Michael Clarke remains Australia’s official captain, but Steve Smith’s elevation to stand-in skipper means succession planning is in full swing.
Cricket Australia on Monday appointed Smith vice-captain, anointing him the country’s 45th Test skipper given Clarke will miss the rest of the four-Test series against India due to a serious hamstring injury.
Selectors opted to blood the 25-year-old, who has played 23 Tests, instead of using vice-captain Brad Haddin as a stop-gap measure over the next four weeks.
Only Ian Craig (22) and Kim Hughes (25) captained Australia’s Test side at a younger age.
The change only applies to Australia’s Test side, with George Bailey remaining stand-in skipper of the one-day team.
Clarke’s career hangs in the balance, with the 33-year-old on Saturday revealing fears he will never play again.
CA is continuing to consult with specialists over the best way to treat Clarke’s latest injury.
“There was a strong argument for Brad to assume the captaincy until Michael returns,” chief selector Rod Marsh said in a statement.
“But given we don’t know how long that will be, we felt the time was right to take a longer-term view and give a young player this chance.
“Brad Haddin has done an exceptional job as vice-captain since assuming the role last year and will provide strong support to Steve just as he has done for Michael.”
Smith debuted as a leg-spinning allrounder at age 21, but cemented his spot in the side as a dependable batsman over the past 18 months.
The right-hander has scored 1490 runs at an average of 51.37 in 18 Tests since earning a recall during Australia’s woeful tour of India last year.
His leadership has been widely praised at CA and Cricket NSW for many years.
“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,” Marsh said of Smith.
“These are difficult circumstances given Michael’s injury and the fact that we don’t know how long he will be out of the game.
“What we do know is that it won’t be an overnight fix, so after a lot of thought we have taken the opportunity to appoint an emerging young leader as captain until such time as Michael regains fitness and returns.”
CA chairman Wally Edwards noted the board “fully endorsed the recommendation put forward by the selectors”.
“Steve is an impressive young leader who deserves high praise,” Edwards said.
Shaun Marsh will take Clarke’s place in the side for the second Test, which starts at the Gabba on Wednesday.
But it is unclear who will bat at No.4 in the absence of Clarke, with Smith now charged with the responsibility of setting the order.
“I like batting as high as possible,” Smith said after scoring an unbeaten ton on day two of the first Test.
“I’ll just keep batting and if I get a chance to move up the order, that will be great as well.”
AUSTRALIA’S YOUNGEST TEST CAPTAINS
*IAN CRAIG (22 years, 194 days)
*KIM HUGHES (25 years, 57 days)
THE RISE AND RISE OF STEVE SMITH
*779 runs from 13 innings at 77.90 in 2014
*327 runs from 9 innings at 40.87 v England in 2013/14
*269 runs from 5 innings at 67.25 v South Africa in 2014
*174 runs from 4 innings at 43.50 v Pakistan in 2014
*214 runs from 2 innings at N/A v India in 2014/15
*1749 runs at 46.03