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Cricket World Cup 2019, Australia v England semi final, Steve Smith 85, leadership, captaincy

Steve Smith no longer has the title of captain but his knock of 85 in Australia’s World Cup semi-final was leadership personified.

Smith’s steadying hand at Edgbaston on Thursday, coming after a rattled Australia confronted not only defeat but embarrassment after being reduced to 3-14, helped his team post 223.

It may not be enough to deny the tournament favourites a spot in Sunday’s final against New Zealand but it at least gave Australia’s attack something to bowl with.

Vicious bumper bloodies Carey

It was also the latest example of Smith, who enhanced a reputation for scoring clutch runs in high-pressure clashes with his highest score of the current tournament, looking a class above his teammates.

Smith’s batsmanship was the impetus for an incredible rise from outcast to Test captain, completed in 2014 when he filled in for a hobbled Michael Clarke then ratified the following year when he was appointed Clarke’s successor after standing up during a tour of England.

England through to Cricket World Cup final

The issue of whether Smith will lead his country again is yet to be seriously broached by Cricket Australia (CA) chief executive Kevin Roberts or coach Justin Langer, who feel such questions are almost disrespectful to Aaron Finch and Tim Paine.

Smith, who now shares the record for most 50-plus scores in World Cup knock-out fixtures alongside Indian icon Sachin Tendulkar, has repeatedly insisted he is giving the hypothetical no thought.

But private and public discussions about the prospect of Smith, barred from holding any leadership position until the end of March 2020 as part of CA’s sanctions handed down in response to the Cape Town cheating scandal, will grow more frequent and louder with every great innings.

It is a complex call for all involved.

The classy right-hander’s imposing mountain of runs failed to stop him committing the life-changing leadership failure that preceded the sandpaper saga’s eruption in South Africa.

The leadership skills of Finch and Paine have both earned immense praise from teammates, Roberts and Langer.

Australia’s horror start continues

Another factor is the dearth of genuine contenders to replace Finch and Paine whenever they – or CA’s hierarchy – decide it is time for a change.

Mitch Marsh was earmarked then axed; Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins have also served as vice-captains but it is unlikely either bowler will take on the top job.

Alex Carey is another vice-captain held in high regard but the keeper is yet to be picked in a Test squad, was dropped from the national Twenty20 team earlier this year and only recently entrenched himself in the one-day side.

The captaincy of Paine, who will be 35 at the end of the coming Australian summer, is also seemingly far closer to ending than that of Finch.

©AAP2019

Vianine

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