Smith is the right man to lead us into the new era of Australian cricket

Date: November 6, 2015 / Posted by Glenn Mitchell

Smith skipperSteve Smith is being accorded an opportunity that few Test captains have. Most times when a new skipper takes over he inherits a team that contains numerous long-term players.

When the likes of Greg Chappell and Michael Clarke ascended to the captaincy they had amongst their ranks their former skippers.

For Smith it is quite a different look. Today’s Brisbane Test will be the New South Welshman’s 34th.

In his team of 11 will be six men who have played nine Tests or less – Usman Khawaja and Josh Hazelwood (9); Adam Voges and Mitchell Marsh (7); Peter Nevill (4); and Joe Burns (2).

Of the rest, Mitchell Starc has turned out in 22 matches; vice-captain David Warner will be playing his 44th; and Nathan Lyon his 47th.

The most experienced Australian to grace the Gabba today will be Mitchell Johnson who will be wearing the baggy green for the 72nd time, although having turned 34 on Monday his tenure in the squad maybe short-lived.

For Smith the inexperience in his current team is a double-edged sword.

Unlike Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting who inherited teams that contained numerous bona fide stars, Smith does not really have that luxury.

That leaves him potentially vulnerable in the results column especially given the thinness in the batting ranks. The flip side is the fact that he has the opportunity to mould a team pretty much as he sees fit from the ground up.

Given the high profile retirements and resultant dearth of experience Smith will be given ample time to find his feet with this fresh-faced team.

Just what sort of stamp he puts on it will be fascinating to watch. By nature Smith is not a demonstrative character. On the field he has allowed his actions to do the talking rather than enter in to any verbals with opponents.

He comes to the full-time role of skipper as a cleanskin with no history of histrionics either on or off the field.

Unlike Ponting and Clarke who early in their careers were burdened with off-field issues that hung with them for quite some time there are no such issues for Smith.

He also arrives in the job on a permanent basis content in the knowledge that when he was called upon to backfill for the injured Clarke last season following the Adelaide Test against India he not only engineered a series win but scored three centuries and averaged 92.5 in his three matches at the helm.

He raised eyebrows in some quarters during the ODI series that followed the recent Ashes when he opted not to withdraw an obstructing the field appeal against England all-rounder Ben Stokes after he was given out.

One of those who voiced their dissatisfaction was Black Caps skipper, Brendon McCullum who labelled Smith’s actions as “immature’ in a newspaper column.

When quizzed by News Corp on Tuesday about McCullum’s comments, Smith was matter of fact – “Yeah I was a little bit disappointed. I didn’t really think it was any of his business”.

While Smith has been reluctant to be drawn into any pre-series banter his deputy has again been happy to step up on behalf of the team.

Warner fired several salvos at McCullum, labelling him “Mr Nice Guy” and calling into question his publicly perceived good guy tag. Coming from Warner those comments were not unexpected but it is not the sort of ‘analysis’ you would associate with Smith.

Under a succession of skippers Australia has played a hard and uncompromising brand of cricket which has not been universally admired, especially on the sub-continent.

The perceived ‘win at all costs’ attitude that the Australian team often exudes has seen it lose fans not only abroad but also at home with many voicing dissatisfaction with the way the team has gone about its work.

With the exception of Warner the side that will take to the field today in Brisbane is largely bereft of agitators.

Johnson can sometimes get riled but in the main he tends to fight verbal barbs and stares with increasingly hostile bowling. Starc, for example, was recently brought to task by Shane Warne for not outwardly displaying more of a fast bowler’s mentality.

With the changing of the gloves from Brad Haddin to Nevill there is also likely to be less chirp directed from behind the stumps.

In the end all that stuff is merely cosmetic however, for Smith’s legacy will be writ large on the back of his team’s performances with bat and ball.

The side’s Achilles heel is without question its batting. Part of the solution it appears is for Smith himself to slide back to number four. That in itself is a choice that has divided various former players.

There is no doubting the fact that Smith is currently at the peak of his powers. In his past 17 Tests, dating back to January 2014, he has peeled off nine centuries and 2125 runs at 75.9.

At 26, he is now the Australian Test captain, and unless poor form or injury seriously intervenes, over the next decade he has the opportunity to build a captaincy record like few others.

On a full-time basis it all starts today at the Gabba.

It is the start of a new era in Australian cricket with a fresh-faced captain in charge of a largely green Test team. There will be bumps along the way but everything to date suggests Smith is the right man for the job both on and off the field.

First published on The Roar – theroar.com.au – on 5 November 2015, soliciting 15 comments