Why Cricket Australia missed the mark by making Steve Smith vice-captain


The woes of skipper Joe Root, who was in the limelight after his former Yorkshire teammate Azeem Rafiq made explosive allegations of institutional racism, have been eclipsed. The Australian cricket administration is in disarray; his old captain will probably not even play in the series (if again at Test level), a green captain has been appointed, a new wicket keeper must be chosen and now the teams will play in atmospheric conditions similar to those of the England (the Bureau of Meteorology has predicted that eastern Australia will likely have a wet summer in La Nina).

If, after these providential breaks, England do not win the Ashes, they should be extremely disappointed.


CA appears to have performed “character” tests on two potential captain candidates. The danger is that it could end up with a cardboard cutout doing the job in the future.

If I were in the shoes of new captain Pat Cummins, I would like to have the firm assurance that CA and its board of directors are backing me, should I ever need it. Paine didn’t get much support when he needed it most, and might have expected it.

Cummins has had minimal experience as a captain at all levels, so the job will be tough enough without the burden of being the righteous new face of Australian cricket.

I have seen with my own eyes how the work has intensified in 40 years.

Having been by my panty brother’s side during his captain rank and having been vice captain for part of his tenure, I thought I had a pretty good idea of ​​what the job entailed.

My first misunderstanding was that I was convinced that the Australian captain must be an amateur psychologist. I quickly realized that the amateur was not good enough; they had to be in their own right.

Dealing with the different personalities was the trickiest part of the job and the bowlers often took the most time. Fortunately, I had played with them for years so I knew them well.

The fast bowlers were the most interesting players because they have to be wired differently to enjoy long steam rides for 20 overs or more, even during the hottest part of the day.

People regularly ask what it was like to deal with people like Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson in particular. My answer is that they were generally the easiest to interact with as they just wanted to play fast and take wickets.

Sometimes things would go off the rails and one or the other would get cranky about something that was usually out of anyone’s control.

Most of the time, they were fun to work with and generally made me laugh – which only made them more pissed off.

The spinners were often the “mad scientists” of the group and required a completely different manual. Batters and wicket goalies were easy in comparison. Goalies are often the best assistants on a cricket team because they are in the middle of the action and generally have their finger on the pulse of a match better than most. In Rod Marsh, I had one of the best.

I have been captain of Australia before and after World Series Cricket and was surprised how much the job description has changed in the two years between relays.

Fast pitcher Pat Cummins has been named Australia’s 47th test captain.Credit:PA

Before the WSC, gambling was a hobby, then it turned semi-professional. The most significant difference was that the media body had grown significantly and Channel Nine, as the host broadcaster, demanded much more from the captain. While the role had grown exponentially, the support structure around the Captain was the same.

Without a media manager, as captain I was at the mercy of the media and requests were not regulated outside of playing hours. My phone at home or at the team hotel was ringing 6 o’clock in the morning and could ring until midnight. At the end of each playing day, there was a press conference at which the captain was always expected.

The easiest part of the job was what was happening on the pitch and around the team. Growing up with the game, most captains are not stressed out by the cricket side of their job. Defining a typing order, determining who plays when and how to define a field can often be done on autopilot.

Responding to changing situations in a game becomes second nature to someone with match and captain experience.

Marnus Labuschagne, right, would have been a logical choice for the role of vice-captain.  Instead, Steve Smith was given the role.

Marnus Labuschagne, right, would have been a logical choice for the role of vice-captain. Instead, Steve Smith was given the role.Credit:PA

In the age of professional cricket, teams have head coaches, skill coaches, physiotherapists, doctors and sports psychologists. Most have a full-time media manager who sets the stage for the captain, head coach and any team members who have to deal with the media. The responsibilities of the press conference are usually shared by the head coach and captain before and after games, while in-game media work is usually shared between the players.

The extra support is needed to give the captain time for his pre-match preparation and to allow him to decompress during and after matches. As with most leadership roles, it is important that the captain is a good communicator and delegator.

We say in politics that you should never spoil a crisis. Paine’s situation was a golden opportunity for the coaches to prepare more than one leader. I’m surprised they went back to Steve Smith; not because I think he should be punished more, but it would have been a great opportunity to develop another viable, long-term leader.

I would have appointed Marnus Labuschagne as Cummins’ assistant, while Smith’s important cricket knowledge was always available when needed. As a senior player, Smith would have been involved in most of the discussions anyway. Labuschagne would have benefited greatly from listening to Smith’s thoughts and ideas in real time.

As vice-captain, Smith will now likely only have those conversations with Cummins, so Labuschagne will miss out on an important aspect of his leadership development.

Because international engagements take elite players away from national cricket almost completely, very few get their state captain. I see this as a missed opportunity.

Coach Justin Langer has the chance to reinvent himself during this turmoil. His position has been under scrutiny for some time, supposedly due to his penchant for micromanagement – the main criticism of his critics. A successful Ashes campaign is their chance to relinquish the role at a time of their choosing.


I always believed that the coach was the head of the support staff. In addition to dealing with all of his specialist coaches and medical staff, it is his responsibility to take on most of the captain’s workload before the match. The two collaboratively design game strategy and tactics, but once the team steps onto the pitch, the captain should not only be in control, but also be seen to be in control.

This is unique to cricket and should never be compromised or violated. I expect Cummins to make that clear before he steps onto the pitch as captain.

I am deeply saddened by the way Paine was abandoned and practically kicked out of cricket.

It is the opportune time for us to evoke the sagacious words of Mahatma Gandhi: “No human being is bad enough to be beyond redemption”.


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