After ‘Paine’ over Smith, Focus on Finch Now

Australia’s dominance is on the wane with barely a year to the ICC Cricket World Cup and the public is increasingly restless as their cricket looks vulnerable, exposed and in dearth of leadership on and off the field to steer them out of the doldrums that are largely self-inflicted. This was not the state of Australian cricket as it has come to be known, not even during the Kerry Packer crisis.

The new Australian coach has made no bones about the fact that he did not think much of Steven Smith’s ‘soft’ captaincy. The results under Paine have not yielded succor for him or for Australia. Aaron Finch may have made the strongest statement possible on the field as the world’s top Twenty20 player. Yet he does not have the coach’s endorsement for the crown of thorns yet.

Australia find themselves in a rather unusually precarious position. With heads rolling at the top of the pyramid, it appears Australia are showing their weary side to appointing a new leader in the den. While Australia’s cricket public are eager for redemption and course correction and want Aaron Finch appointed right away, Justin Langer is not willing to cede quite so easily without tossing all of Australia’s shelves and drawers.

This is perhaps the first time in three decades that Australia do not have an outright clear frontrunner to take on the mantle of leadership which is quite astonishing in itself, much like the brief vacuum after Allan Border in the 1980’s.

There is a lot riding on the shoulders of the coach as well as the team after the manner in which events unfolded at Newlands in the wake of Australia’s shambolic ball tampering incident. The immediate aftermath in the days after ball tampering have not been kind either, with Australia losing the five one day international series in a whitewash to England with a squad that looked more greenhorn than jaded – that is, if one leaves out wicketkeeper-batsman, Tim Paine - and only somewhat redeemed themselves recently in the Twenty20 tri series involving Zimbabwe and Pakistan, scrapping past Zimbabwe and losing to Pakistan in the final but not without controversy.

With their biggest sponsor, Magellan, pulling out in the immediate aftermath, Australian cricket have had some serious rebuilding to do in public perception. Although they have be able to find stop gaps sponsors in the interim, it is obvious their legacy as champions and dominating competitors is going through a rather uneasy withdrawal. In that regard, a strong leader seems clearly the need of the hour.

In cricket, unlike in football, rarely does a cricket coach yield as much authority as Langer has had to. However, with Australia’s cricket clearly in a leadership crisis on and off the field, Langer, a straight shooter with his words and a straight bat in his playing days, is determined to clean up Australian cricket’s image, giving precedence to developing a mentally stronger, fitter Australian team over confirming the future captain.

This time it appears Australia’s coach is going to take the once bitten, twice shy approach. With Tim Paine openly reluctant to take on the onerous job after it was thrust on him unexpectedly in Cape Town with Smith shunted out, and his own future in limbo given his inability to stay prolific with the bat, there is little doubt that the top of the Australian hierarchy is in crisis, after the taking down of Smith, Warner, coerced resignation of Darren Lehmann as coach and with James Sutherland set to quit as the administrative head of all things cricket in the midst of controversy over the timing and why he even chose to stay on after the incident even as the outrage over the banned cricketers playing elsewhere in the world continues.

With Australia having a breather before they gear up to play a Test series in October against Pakistan, Langer seems intent on using the time before making what seems virtually a decision without choice given that Australia do not presently have a player who seems a natural successor to the crown of thorns. Not a bad time for closet decluttering.


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