Australia is on the hunt for its next ODI captain after Aaron Finch brought his 50-over career to a close earlier this month.
Pat Cummins is the favourite to land the gig, although the return of David Warner to a leadership position has gained momentum with the opener set to sit down with Cricket Australia to discuss his captaincy ban.
There are, however, roadblocks to the elevation of either player to the ODI captaincy.
As such, the door could open again to Steve Smith — or even an outside contender with their own captaincy credentials.
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Also not out of the equation, given the ever-expanding cricket schedule, is the possibility of two captains being named.
Fox Cricket’s Adam Gilchrist warned Australia against going down that route, however, saying that a big call needs to be made.
“I think it could make things a little bit complicated,” Gilchrist said at Tuesday’s official season launch for Kayo Sports. “Talking to a number of footy players over this winter actually, AFL guys who didn’t seem to ever be too keen for co-captains.
“It became trendy for a while, but I think at the end of the day the buck’s got to stop somewhere with leadership … I personally think just one captain.”
So who will that one captain be?
Here, we take a look at the three main contenders, and the three smokies who could land Australia’s ODI captaincy.
The frontrunner for the position is Australia’s Test captain, Cummins, who is set to return to ODI cricket with next year’s 50-over World Cup on the horizon.
Speaking at Kayo Sports’ season launch, Warner said that he expects Cummins to be offered the job, adding: “And rightfully so.”
Australia legend Gilchrist is of the same opinion, telling reporters that “it would make sense” for Cummins to be given preference.
“History shows that if you’ve got continuity across all formats, if you’re in a fortunate position to have one person that can do it all, why not?” Gilchrist said.
“Everything he’s done so far he’s done in a controlled, measured manner, balanced manner and he seems to be handling it all really well, all the various responsibilities.
“That would be my initial gut feel, but rest assured there’s enough knowledge there, there’s enough experience there across a number of guys.”
The main barrier towards Cummins being named ODI captain, however, is Cummins himself.
There are concerns about how much international cricket the fast bowler can fit on his plate, with the 29-year-old saying it’s “unrealistic” for him to captain every Test and ODI.
Nonetheless, Cummins suggested he would be eager to take the role, providing an agreement could be made with Cricket Australia about his schedule, and his Test role wouldn’t be negatively impacted.
“Things change – there might be times where the captain might not necessarily play every game and someone else steps in,” Cummins told reporters at the SCG. “There’s a lot to think through, for whoever it is.
“If it comes up and it works, it would obviously be a huge privilege, but if not, it’s totally fine.
“I don’t want anything to take away from my role as Test captain, so there’d be a bit to work through.”
Pros: As Australia’s Test captain, Cummins’ leadership credentials are strong, while he would also offer the nation greater continuity across formats. He’s also unlikely to give selectors any headaches around his spot given he’s one of, if not the best, multi-format fast bowler in the world. Furthermore, making Cummins captain would safely navigate around any controversy that would come with the elevation of Warner or Smith. And at 29 years old, Cummins is a leader for both present and future.
Cons: The workload. Cummins will play far more ODI cricket over the next 12 months with T20 appearances likely falling by the wayside after this year’s World Cup. Even so, it’s almost impossible for him to play every single ODI and Test match. As such, his appointment will need to come with firm contingency plans for when he inevitably sits out a match, or series. That sharing of power could muddy the leadership waters for when a full-team is available.
The main contender for Cummins appears to be Warner, despite the fact he’s currently banned from holding any official leadership position in Australian cricket.
Nonetheless, that ban could come under review with Warner revealing that he will sit down with CA chief Nick Hockley in the coming weeks.
Warner was permanently barred from any leadership position due to his role in the Cape Town ball-tampering scandal, but the Australian opener is of the opinion that 2017’s bitter pay dispute also played a role.
“Unfortunately a lot of the events before 2018 were with the board. The MOU stuff and all that,” Warner said. “Things got over and above in terms of more than the Cape Town stuff. There was more to it.
“I think that’s where my decision, the penalty that was handed down was more of stuff that was happening before that.”
Warner admits that there’s “a lot of water to go under the bridge” to make him eligible for the ODI captaincy, and expects Cummins to be offered the job before him.
Should talks with Cummins fall through, Warner suggested he would be keen on taking the role.
“I haven’t had any conversations at all. But look I think at the end of the day any opportunity to captain would be a privilege,” Warner said.
“For me, I know everyone is talking about it and I’m being endorsed by a few people but it’s something for me, it’s just about making sure Cricket Australia, if they’re going to have those conversations with me that they do have those conversations.”
Gilchrist said he expects CA to lift the leadership ban on Warner, but Cummins remains the “obvious” choice to be ODI captain.
Should it fall to Warner instead, however, Gilchrist believes that the public would be receptive to his appointment.
“A lot’s happened since (Cape Town) … he was dealt some really significantly tough penalties, which he carried out and didn’t complain about and he’s just gone about his business,” Gilchrist said.
“I think everyone feels time heals, and people should be given another chance if they identify what the issues were and try to learn and push forward.”
Pros: No doubt Warner has one of the sharpest cricket brains in the team and is a respected leader among the players. His experience at international level is immense, while his captaincy credentials include leading Sunrisers Hyderabad to its first and only IPL trophy in 2016. As a batter, there’s less concern about his workload if he was to play every ODI and Test match. Like Cummins, he’s also unlikely to invite questions around his spot in the XI, especially since Finch’s retirement from the format.
Cons: Warner’s appointment would certainly be controversial. Time heals all, although Warner remains a polarising character and his appointment wouldn’t be unanimously approved by the cricket public. It also has the potential to undermine the confidence of other candidates, who could feel aggrieved by CA going to great lengths to make Warner captain over them. Furthermore, Warner is not the strongest of long-term options. He turns 36 next month and could realistically walk away from ODI cricket after next year’s World Cup.
Curiously absent from the captaincy discussion has been Smith, who appears to be unfazed by the vacancy.
Asked after Australia’s ODI series against New Zealand if he could take Finch’s role, Smith quickly distanced himself.
“No,” he said when asked if he would put his hand up.
As for what he would do if CA was to approach him, Smith said he was unsure.
“I can’t say what would happen if they asked me,” Smith said.
“I don’t know. I honestly don’t know what to do right now.”
He jokingly added: “I’m getting old myself, so I’m probably the next one to retire. So we’ll see.”
Smith has looked in great touch in the ODI arena, returning to his favoured spot at No.3 and making the most of it.
Against Zimbabwe, Smith averaged 96 after two unbeaten knocks in the forties. His form carried over into the New Zealand fixtures, in which he averaged 55.66 and made Australia’s only century of the two series.
Smith is no stranger to the captaincy having been named Australia’s 45th Test captain at just 25 years old. However, that tenure ended in disgrace when he presided over Australia’s ball-tampering in Cape Town.
Unlike Warner, he’s free to return to official leadership roles — and has already done so after being named Cummins’ Test vice-captain.
That role has seen him do more than most vice captains given Cummins’ need to focus on his bowling at times. In fact, Smith captained again at last summer’s Adelaide Test after Cummins was ruled out due to being a Covid close contact.
Now 33 years old, Smith is well and truly a senior member of the team who understands the game better than most.
Nonetheless, there’s a distinct lack of enthusiasm from the player himself, who has perhaps grown weary of being in the spotlight.
Pros: Working in Smith’s favour is that he has been there before. You know what you’re getting with Smith who has captaincy experience across the formats. Smith also has plenty of cricket left in the tank, making him a good midterm option to take the reins. His appointment would also relieve some of the burden from Cummins who, in reality, is still getting comfortable in the Test chair having been captain for less than a year.
Cons: Smith’s last Australian captaincy reign serves as a major red flag. The strength of his leadership was brought into question given he was found to have turned a blind eye to Austrlaia’s ball-tampering. He’s not yet in the final chapter of his career, although going back to Smith would be a missed opportunity to look further into the future and potentially breed more leaders.
It seems extremely likely that one of the three players above will land the role, although there’s another trio worthy of note: Alex Carey, Glenn Maxwell and Travis Head.
While Cummins, Warner or Smith will be seen as stronger options, Carey, Maxwell and Head also have captaincy credentials that shouldn’t be dismissed.
Carey has long been recognised as having captaincy potential, firstly in football when he was named captain of Greater Western Sydney when it was preparing to enter the AFL. Years later, CA elevated him to the ODI vice captaincy for two years before reverting to having a single deputy. During that period, Carey even captained Australia for its 2021 ODI series against the West Indies, with Finch out injured.
Meanwhile, Carey’s international career continues to go from strength to strength with the gloveman now Australia’s first choice Test wicketkeeper, too. It shouldn’t be seen as too much of a stretch to have Carey in a lofty leadership position anymore.
Maxwell is, curiously, rarely spoken about in Australian captaincy conversations despite being known for having an astute cricket mind, and a decade of international experience to boot.
He was named as the Melbourne Stars captain back in 2018 and promptly took the team to the final in back-to-back seasons.
Maxwell remains one of the first names on Australia’s ODI team sheet and still has plenty of cricket left at 33.
The least likely option of the trio is Head, considering he’s still fighting for a spot in the XI altogether.
Nonetheless, Head is only 28 and has a bright future, which could well involve being named captain of Australia one day.
He has already held a vice captaincy role, most recently when Cummins missed the Adelaide Test, and has been South Australia’s captain since 2015 when he was just 21.
If Head is indeed a potential future Test captain, then the ODI arena could be the perfect place to groom the left-hander for the role, although he will need to earn his spot back first.
Also fitting in that future leader category is 23-year-old Cameron Green. Although, it’s extremely unlikely Australia will be willing to take risks with his development at such a young age, while he has held no senior leadership position before.