SA Cricket magazine editor RYAN VREDE doesn’t want to see Steve Smith captain Australia again for the same reasons he doesn’t want Quinton de Kock to do the job for South Africa.
Smith is eligible to captain Australia again after serving his suspension for the South African ‘Sandpapergate’ scandal. This became a talking point again recently in their T20I series against India when Smith was overlooked for the role in favour of Matthew Wade, in the injury-enforced absence of Aaron Finch.
On the eve of Australia’s first Test match against India, icons Mark Waugh and Shane Warne weighed in on the debate. Waugh said he wanted Smith to captain the T20I match in question, adding that he wants Smith to succeed Tim Paine in the Test role once the 36-year-old retires.
Warne said it’s time to look elsewhere. He wasn’t able to articulate his argument well, but I had a sense of what he meant when he said: ‘Steve Smith we want to bat and bat. I think we just let him bat and play.’
It got me thinking about the decision to make your most naturally gifted player, particularly X-factor batsman, captain.
It would have killed me if Sir Vivian Richards, Kevin Pietersen, AB de Villiers, Ben Stokes or any players of their outrageously gifted ilk had been asked to think about anything else but touching the ceiling of their potential.
For this reason, it vexes my soul that Virat Kohli captains India. He is a perfectly adequate captain, I just wonder how much better a batter he could be free of leadership responsibility. That sounds insane, given the heights Kohli has scaled while captaining India. I just think there’s the potential for even more should he be relinquish the captaincy.
Closer to home, I hate that De Kock is the Proteas captain. I understand why he is, but it doesn’t diminish the sense I have that South Africa (and cricket at large) would benefit more by releasing him of these shackles.
These men were/are gifts to cricket, players who are capable of the impossibly brilliant. They drag the game – specifically the art and science of batting – into new and exciting frontiers.
Again, captaincy doesn’t preclude these men from being great players. In fact, some of the world’s best players were/are captains – Smith and Kohli among them. I just don’t want them worrying about anything else besides performing cricketing feats that leave us breathless. I don’t want them to worry about who bowls in the powerplay, their own form as it pertains to how they’re perceived in the dressing room, media responsibilities, tactical meetings with coaching staff, nothing else.
I want them to have the complete freedom to explore new dimensions of their gifts in training, master that, then express this mastery in matches, then start the process all over again. I want them to continue to question conventional cricketing wisdom and drive the game forward by defying convention. I want their sole sporting purpose to be wringing out every last drop of their extraordinary potential. I want them to be able to invest in this extraordinary gifts without any distractions.
Many of these type of players want the job. Many feel the need to control, and be in control. Many don’t respond well to being under the leadership of others. This is where the coach’s emotional intelligence becomes critical. I’d like to think progressive coaching focuses not only on winning, but on how to take their most gifted players to the outer limits of their potential.
I don’t think De Kock is as good as some of the other players I’ve cited, but I’m fairly certain that – in this context – he would benefit most from being freed from the responsibility of leadership.
Smith averages nearly 64 in Test cricket. He has every chance of ending his career in the top-10 Test run-scorers of all time, despite missing a year through suspension and another due to Covid-19 disrupting Australia’s Test schedule. If he is able to replicate his incredible 2019 form – a period during which he scored 774 runs at an average of 110.57 – he could even finish in the top three and with an average in excess of 70. Yes, he is that good.
I don’t think that will happen if he is reinstated as Australia’s captain. I just, don’t.