Shane Watson has announced that he will no longer be the Vice Captain in any format for Australia. In many ways, this was long overdue. Not only was he one of the players dropped during the homeworkgate affair, he has also been in terrible form of late. Watson may have resigned as VC precisely because he can no longer be sure that he will be in the team.
The question for Australia now is who will take over. It makes sense to have different vice captains for different formats, given how different each team is. In fact, Australia doesn’t even have the same captain in T20. With that in mind, I’d like to put my selectors hat on and assess the candidates to take over in the test team.
Why just the test team? It is the format where the VC position matters most. Firstly on a practical level, they are more likely to have to take over while the skipper is off the field, particularly if the skipper has Michael Clarke’s dodgy back to contend with. It is also the team most in need of some secondary leadership, as was shown by the heavy handed smack down of homeworkgate. Clarke wasn’t getting the dressing room support that he needed, so he laid down the law.
What criteria would make for a good test VC? It would have to be an automatic selection, which is hard enough to find at the moment anyway. However, no team in the world would bring in an outsider simply to be the vice captain first, and player second. It would have to be someone who hasn’t pissed Clarke off, given the control he exerts over the team.
Lastly, it would be better to have someone who may take over the leadership one day. While it may not need to be the designated next captain of Australia, as Clarke was to Ponting, the appointment would help whichever candidate is picked develop their leadership credentials.
With all of those factors in mind, the choice is narrowed down to a few options.
David Warner is someone who many talk about as a potential captain, though often that seems to be based on little more than the fact that he is a young batsman with a big future. His batting hardly screams ‘Leadership’. Often he goes too hard too early and throws his wicket away, a cardinal sin for a captain who is meant to lead from the front. In his favour though is that he is almost certainly an automatic selection, and plays in all three formats.
His opening partner, Ed Cowan, would also be a possible pick, though for very different reasons. Cowan has shown that he is willing to put everything into his batting, often going long stretches of grimly hanging on. He is highly intelligent, mature and would give a fantastic dressing room speech. He would also likely be a good foil for Clarke, being a bloke who could be the first follower of a captain who leads by example. His place in the test team is reasonably secure, though he is too old to be considered a possible future captain.
Peter Siddle would be a possible choice for similar reasons. As the only quick bowler in the stable who brands himself as a test specialist, he plays pretty much every game. Siddle has also been around for a while, and arguably leads the attack. He would compliment Clarke in the field, as his input would offer a very different perspective from that of a batting captain. However, again, he is reasonably old and would likely not be considered as a future captain.
There are also a few intriguing left field options, such as Nathan Lyon or Matthew Wade. As the keeper, Wade is already expected to play a leadership role on the field, and his performance has generally been good. He is however engaged in a running battle with Haddin for the spot.
Lyon, as the only spinner in the country to perform adequately since Warne and MacGill, is almost a certain selection for the foreseeable future. His place is seemingly so secure that he was awarded the honour of becoming the leader of the team song. His character and commitment to the team was considered to be very high, leading to his selection for that role. Alas, they actually have to win to sing it.
All of these options serve to highlight one thing though. The ideal vice captain, the man who used to lead the team song, has recently retired. Michael Hussey would have been an excellent deputy for a troubled side, even if his own tenure as captain was short and disappointing. His departure has left a leadership void in terms of lieutenants for Clarke. There is no practically no realistic option to take over the captaincy at extremely short notice.
My personal preference would be to see the job go to Cowan or Siddle. The chances of Australia needing an impromptu captain are far higher than the chance of Australia needing someone to take over the job permanently in the immediate future. Clarke will probably be carried out of the job, but he may still miss the odd test here and there. Therefore the VC has to be a finished product, rather than being a leader in training. Besides, over the next 5 years surely a potential long term successor will emerge, maybe Phil Hughes or Usman Khawaja. In the meantime, they need strong support for the leader now.