back but one thing is for sure – the future of Australian Cricket is in safe hands.
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