The upcoming Ashes series looms as a pivotal moment in Australian cricketing history. Only three outcomes have ever been reasonably viable; either Australia registers a fighting defeat, or at best a series draw based primarily on their bowlers nicking a Test and the weather doing the rest, or they are annihilated. The latter looks now the far more probable outcome, and the consequences of such a scenario would be far reaching. At the least Mickey Arthur would be gone (the relationship between Arthur and Michael Clarke with the rest of the squad is an interesting one, and there will be no doubt grounds to explore it further in a future Ashes diary), with potentially players like Shane Watson also likely to see their Test careers come to an end.
Even before it has begun the series has seen one massive upheaval; David Warner’s Test captaincy credentials are now dead in the water. After ‘Twittergate’ both Clarke and Cricket Australia CEO James Sutherland defended Warner and reaffirmed their belief he would make a fine leader. After ‘The Wig Affair’ however (we have already trademarked that title by the way) both were conspicuously silent on the issue, Sutherland even launching a tirade on how Warner had let everyone down (except for Hashim Amla, obviously). Warner was previously the only logical replacement for Clarke, but he has stuffed it all up. Perhaps not the most eloquent off the field, he is recognized as a strong leader on it, but that means nothing now. Possibly if he keeps his nose clean for the next few years and establishes himself as a pivotal part of the Australian lineup his merits may be reconsidered, but as of now he has managed to completely stuff up a sure thing on a scale even Mitt Romney would be proud of.
So the obvious question then is who is next in line, considering Clarke looks likely to be forced to retire from Test cricket within the next three or four years owing to his ongoing (and worsening) back complaint. It’s probably best to start off with who definitely can be ruled out. This includes Shane Watson (too whiny), Brad Haddin (too old), Matt Wade (too shit) and Phil Hughes (do you really need a reason?). It would be extremely unlikely for the position to go to a bowler, so that rules out someone like James Pattinson, and likewise it would be unlikely for the selectors to encumber an all-rounder with yet another duty, so that also rules out James Faulkner and Moises Henriques (not that they were even slightly likely candidates in the first place).
Already there are precious few candidates left. Ed Cowan is one who could step up, and probably wouldn’t be too bad a choice either, but his age (30) and own uncertain place in the Test team counts against him. Chris Rogers is another who would make a good stand-in, and if Clarke is forced to withdraw from a Test on this tour (or the selectors rotate him out just for bants) Rogers would make a fine replacement. But again, age and uncertain squad status rules him out as a long term option. So who do we have left then? Well, of the current Test squad not a single candidate stands out, which means we have to look further afield, at which point two names present themselves.
The first is Tim Paine. Remember him? Well after Wade has managed to convince everyone that he most definitely is not fit to be regarded as an international level ‘keeper, Paine’s international future suddenly looks a hell of a lot brighter. Sure, it’s conditional on him being able to not fall apart every few minutes, but as long as he plays his cards right a long Test career looms; he is still only 28 after all. The second name should come as no surprise for anyone who has spent more than five seconds on the 51allout site. But any bias aside, it is clear that Steven Peter Devereux Smith must now be regarded as leading the race to become Australia’s next Test captain.
For those who are still in need of convincing, let’s go through his credentials point by point: Firstly, he is a batsman (calling him an all-rounder ought to be a shooting offence); second, he is young (24); while, thirdly, he has led a controversy-free career thus far. He already has established credentials as a captain, winning the inaugural Big Bash tournament as captain of the Sydney Sixers, and has now been named as the captain of the Australia A outfit that will tour South Africa while the Ashes are in progress. The fifth point ties into this; he will be out of the country when his countrymen will most likely be on the receiving end of a thrashing from England, doing his own reputation no end of good (for some absurb reason some still seem to need to be convinced of his qualities. Idiots), and allow him to parachute into the squad for the return series, blemish free.
That Australia A tour of South Africa is now a vital campaign for Devereux. Tours of South Africa have a reputation of being troublesome affairs, prone to various colourful ‘incidents’ at Johannesburg night spots. Considering that Devereux will be leading a team that will contain both Marsh brothers, if he returns home without one incident of note occurring, he can be considered not only the prime candidate for the Test captaincy, but also Australian Prime Minister, Head of the United Nations, and Chairman of Surrey County Cricket Club.
The future is Devereux. Believe.