Does character check push Smith closer to leadership role?

Former captain Steve Smith could be on the verge of returning to an official leadership role as Cricket Australia completes a thorough character assessment.

Cricket Australia has closely examined Steve Smith’s charity work and off-field contributions as part of a thorough character assessment of his leadership credentials.

As revealed by News Corp last week, the CA board has given selectors the green light to nominate Smith for either the captaincy or vice-captaincy, indicating he could be on the verge of returning to an official leadership role more than three years after he was sacked as the Australian skipper.

Pat Cummins is all but certain to be named Australia’s new Test captain later this week, but there is warm support for Smith to be named his vice-captain — a key support role considered even more vital than in usual circumstances given Cummins is a fast bowler.

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Cricket Australia Chairman Richard Freudenstein confirmed on the weekend that character checks would be carried out on the candidates, and CA sources have confirmed that process already started earlier in the year, well before Tim Paine’s resignation.

Smith started working for radio presenter Gus Worland’s Gotcha 4 Life men’s suicide prevention charity during his two-year leadership ban where he and David Warner were asked to complete 100 hours of community service.

His association with the charity has continued well beyond any obligation, and he has immersed himself in regular school visits and community programs since the Cape Town ball tampering scandal, right up until the eve of the recent World Cup where he addressed more than 100 junior cricketers over zoom and answered their questions.

News Corp understands Smith’s off-field growth is something Cricket Australia’s board sought to examine closely earlier this year as they did their due diligence ahead of a looming call over whether or not to welcome him back into a leadership role.

“It’s difficult work this work, really emotional work. It’s not easy at all,” said Worland of Smith’s contribution to his men’s charity.

“The fact Steve has wanted to do it is huge and the fact he got so much confidence from the fact he could help save people’s lives, I have absolutely no doubt he has grown and become more confident through what he’s been through.

“I remember Jack Gibson the old rugby league coach said give me a confident player over a talented one any day, and I think Steve is definitely more confident and rounded as a person — not necessarily as a cricketer — but as a person.

“It was really obvious to him that everyone loved him because he was a really amazing cricketer … but no one had seen him stand up and be honest and vulnerable in front of 1000-1500 kids about what he’s been through and how he’s come out the other side.”

Cummins was always the overwhelming favourite to take over from Paine as captain, even if that was at the end of this Ashes summer as expected, rather than in the hasty circumstances that have now taken place.

However, there’s a feeling that Paine’s personal scandal has only firmed the view the new captain must be Cummins, because bringing Smith back as skipper in yet another crisis for the game would be fraught.

The vice-captain for Australia’s first fast bowling captain since Ray Lindwall in the 1950s is going to be a crucial decision in its own right though, and it’s understood Smith, with his wealth of experience, would be warmly welcomed as Cummins’ deputy if that’s the way selectors go.

The controversy surrounding Warner’s lifetime leadership ban has again reared its head, because Warner is another experienced head that could be considered for an official support role in a team where there are very few other options.

Freudenstein confirmed that Smith was in the mix for appointment.

“Steve Smith is one of the candidates that’s available for that role,” he said.

“We’ve put in place a process for finding the next Australian captain that was going to take place over the summer in anticipation Tim would one day retire. We’re obviously accelerating that process.”

Cricket Australia chief executive Nick Hockley said character on and off the field was a key criteria.

“This process will be expedited now but those values of respect, inclusion, of making the sport and making Australians proud, are absolutely going to be at the forefront of the criteria that we apply,” Hockley said.

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