Wed, Aug 12, 2015 - Page 18 News List

Captain-in-waiting Smith set to carry burden alone

Reuters, MELBOURNE, Australia

Australia vice captain Steven Smith carries his equipment after a practice session at Edgbaston in Birmingham, England, on July 28.

Photo: AP

Faced with the task of rebuilding an Australia team laid low by Ashes failure, Steven Smith’s short apprenticeship under the captaincy of Michael Clarke is to come to an end with the fifth and final Test at The Oval.

In Clarke, captain-in-waiting Smith has the perfect sounding board on how to lift a team out of the doldrums, but he will not have the benefit of the 34-year-old’s experience at close hand in the dressing room.

Following Australia’s calamitous 2010-2011 Ashes loss on home soil under Ricky Ponting, Clarke was also the inheritor of a demoralized team, having served a lengthy apprenticeship as vice captain.

However, while Ponting stayed on under Clarke for the better part of two seasons, Smith will have to rely largely on his own wits.

The 26-year-old has already had a taste of leadership, having replaced Clarke as captain for three Tests of the home series against India, but taking over a team in major transition will be a whole new ball game.

“Nothing is confirmed yet either with anything, in regards to the captaincy, but if it works out that way and I am the next captain, then it’s a lot of responsibility,” Smith told Australian media in Nottingham, England.

“There’s obviously a few guys on this tour, the senior players that haven’t been taking part in the last couple of games,” Smith said. “So it’s always tough when you lose those guys, but I think it’s exciting for Australian cricket, we’re going to have some younger guys coming through.”

Smith’s team is certain to have a different complexion when it embarks on a two-Test tour of Bangladesh in October.

Apart from Clarke and paceman Ryan Harris, who suffered a knee injury and promptly retired just before first Test, wicketkeeper Brad Haddin, Chris Rogers and Shane Watson are all expected to have played their last Tests.

Managing the influx of a raft of new players while nursing the egos of the remaining senior ones might be Smith’s toughest task as captain.

Man management often seemed an insurmountable job for Clarke, with rumors of dressing-room disharmony and clashes with selectors a hallmark of his four years in charge.

As Clarke has struggled for runs this tour, the pressure on his deputy also seemed to take its toll and Smith has failed with the bat in four innings since his glorious 215 and 58 in the second Test at Lord’s.

Though Clarke will hog much of the attention in the dead rubber against England at The Oval, Smith will be eager to stamp his mark at the crease and lead from the front as he did with three centuries in his three Tests in charge against India.

“He was a great captain and a terrific player, so he’s going to be missed, that’s for sure,” Smith said of the departing skipper.

“Hopefully we can send Michael off on a high note at The Oval,” he added.

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