Players with captaincy potential lead teams with the support of senior cricketers, who would pass on tips or point out errors of judgment. The only way to improve as a captain is to do the job and learn from the inevitable mistakes. Not only did the Australian system traditionally present opportunities for a candidate to graduate with honors, but it also provides selectors with the evidence of leadership qualities.
Smith’s captaincy ban ends in April 2020 and by then Paine may well decide he has had enough of what is a demanding job. In the meantime, it’ll be interesting to know if any other captaincy candidate emerges as a viable alternative.
Like many problems in cricket, it seems that part of the unwieldy international schedule. International demands mean that the better young players are rarely available for club or Sheffield Shield cricket, both of which used to be a substantial component of Australia’s captaincy education system.
Another avenue for grooming captains has been lost with the drastic reduction in the number of matches played by Australian touring teams. In the past, vice-captains occasionally had the opportunity to display their captaincy efficiency, and in the process, the players could get used to their leadership style when they were handed the role of a captain.
There’s another problem emerging for Australian cricket in this regard – mental health. Good young batsmen are crucial to Australian cricket, not least because they are a source of future captains. When players like Will Pucovski are forced to take time out from the game to sort out mental-health issues, it potentially decreases leadership credentials.
There haven’t been many bowling captains but those few have generally been very good leaders. Benaud was in that category, and although an all-rounder, he was a bowler first and foremost. Imran Khan was highly successful, and like Benaud, his primary skill was bowling. England’s Ray Illingworth was another bowling all-rounder and learned a lot about captaincy. The high success rate of these captains confirms Imran’s opinion that captains must understand bowling. Perhaps CA is on to something, given they appointed Josh Hazelwood and then Pat Cummins as co-vice captains of the Test team.
Paine, the incumbent, is not one who subscribes to the theory that being a keeper-captain is anymore tougher than doing the job as a batsman. There’s every chance that Paine will further enhance his leadership reputation by the end of summer with victory over both Pakistan and New Zealand. At that point, he’ll decide whether he wants to build on that reputation or call it quits while he’s at the helm.
If it happens, CA can hope that a good candidate could be considered the skipper or Smith may be in the right frame of mind to tackle the job a second time.