Steve Smith has already donned many avatars for Australia. Blonde leg-spinner aka the next Shane Warne, the fancy shot-maker with a carefree vein, the sensational fielder, and a potential future great. And he’s all of 25. On Monday, his avatar collection received another addition, a rather fancy one at that, after he was sworn in as the 45th Test captain for Australia, the third-youngest after the late Ian Craig and Kim Hughes. It’s unlikely the other two could have looked as young as him though.
For, as he sat on the podium flanked by coach Darren Lehmann on his left and Pat Howard, the high performance director, on the right, Smith looked every bit a nervous schoolboy in the midst of a project presentation.
Not so much when he started talking about his new role though. If anything, he sounded as confident as someone who’d been groomed for leadership from the very beginning and not been handed it unexpectedly.
“As a captain first and foremost I’ll try to lead from the front with my performance on the field, and with regards to tactics I think we’ve been pretty good this year. Pup’s been amazing with what he’s done and the group we’ve got at the moment going forward. I don’t think there’s any real need for a big change there,” said Smith.
With Michael Clarke being ruled out of the series, Brad Haddin had emerged as the strongest candidate to take over in a stand-in capacity. But Smith’s name had been doing the rounds for the captaincy role in a long-term capacity, owing to his singular disposition, his ability to be the cog between the young and the aging in the Australian camp and his awe-inspiring form with bat over the last 18 months.
“It’s obviously been a pretty whirlwind 18 months for me personally, and for the team as well. For this to come up so quickly, it’s an amazing thrill. It’s something that I’ve always dreamt of doing. I’ve had a bit of leadership experience with New South Wales and the Sydney Sixers,” he said.
“I know at the Sixers I had some older heads there with Brett Lee and Stuart MacGill. To lead those guys was a big thrill for me. I know coming out at the Gabba, our senior guys will support me 100%, and Brad Haddin, who I’m very close with, as the vice-captain will be right behind me,” he explained.
“I’m extremely close to Brad and when I told him yesterday that Rod called me, I think he knew what was going on. He’s over the moon for me, he’s proud as punch. I’m certainly going to look to Brad out there as Michael always does. He’s a terrific team man and he’s got a great cricket brain as well. He’s certainly someone I can lean on out in the middle as well,” added Smith, who has seen his batting average climb from the early 30s to 46.02, aided by his highest Test score of 162 not out in the first Test against India in Adelaide.
Smith was also candid enough to admit that he wasn’t ready for Test cricket either as a leg-spinner or a batsman when the nod had come for the first time in 2010. But he is someone who’s tasted success as a young captain, leading Sydney Sixers to the maiden Big Bash title, and New South Wales to the Sheffield Shield crown.
Legend has it that Smith had left school before his 12th grade with the entrenched belief that he would play at the highest level for Australia. On Monday, he called it a gamble that had paid off. But his promotion to captaincy is no gamble, it’s Australian cricket’s bold move towards the future.