Steven Smith will captain Australia’s test team for the rest of the series against India, with regular skipper Michael Clarke’s career in serious doubt due to persistent injury problems.
Batsman Smith, aged 25 years and 195 days, becomes Australia’s youngest test captain since Kim Hughes who was named in 1979 at 25 years and 57 days, and the third-youngest all-time.
Smith was in a two-horse race with wicketkeeper Brad Haddin to replace the 33-year-old Clarke, who suffered yet another hamstring strain during Australia’s victory charge on day five of the first test in Adelaide on Saturday.
Haddin, who will deputise for Smith as vice-captain, had been seen as a viable short-term replacement for Clarke, but at 37 and in waning form with the bat, was not a long-term prospect.
Smith’s selection ahead of Haddin suggests Clarke’s hopes of leading Australia or even playing again remained in grave doubt, as Clarke himself suggested to reporters after Australia won the Adelaide test by 48 runs.
With Clarke sidelined, Smith could also be in line to lead Australia into the 50-over World Cup starting in February on home soil. The initial squad is due to be named on Jan. 7.
Smith will be a popular choice as captain, a position dubbed the “second highest office” after that of the Prime Minister in cricket-mad Australia.
The right-handed batsman and part-time legspinner has scored a mountain of runs over the past 12 months and shown an impressive poise under fire at odds with his boyish features.
“We congratulate Steve on the wonderful honour of leading his country,” chairman of selectors Rod Marsh said on Cricket Australia’s (cricket.com.au) website.
“He is an exceptional young man who is highly regarded by the National Selection Panel not only for his fine performances with the bat but also his maturity and clear leadership potential.”
Smith has prior experience as a skipper, leading New South Wales state in domestic competition and the Sydney Sixers in the local Twenty20 league.
Since carving up Sydney’s grade cricket scene as a teenager, Smith has long been marked for big things, and made his first class debut for New South Wales at the age of 18.
By 21, he had represented Australia in all test, one-day international and T20 teams, making his test debut against Pakistan at Lord’s in 2010, and scoring 77 in his second test against the same opponents at Leeds.
He brings impressive form into his debut as captain, the second test starting in Brisbane on Saturday, having blasted an unbeaten 162 in the first innings in Adelaide and 52, also unbeaten, in the second.
Australia lead the four-test series 1-0. The teams play the third test in Melbourne on Dec. 26 and the final match in Sydney from January 6.