I hope Michael Clarke can overcome his injury woes and make it back into the Test side. At 33 and with 108 Tests under his belt, he still has much to offer in the next couple of years.
However, should he return I would like to see him do so as a batsman only and not skipper.
Cricket Australia took a step toward the future when Clarke was ruled out of the last three Tests of the current Border-Gavaskar Trophy series.
Prior to the Phillip Hughes tragedy, when it appeared Clarke was a marginal chance of recovering in time from his hamstring injury to play the scheduled Gabba Test, the selectors said the incumbent vice-captain, Brad Haddin, would be the fill-in skipper.
With the rescheduling of the series in the aftermath of Hughes’ death Clarke was deemed fit to play the first Test at Adelaide.
When he broke down and for the first time since his recurrent injury woes started 18 months ago and stated he may not come back, the selectors opted for Steve Smith as captain. However when doing so the selectors appointed Smith the official vice-captain, in place of Haddin. Clarke was still the skipper, they said, albeit one sidelined by injury.
Smith stepped into the void at the Gabba and did a fine job.
At stumps on Day 1 India, having chosen to bat, was 4-311 and looking destined for a 500-plus total.
It was a tough first day for Smith in the position often referred to as the second most important job in Australia.
Undeterred, he manoeuvred his troops expertly on the second day to have India dismissed for 408.
He then compiled a man of the match 133 to help guide Australia to a four-wicket win.
At 25, Smith came to the captaincy as the third-youngest in Australia’s storied history, behind the recently departed Ian Craig and Kim Hughes.
He also stepped into the role on the back of a fine streak with the bat which finally secured his spot in the side. Prior to being named Clarke’s deputy he had had leadership experience with New South Wales and the Sydney Sixers.
His batting is known for its flair and unorthodoxy. More than likely he will carry those traits into his leadership.
Clarke has shown over the past 18 months that his degenerative back injury – first diagnosed when he was 17 – has failed him several times with either direct issues or back-related hamstring injuries.
Successful leadership in most endeavours, whether in sport or business, is often predicated on continuity.
Clarke was not at Brisbane for the second Test, instead watching from his lounge room sofa having undergone surgery on his right hamstring. He will not be at Melbourne or Sydney for the remaining two Tests either.
During that time Smith will be increasingly stamping his leadership style on the team. It may be a retrograde step to have Clarke return as captain should he prove his fitness.
It would appear that the nature of his back complaint will continue to be a match-by-match, if not day-by-day proposition. His possible return would not simply be akin to a player returning from a run-of-the-mill, one-off injury.
Clarke’s back issue is classified as degenerative, meaning by definition it will continue to provide issues and with greater regularity.
There is no reason should he come back that he could not follow in the footsteps of Ricky Ponting and play out his career as a specialist batsman providing wise counsel to his successor.
It would smooth the way for an ongoing Smith-led team.
Haddin at present is the deputy vice-captain, while Clarke still holds the captaincy in absentia. With the 37-year-old to go as far as next year’s Ashes at best, the next decision for the selectors will potentially be choosing Smith’s long-term Test deputy.
They have shown a liking in recent decades for keepers, with Haddin, Adam Gilchrist and Ian Healy all in the role for substantial periods. That will change when Haddin goes, as his replacement will not be thrust into the position upon his arrival in the team.
My choice would be David Warner, who while having significant off-field issues during his career, has maintained a clean slate for over a year, during which time he has assumed the mantle as the team’s most valuable batsman.
That of course leaves the one-day leadership role heading into the World Cup in the New Year.
Clarke’s deputy has been George Bailey, who has led well when asked to do so in Clarke’s absence. His form in the ODI arena this calendar year has been lean, with his 17 matches producing 406 runs at 25.4, although his career figures remain strong – 1945 runs at 44.2 with a strike rate of 88 from 52 matches.
He has captained the ODI team on 24 occasions for 12 wins, 10 losses and 2 no-results.
His recent captaincy record has been particularly solid, with six wins and one loss from his past seven matches against South Africa and Pakistan.
The current BBL tournament will likely decide whether Bailey holds his place in the ODI squad for the World Cup.
He did his cause no harm last night with a 44-ball innings of 71 for the Hobart Hurricanes in their loss to the Sydney Sixers at Bellerive Oval.
If Bailey is included in the World Cup Squad, he should be captain.
If his form over the next few weeks plus the upcoming ODI tri-series with India and England is not sufficient for him to get the nod, Smith then becomes the obvious choice.