While acknowledging that Steven Smith “took some convincing” to sit out the remainder of the Sri Lanka tour in order to rest and re-charge for Australia’s forthcoming fixtures, coach Darren Lehmann has strongly defended the move as being in the team’s best interests.
“We just wanted to make sure that he’s fresh and ready to go for South Africa and then the big summer ahead,” Lehmann told reporters in Colombo. “It was well-planned and well thought out, and that’s what we’re doing.”
Australia are due to tour South Africa for 5 ODIs in September-October, before hosting them for three Tests in November. That will be followed by home series against New Zealand and Pakistan. Australia will then tour New Zealand and India early next year.
Despite leaving the tour early, Smith has emphasised his desire to continue captaining Australia in all three formats, and Lehmann backed that sentiment.
“He wants to keep doing that and we’re very happy with the way he’s leading the side,” Lehmann said.
Smith’s departure will give David Warner the opportunity to captain his country for the first time. Warner’s captaincy experience so far is limited to leading Sunrisers Hydrabad in this year’s IPL season and a lone match as captain of Sydney Thunder in an earlier edition of the Big Bash League.
“If Steven happened to get injured then we need David to have some experience,” Lehmann said. “So that’s another opportunity and that’s important for us to get him that experience. They’re a great leadership duo together and David’s been exceptional over the last couple of years, coming through some difficult times and now playing really well.
“Obviously we’d like him to make a few more runs in this tour but, having said that, with the leadership, he did really well with the IPL side [Sunrisers Hyderabad] so we’re confident he’ll do a good job for us.”
The move to send Smith home mid-way through the ODI series in Sri Lanka has been criticised by a number of former players. Michael Slater tweeted that “the captain should be there to the end”, while Dean Jones and Michael Clarke felt that, if Smith had to be rested, it should have been done before the ODI series began, rather than halfway through it.