Smith, Captaincy and the Frailty Debate

In a case of doomed-if-you-do and doomed-if-you-don’t, there has been a lot of discussion about captaincy styles, particularly in the wake of the ball tampering scandal in Cape Town in which an emotional Steve Smith let it out that the incident was not the idea of a single novice player but rather of an entire leadership group which still remains shrouded in mystery.

When the scandal erupted in Cape Town and Smith took on the press conference alongside young Cameron Bancroft and admitted amidst tears that he had been part of the leadership group in the Australia dressing room that approved the young player’s indiscretions with the ball on the field, although the incident itself was shocking, there was, also, the general contention amongst cricket circles that something of this nature could have happened under someone like Smith.

On the face of it, it may have seemed rather harsh to have one of the world’s leading, most prolific batsmen be labelled as particularly fragile and that too in the area of leadership. More than once, Smith has been compared vis-à-vis someone more brash and in-your-face aggressive like India’s captain, Virat Kohli, as someone more stable and a calming influence on the field and therefore, with a higher propensity for success. Yet ironically the track record suggests that while at the outset, such logic may seem sound, what cannot be ruled out is that Smith had indeed displayed areas of vulnerability that showed a certain deviation from Australian captains in the past who showed a certain fortitude, albeit sometimes misplaced.

The instances where against India when he spoke about a ‘brain fade’ moment in his words when looking to the dressing room as if to consult a referral decision and also, when he spoke about needing to take a sleeping pill after making a declaration and having a restless night in the immediate aftermath, while one would not think these references would necessarily make Smith a deviant or someone prone to devious behavior, it does allude to certain obvious chinks in captaincy not previously openly witnessed amongst Australian captains and also, the feeling that Smith has been less surefooted about the captaincy than he has been about his own batting prowess.

This would not make him the first prolific batsman who has been unable to convert self-leadership in a group leadership context. But it does suggest that while some can handle the pressures of international cricket, one can sometimes feel stifled in the gamble between rising up to the responsibility and also, raising the standards of the team he is now in charge. Somewhere between the lip and the cup, Smith is now suffering the ignominious consequences that saw a shattered young man address the media in Australia.

While the new Australian coach, Justin Langer, touched upon the soft side of Smith’s leadership, the fact that Smith is now citing mental fatigue as a reason for his less than impressive reign as Australia’s captain is something that perhaps needs to be looked at closer, when Australia have sometimes adopted the win at all costs strategy, including sometimes resorting to unbecoming behavior and is perhaps now telling on a team that is clearly rebuilding, not an easy task under any circumstances and particularly in the aftermath of something like this and in a situation where they are being vilified amongst their own rank and file as being ‘soft’ and ‘pudgy around the edges’ when they would much prefer the brutish and the belligerent.

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