Ashes 2015: Big challenges, but bigger opportunities for Steve Smith as captain

Nottingham Just because Steve Smith is the only option to take over take over from Michael Clarke does not mean he is not the right – even the ideal – next Australia Test captain.

When Australia begin their next red-ball series, in Bangladesh in early October, Smith will be 26 and four months, making him the youngest full-time Test captain since Kim Hughes at the end of World Series Cricket. That will make Smith about three years younger than Allan Border was – and he went on to shape Australian cricket for a decade.

Had has already thrice captained Australia in Tests, last summer against India when Michael Clarke was injured. Then, he had the vastly experienced Brad Haddin as deputy, and Shane Watson in the slips cordon. When he – pending Cricket Australia board confirmation – takes over in Bangladesh the level of experience around him is likely to be vastly inferior, given coach Darren Lehmann’s comments since the series loss to England that an overhaul of the team was probable.

“I’m not sure what the squad’s going to look like come Bangladesh . . . it’s completely different conditions, there could be some different guys on that tour to what there is here,” said Smith.

“I just think it’s really exciting for Australian cricket to see some new guys coming through. Hopefully they can make their mark on international cricket as well.”

One early indication of what Smith the captain will be like is one not likely to back down. He was unrepentant about the early aggression at Trent Bridge which saw him faced a total of only 12 deliveries for the match. And even with England already guaranteeing an emphatic series victory the captain-in-waiting did not resile from his pre-tour prediction that their Ashes opponent would not “come close to us”. He instead returned to the proviso he attached to those comments he made to ESPNcricinfo: that Australia played “the way we have been playing over the last 12-18 months”.

“I think we haven’t played well, and England have played very well,” he said.

Smith said the way he captained Australia last summer would be replicated if, as is assured, his elevation is approved by the CA board. One concession – a rare one – he made was that he had probably been too conservative in last year’s Boxing Day Test, when he batted on longer than expected before declaring knowing a draw was sufficient to win the series, and was what occurred after India finished at 6-174 late in the final day.

“I think the two games that we drew [in Melbourne and Sydney] I could probably be a bit more aggressive there and given ourselves more of a chance to bowl the opposition out,” he conceded.

While Clarke moved into the captaincy in 2011 he had spent almost the entire time since his debut in the team (his second home summer was the conspicuous exception). Smith has differed on that already. He was brought into the team mid-way through the 2010-11 Ashes series, and as part of the recriminations the flowed spent more than two years out of the Test team, and for the most part the one-day team too. He was made to earn his return through Sheffield Shield runs and did exactly that, which has brought respect from his peers to complement their fondness for him.

Off the field Smith is settled, with his relationship with law and commerce student Dani Willis helping bringing some non-cricket balance to his life. But it is not a replica of the situation involving teammate – and probably vice-captain – David Warner, who has hailed his now-wife Candice for helping get his life together.

One of the rarely mentioned aspects of Smith is how unusual it is for someone to have got a taste of international cricket, and the money and fame that flows from it, so young – he debuted in all three formats at 20 – and not grown up in public the hard way, as now-revered predecessor Ricky Ponting did.

Winning teams are generally more resistant to whispers of disharmony than losing teams are. Even if a vastly different Australian line-up gets off to a tricky start under Smith in Bangladesh, and maybe even the two series against New Zealand at either end of the home summer, Smith is likely to benefit from enough goodwill from his teammates, present and also past, that such an outcome would not be a crisis for his captaincy, rather a building block to what it will become.

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