The drawn third Test against India showed us Tim Paine isn’t always as cool as we think he is, the tourists have more guts than we realised and Steve Smith can never captain Australia again.
The 31-year-old was shocked and distraught to be caught up in controversy when he was accused of scuffing up Rishabh Pant’s guard on day five at the SCG.
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The English came hard for Smith. Former fast bowler Darren Gough blasted it as “plain cheating”, 2005 Ashes-winning captain Michael Vaughan labelled it “very poor” and ex-player and coach David Lloyd wrote in a scathing column Smith must not have “two brain cells to rub together”.
The truth is it was a case of Smith being Smith. The eccentric batsman is forever in his own cricketing bubble and was simply shadow batting and marking centre — a quirky habit Paine assured us his teammate performs regularly in every game and Justin Langer said it couldn’t possibly have done any damage to the pitch.
But as questions are asked about how long 36-year-old Paine has left in the top job, especially after dropping three catches and sledging Ravichandran Ashwin, it’s become clear he can’t be replaced by Smith.
Rightly or wrongly, Smith will forever be tainted by his role in the 2018 ball tampering scandal, which saw him banned for a year and prevented from holding any leadership position in Australian cricket until 2020.
While many in the cricket world, including Australian Test players Trent Copeland and Mark Waugh, leapt to Smith’s defence after this latest furore, the overwhelming sentiment from cricket fans on social media was this: Why, after all Smith has been through, would he put himself in a position to be judged for something that, plainly speaking, was just weird?
He did nothing illegal but shadow batting as a left-hander when you don’t even have another innings to play, then scraping the crease line, left Smith open to criticism he could easily have avoided.
The vitriol that came his way showed the scars of Sandpapergate run deep, and any tiny misstep such as this proves Smith can’t escape his past. He certainly won’t be able to if he captains again, because his every move will be scrutinised more than ever.
A repeat of the Sydney scandal — and howls of “the sandpaper villain is at it again!” — will always be just one quirky habit away.
There’s another reason Smith might be better-suited to role where his tactical nous in the field is sought out but it’s informal. When youngster Cameron Green was drafted into the ODI squad to make his international debut earlier this summer, the best since Bradman was asked if he’d had much to do with the all-rounder since he arrived in camp.
Smith said he’d barely spoken to the 21-year-old, because he was so focused on hitting balls in the nets and working on his batting.
As an uncapped player, you’d hope senior players would take the time to make you feel welcome and get to know you. It’s certainly something you’d expect from the captain.
But Smith was too ensconced in his batting bubble to be distracted.
That’s fine — Smith is going to make a lot of Aussie cricket fans very happy if he sticks to his demanding training regimen and scores truckloads of runs for the next five years.
He should feel empowered to take whatever steps are necessary to maintain his status as the best batsman in the world — but if he lacks the people skills to befriend newcomers, he can’t be captain at the same time.