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The pros and cons of Australia’s six Test captaincy candidates

Ben Gardner by Ben Gardner
@Ben_Wisden 5 minute read

With Tim Paine having resigned as Australia Test captain in shocking circumstances, Ben Gardner looks at six players who could be considered to take the throne.

Pat Cummins

Pros: He’s already seen as a leader in the dressing room, and as a stand-up character too, something more important now than ever. His place is clearly not in danger, and if Australia are to follow their previous formula of picking their best player as captain, he’s got an argument to be considered the former. And then there’s those ocean-blue eyes…

Cons: He’s a bowler. This shouldn’t matter as much as it does, but Australia very rarely choose captains who aren’t batters. The theory goes that you can’t objectively manage a group of bowlers on the field when you are one of the bowlers in question, and even if that’s a weak argument, it’s beyond question that having Cummins as captain would make it harder to rest and rotate him.

Steve Smith

Pros: He’s also assured of his place, he’s been captain before capably (apart from the admittedly pretty bad stuff at the end), and his record as skipper is remarkable – he averages 70.66 when leading the side.

Cons: The admittedly pretty bad stuff at the end. Smith’s ban from leadership positions has now come to an end, but that doesn’t mean the ball-tampering scandal has been forgotten, and as Cricket Australia attempts to fight through yet another PR nightmare, re-appointing the man who helped spark of the last one might not be the best idea.

Marnus Labuschagne

Pros: Marnus Labuschagne is, along with Smith, the other batter not banned from being captain who is sure of his place in Australia’s Test side. He’s also a lot younger than Smith, and has long been touted as a future Test captaincy candidate, with a zest for the game and a likability that can get you a long way.

Cons: He’s still seen as a future Test captaincy candidate, rather than a present one, with his on-field antics and over-exuberance seen by some as immaturity and unreadiness for the top job.

Travis Head

Pros: At the age of 27, Travis Head has plenty of cricket ahead of him and before Labuschagne’s emergence was marked out as one of the next in line to the throne. He’s captained Australia A before, and was recently appointed skipper by Sussex. An average just below 40 in Tests indicates a player of promise too.

Cons: He’s not a certain starter for the Ashes, likely to compete fiercely with Usman Khawaja for a spot in the middle order, and while there might be merit in giving him run and making him Test skipper at the same time, it’s a route Australia are unlikely to take while other options are available.

Usman Khawaja

Pros: An experienced leader in Sheffield Shield cricket, Usman Khawaja has captained Queensland for several seasons, as well as Australia A. An independent and interesting thinker on the game, Khawaja has long been rated as one of Australia’s most talented batters, as an average above 40 attests to. At the age of 34, he has plenty behind him to call upon.

Cons: Like Head, Khawaja is not a nailed-on starter. Given his age, he’s not a long-term option either.

Alex Carey

Pros: Another player with ‘leadership potential’, Alex Carey impressed many with his courage and tenacity during the 2019 Cricket World Cup. Looked upon as a potential successor to Tim Paine with the gloves, could he, like Paine, come in with little experience to pick up the top job?

Cons: He is still yet to make his Test debut, so any captaincy discussions are probably premature. He could be groomed as the next-next-in-line however, if Smith or Khawaja are called upon as a two-year stopgap.

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