Cricket is special for me for two reasons. Firstly, the game changes in accordance to the surface being played on. A test match being played at Nagpur will never be the same as the one being played on WACA(on the old pitch of course) even if the same set of players are playing. The challenge is to mould the game according to the pitch. It takes significant effort and only the best are able to perform with considerable ease all across the globe.
Secondly, the role of captain in Cricket is monumental. A captain can be inspirational like Imran Khan, be the father figure like Clive Lloyd or be gritty like Steve Waugh. Captaincy is a special skill. A Cricket captain can be mediator, a leader, a facilitator all in the span of a single match.
It is certainly not everyone’s cup of tea, not even the great ones such as Sachin or Lara. I have always believed that Cricket captains are cut from a different cloth. Be it the West Indies team of 1970s or the great Australian team of 2000s, unless a great captain rises, a great team simply cannot be formed.
Cricket Australia’s decision to rest Steve Smith(read:strip Steve Smith off the captaincy) is certainly a knee jerk reaction. There is absolutely no point in drubbing it as a “strategic decision” to rest Steve Smith for the remainder of the 3 ODIs so that he is fresh to take on the crucial tour of South Africa.
SL has definitely been sour grapes as far as Steve Smith ’s fortunes are concerned and it seems that he has taken the easy way out( or forced to do so).
The Whitewash: SL inflicts utter humiliation
A fairly strong Australian squad arrived on the Lankan shores looking to bully them. A 3-0 whitewash was literally unpredictable. The bookie who had put his money on that must be a billionaire by now. Had any Cricket pundit predicted that before the beginning of the series, he would have been termed as a lunatic for sure. The white wash has to be taken down with a bucket of salt (not a pinch) by the Aussies. Afterall, in nearly 140 glorious years of Test Cricket, Australia has played 177 test series of 3 test or more and they have been white washed only four times.
Why the decision to take Smith off the captaincy is not justified?
First of all, you don’t take a break mid-way into the series, especially when you are not in a leading position. If Smith wanted a break, he should have opted out of the series. Opting out of the series is not unheard of, MS Dhoni, the Indian captain has opted out of a Sri Lankan tour in the past. But he made it clear from the very beginning. Smith’s case is a case of mere submission, the easy way out.
Secondly, with important series lined up against South Africa and India, the Oz would have wanted to have a seasoned skipper, tried and tested chap leading the boys. If Smith can’t take the heat from a relatively less important tour of SL, can he be trusted to lead his troops to battle against better sides? Surely, there is no scope for ‘taking rests’ in such important tours.
David Warner will be adorning the mantle of skipper mid-way; this is not the kind of situation you would like to be in. As a captain, you would prefer a cushion of time to mentally prepare yourself and set a chemistry with the team and the coaching staff. A new captain should ideally start his journey from the beginning of a tour, it marks the beginning of a learning curve for him and the team and therefore it can’t be started in between a tour.
I am not surprised that the Australian media has not been raising alarms about this. There have been reports by Australian media justifying Smith’s decision citing fatigue as his reason to opt out of the series. If they are looking to shelter this knee-jerk reaction, it is understandable. But maybe when Steve Smith retires, he is definitely going to sit back and wonder at the callous choice. He will never forget this SL tour for sure.
Now consider this, with the increasing popularity of T20s, the shortest version of the game and the resolve to keep Test Cricket alive, it is a given fact that teams will be required to play more international Cricket than ever. The tour itinerary is shared well in advance, giving sufficient time for players to take the decision to play or opt out of the series. Steve Smith, in turn came out with a diplomatically correct statement which basically conveyed nothing.
“I hate missing cricket but I think in the long run having a bit of a break will do me the world of good”
Fox sports trying to justify Smith’s reason by citing the sudden realization that Steve Smith has played 500 days of Cricket is foolish to say the least. He may have been encouraged or forced to take a rest but at the end of the day, it is a stupid decision. It shows that Australia has gone weak in the knees. Even the world cup winning skipper Michael Clarke has taken a dig at this move as he had tweeted:
I would of liked to have seen the captain play until the series was won and then have a rest. https://t.co/i0WEWqOVe7
— Michael Clarke (@MClarke23) August 25, 2016
In the same breath if Smithy needed a break then he should have flown home after the Test matches not 2x ODIs in. https://t.co/i0WEWqOVe7
— Michael Clarke (@MClarke23) August 25, 2016
To add more insult, a statement that is deeply hurtful is calling national captaincy a “Burden”. If anything, it is an extremely rare opportunity to bring laurels to your country. Darren Lehman, the Australia coach has been quoted saying the captaincy was a “burden”. The moment you call it a burden, I am afraid that you are not going to do a good job at it. There is a self-evident foolishness about his quote
“It’s obviously a burden but a great burden captaining your country. We just wanted to make sure that he’s fresh and ready to go for South Africa and then the big summer ahead. We planned that for a long time and he took some convincing. But as a coach and a selection panel we’re making sure he’s fresh and ready to go each and every time he plays for Australia”
What the decision conveys?
Perhaps, Steve Smith could turn out to be a great captain for the Aussies. He certainly has the potential to be one of Oz’s all-time greats but that is all in the future.
At present, it is an uncharacteristic move by Cricket Australia.
Size does not matter, it seems like the tiny island nation has sent shivers down the spine of the mighty continent. The Kangaroo has got its tail between its legs at the moment and Lankan lions seem on-course to unleash further humiliation. Even if the Australians do manage to win the ODI series, the Sri Lankans have already dealt a big moral blow to the Aussies.
Hope the remainder of series to be a riveting contest. May the best team win.