When Cricket Australia had finished dealing with the fallout from the ball-tampering scandal in Cape Town, they knew the day would eventually arrive when they had to address the lingering elephant in the room.
Indeed, the question of who would eventually replace Tim Paine, the stand-in captain who had taken over from the disgraced Steve Smith, would eventually serve to rake over the coals of Australia’s most damaging controversy on the sporting stage. In reality, the longer they could put it off for, the better.
WATCH: Cameron Bancroft and Steve Smith admit to ball-tampering during Australia’s test against South Africa ? pic.twitter.com/EZsmIvG2aN
— Sky Sports Cricket (@SkyCricket) March 24, 2018
With that said, the powers that be within the hierarchy of Australian cricket would have realised that Paine, who was 34 years old at the time of his appointment, couldn’t go on playing indefinitely. In other words, there was no way of delaying the inevitable forever. So, where are we two years down the line?
Well, as it happens, Paine will turn 37 on the day that the Ashes gets underway at the Gabba on the 8th of December. That’s an age where little is guaranteed in terms of consistent performances and it’s extremely rare for players to play on for much longer once they reach that milestone. This is especially true for wicket-keepers who rely on their reflexes more than any other position in the field as they’re tasked with catching balls that are sent down the pitch at speeds of up to 150 kph.
Basically, Paine’s time as Test captain is almost over but interestingly, his last hurrah as the team’s leader is predicted to be a success with the Aussie’s priced at just 1/3 in cricket betting to win the Ashes. Should he end up hosting that tiny urn aloft at the conclusion of the series, then he may well retire, the ball will then be firmly in Cricket Australia’s court.
The question we’re all dying to find out is will they decide to reinstate Steve Smith after his role in the scandal that’s referred to as sandpaper-gate? It would be a move that grabs the sporting world’s attention and you can’t imagine that the opinion pieces that follow would have adopted Cricket Australia’s attitude of letting bygones be bygones.
“They’ve set themselves as setting the benchmark for what is right and wrong in cricket –
everyone who’s played against them know that’s an absolute joke!” ?
— BBC 5 Live Sport (@5liveSport) March 25, 2018
Of course, the hierarchy of the game in Australia may well know this, and given that Smith is 32 years old, it wouldn’t be a long-term appointment either when you consider that most cricketers retire at 34 or 35. So, in essence, they would have to decide if the criticism that they’re going to come in for is worth what they’ll get out of Smith’s short-term captaincy.
If not Smith then they could select their best player who’s already the vice-captain, Pat Cummins, to take over. However, history tells us that fast bowling captains don’t necessarily make effective ones. Perhaps then they could opt for 27-year-old batsman Marnus Labuschagne who ticks a lot of boxes given his tenacious approach to the game.
The only potential problem here is that Labuschagne was born in Klerksdorp, South Africa. Could Australians look at themselves in the mirror knowing that their captain hails from South Africa, after all the songs about Kevin Pietersen and England? Labuschagne insists there’s no divided loyalty but will that be enough for the true blue Australians out there?
There are no easy answers to the question of who will replace Paine as captain but in many ways, the bottom line is that the ball-tampering scandal still haunts the Aussies more than anything. The next 12 months will see further fallout from that dreadful day in Cape Town as Cricket Australia plots the way forward with precious few options available to them.