Steve Smith is back in a big way, and some think that should include the captaincy. (AP: Rui Vieira)
Australia coach Justin Langer has weighed into the debate over who should captain the Test team, as Steve Smith’s ban from leading a national team approaches expiration and Tim Paine’s place in the side faces scrutiny.
- Justin Langer says Steve Smith may not want the “burden” of the Test captaincy
- Langer praised Tim Paine’s leadership, but said he would hold a discussion with Smith to “work out what’s best”
- He also said he backed “champion player” David Warner to get rediscover his form before the home summer
Smith had captained his country until receiving a one-year suspension for his involvement in the Cape Town ball-tampering scandal, with Paine stepping into the void.
While Smith launched a successful return to the team during the recent Ashes series, he is still prohibited from captaining an Australian side until next March. But, with Paine’s batting and occasionally captaincy drawing criticism from some quarters, many are already contemplating handing Smith the keys to the team again.
According to Langer, though, the situation may not be that simple — for example, Smith himself may not even want the job.
“I’ve built a good relationship with Steve over the last 18 months, and it [the captaincy] is going to come down to honest conversations,” Langer said.
“You can see how exhausted he was from the effort he puts into his batting [during the Ashes], and whether he wants the burden of captaincy as well is something we’ll have to work out over time.
“I’ll be one of the selectors, and I think we’ll just work out what’s best.”
Langer also heaped praise on Paine’s work in charge of the team, and stressed the best of the Tasmanian keeper may be yet to come.
“Tim Paine is doing a brilliant job at the moment as well. He’s been outstanding in his time as captain, so however long he wants to keep playing for is another thing,” he said.
“The beautiful thing about Tim Paine is that he knows he can get better. He can keep getting better, he will keep learning, and with his youthful enthusiasm, even as a senior player, he’s got lots of areas he can improve — that’s heartening for him and that’s heartening for us.
“But for the moment, he’s definitely doing a great job.”
Tim Paine has faced scrutiny, but has the backing of his coach. (Action Images via Reuters: Lee Smith)
‘Genius’ Smith winning fans the world over
It seems a long time ago that Australians were calling for Smith’s head as the Cape Town saga unravelled in early 2018, but his time away from the game — and his historically successful return to it — has softened public opinion towards the former skipper.
Langer noted a similar phenomenon in England, and said he was looking forward to the reception Smith was likely to get down under.
Smith has returned to play for New South Wales in the Sheffield Shield for the first time since his ban. (AAP: Albert Perez)
“One of the best things about the Ashes series was when he got out for 20-odd in the last Test,” Langer said.
“He was physically and mentally exhausted from what he had been through. What he had endured, not just from the runs and the batting, but some of the abuse he copped early in the summer, I’d never seen anything like it.
“But at the end of his last innings at The Oval he got a standing ovation from large sections of the crowd.
“He had turned the sentiment around from what it was when we first arrived for the World Cup, to a standing ovation for his genius as a batsman and his good nature, for the way he held himself off the field and just his quirkiness.”
Despite the success in England, where Australia retained the Ashes with a 2-2 series draw, question marks remain around many aspects of the team heading into a home summer.
Spots are up for grabs across the Australian batting order, but particularly in the top three, which Langer stressed was particularly important.
But one man Langer is not worried about is David Warner, despite his poor Ashes return.
David Warner struggled in England, but made a ton in his first Shield innings for NSW. (AAP: Albert Perez)
“He had a poor series against England, no doubt. That’s just a fact, and he knows that,” Langer said.
“But he also hasn’t lost his talent, because he was the highest run scorer in the World Cup two weeks before the Ashes started, and he was the highest run scorer in the IPL before that. So he can bat.
“The other thing about David Warner, my experience tells me that you never write off champion players. And he’s a champion player.
“He’s going to have to keep performing, he knows that, but I’d be very surprised if he doesn’t do well in the next few rounds of Sheffield Shield cricket, does well in the T20 stuff, and gets his mojo and confidence back.”
Australia will play three T20s each against Sri Lanka and Pakistan, before the first Test of the summer against Pakistan begins in Brisbane on November 21.