Paine has mandate to lead but Smith should captain Australia again
Tim Paine deserves an enormous amount of credit for how Australia fought back from the shock and disappointment of Headlingley to clinch the Ashes. There was plenty of criticism of him but he’s answered the knockers magnificently and led the side brilliantly in the fourth Test.
Not only did he get his players thinking about the next game, rather than what could have been, but he marshalled his bowlers expertly when the pressure was on. Moves such as bringing on Marnus Labuschagne on to bowl towards the end of the fifth day were the kind of tactical decisions that won Australia the match.
That’s what you’ve got to try to do as a captain – manufacture a wicket every now and again – and Paine has fittingly received a lot of praise for how Australia got over the line on a pretty flat pitch at Old Trafford.
In the process he has done the selectors a real favour. If there was any uncertainty about him continuing to the home summer you’d like to think it has been erased. The last thing the panel would want to do is have to change their leader and wicketkeeper in the next six months.
The subject of the Australian captaincy has lingered in the background with Steve Smith suspended from all leadership positions until next March, but it would be great if Paine can go on until at least then, and potentially another year or more beyond that point, too.
I believe Smith will captain Australia again. I was on the Cricket Australia board that determined the penalties for Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft over the events of Cape Town and have no doubt he will be a better leader next time around because of the very harsh lessons he learnt.
I’ve seen some of the commentary since the fourth Test, including the opinion of Steve Harmison that Smith can’t be forgiven and will always be remembered for what happened in South Africa. It seems a lot of people passing judgment have forgotten about others who have transgressed with ball tampering in the past or crossed the line various times in the game.
Smith did the wrong thing but the time he served out of the game as player, and the longer suspension on him being a captain, is more than enough punishment.
To me it’s not a matter of whether he becomes captain again on April 1. It doesn’t have to happen that quickly but I’d like to think when Paine is finished as Test captain – whether that’s in six months’ time or two or three years – he would be a candidate to lead the side again.
It’s a tough gig and with the scrutiny we put on our leaders now you see a lot of people shy away from such roles because there is so much hard work involved. But I think Smith will probably be keen to do it and I don’t believe the additional responsibility of captaincy would affect him dominating with the bat, as he has done in this series. It never seemed to worry him in the past.
As for Warner, I would be inclined to leave him out of the fifth Test side. That doesn’t mean putting a line through him for good – his record of 21 Test hundreds and an average of more than 45 suggests he’s still got a lot to give. But if you look at Warner’s record in England, averaging less than 28, and with Stuart Broad having his number in this series, there is an opportunity to go a different way at The Oval.
I agree with what Smith has been saying, that the England bowlers have been performing better against left-handers than right-handers, so I think you could bring back Cameron Bancroft to open, with Usman Khawaja, in a brand new partnership.
It would be almost a free selection for the panel because no one who’s played in the top order aside from Smith and Marnus Labuschagne has done anything to demand inclusion. Another option for selectors would be to play Warner in the middle order and perhaps leave out Travis Head, but he’s a leader in the side so I think they would be reluctant to do that.
I remember when I had my bad run out of outs in 1997, it was said that I was batting too long, scratching around for 40 balls and not making too many runs. With Warner you almost don’t know what sort of form he’s in because he’s getting out so quickly, not lasting many balls at all. But Australia have subsequently been left two-for-not-many time and again.
I’d like to see Australia play the same bowlers from the last Test; it’d be great if Pat Cummins could play all five matches, but my concern has been for Nathan Lyon, who split his finger in the first innings at Old Trafford. I’m not sure Australia want to be playing him if he can’t hold onto the ball.
Despite Australia having retained the Ashes, it’s certainly not a dead rubber. It will be up to Paine to get his team up for the new challenge of winning the series. If I was in that side I would feel Australia deserves to end up on top. They could easily be up 3-0 so a drawn series wouldn’t be the right result.
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