Steve Smith passes my pub test.
I’ve never met the man, so I can only go on what I’ve seen and heard on TV, but he seems like a guy I’d love to meet and have a few beers with.
Naturally the main topic of conversation would be cricket and I’d be keen to know more about how he goes about his batting, his thoughts on various players and how we are shaping up for the Ashes.
The one topic I’d feel very uncomfortable discussing is what happened in South Africa and therein lies a problem, especially when it comes to thinking about Smith’s claims as the next Australian Test captain.
The majority of Australian cricket fans and the general public were both upset and disappointed with what transpired in South Africa in 2018.
That said, most (not all) would agree Smith has shown genuine remorse for his part in that issue and has done his best to show he has learnt from that serious mistake.
On that basis, many suggest he should be given another opportunity to lead the Test team, but in reality that would be a very bad move.
While most have forgiven Smith, not all have and none have forgotten his part in that scandal, especially the media.
If Smith were to be given the captaincy, the pressure on him to be squeaky clean – both on and off the field – would be immense, even more so than it is now.
We all know the media carry-on that happened this summer when Tim Paine exchanged words with Ravi Ashwin. Imagine the uproar if that was Steve Smith?
Then there’s the flow-on effect to the rest of the team. They too would have to be almost angelic, which is not a word you associate with cricketers in general and Australian cricketers in particular.
If an issue did arise – for example, hints of ball tampering or other illegal actions – how could Steve Smith, captain of Australia, front the media to explain what happened? And if he didn’t talk with the media, he’d still likely cop negative press for refusing to speak about it.
The next issue is timing. Tim Paine seems certain to lead Australia through the Ashes next summer then perhaps retire. If Smith were to take over that role in 2022, he’d be facing a seriously challenging 12 months.
There are Test series scheduled against Pakistan, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and India all away from Australia, then home series against the West Indies and South Africa. These are all tough teams to beat in these conditions and Smith would be under huge pressure to win away from home, just as he was in South Africa in 2018.
On a personal level, Smith would also have to play in most of the ODIs and T20 matches, including the 2022 T20 World Cup. That’s a massive workload for a normal cricketer, let alone the captain of his country, the best batsman in the team and a player under such intense scrutiny.
Little has been made of Smith’s role in the Test team.
Since his return to the side, Smith has been just a player, albeit a very good one, who has been able to do what he does best – play cricket. He’s been involved in the decision-making process on the field more and more and overall, he seems to be very much enjoying the game. That would be very difficult to maintain were he to take on the captaincy.
Apart from the factors already mentioned, the Test team is in something of a batting crisis, as evidenced by the selectors’ inability to find decent openers this summer. David Warner’s getting no younger, which leaves no strong candidates to partner Will Pucovski, assuming he’s fit.
Cameron Green has a ton of potential but his Test career is in its infancy while the other middle-order batting spot is anyone’s guess.
Smith the captain would have to work on all these issues as well as bedding down a wicketkeeping replacement for Tim Paine. Again, these are all small but important things that, as the leader of the team, he has to get right.
There is also a question not often asked: just how good a tactical captain is Steve Smith?
He has a record of 18 wins from 34 Tests, including a four-nil Ashes win in 2017-18. There’s no doubt he has tactical nous, but I’m not sure he’d be classed as a great Test captain. If he were, it would be hard to argue against his claims, but he’s not, so this leaves opportunities for others.
It’s also concerning how much the job seems to drain him physically and emotionally.
Australia played a five-game ODI series after that Ashes win in 2018 and Smith appeared physically and mentally spent. He only managed 102 runs in that series and his captaincy was very average because he was not mentally sharp. Imagine what shape he’d be in at the end of 2022 if he took on the captaincy at the start of the year.
Steve Smith appears to be a highly charged individual. His focus and intensity in cricket is massive, which is great as a player, but when the pressures of captaincy are added, it could easily be too much.
It’s completely understandable Steve Smith would be interested in returning to captaining the Australian Test side, but that would not be in the best interests of the team.
He is playing some very good cricket in all formats at present and most importantly he is enjoying what he’s doing. He would best serve Australian cricket by continuing to do what he does best: making a lot of runs and supporting the next Test captain to win series.