Captaincy has always been a huge point of discussion in World Cricket. Unlike in Football, a skipper in Cricket has a huge role to play and important decisions to make during the game. When it comes to skippering the most successful Test nation in cricket, Australia, the stakes are high.
Not many have escaped the wrath of the cruel Australian media and public. But so many have earned their unabashed support in their tenures as captain of the Australian cricket team.
Earning a Baggy green, as the Australian cap is in itself a high point in the life of a cricketer. However, going on to helm the country in a sport that they pride on is even more challenging.
Australia have had a stream of charming, ruthless, bold and flamboyant skippers. Starting from the greatest ever Sir Donald Bradman to the Allan Border era, the Steve Waugh rein and Ricky Ponting's golden team of the early 20th century, Australian cricket has enjoyed under some naturally gifted leaders.
They have dominated Test cricket for long periods of time and won three consecutive World Cups in ODIs from 1999-2007. And with such a rich history in world Cricket, it is difficult to state if it was the shrewd captaincy skills or the highly skilled players that were responsible for the success of the team.
Here is an attempt to rate some of the recent Australian skippers based on their Win/Loss margins in different formats, style of captaincy and handling of the team.
#5 Steven Smith - 5/10
It might be a tad too early to judge the tactical nous and brilliance of Steven Smith. The batsman with the highest average in Tests since Sir Donald Bradman, Steven Smith has come of age since first donning the whites as a spinner.
While he is pretty new to captaincy still, his fielding placements, bowling changes and brilliance with the bat suggests that he could be a fine skipper in the long run. But he could tone down his aggression a bit and show some positive intent to his mates in the field.
Stats: Steve Smith is only 22 Tests old as captain. He has won 12, lost six and drawn four of them with a W/L ratio of 2.0.In ODIs, Smith has won 23 of the 38 games with a W/L ratio of 1.642. He is also the present T20I skipper with eight games under his belt in which he has four wins and four losses from these.
High point: A 2-0 series win in New Zealand in February, 2016, saw Steve Smith getting a hang of the leadership and learning to combine it with run scoring. He played a pivotal role with the bat as well in the series making a hundred and two half-centuries.
Low point: The 'brain fade' saga at Bangalore in the second Test against India put Steve Smith in a bad light with several former players, including Michael Clarke, the man he succeeded, criticising him.
Verdict: Smith is still in the starting phase of his captaincy and judging him now would be foolhardy. His records with the bat suggest that his form hasn't taken a dip due to captaincy. But series whitewashes in Sri Lanka (Tests 3-0) and South Africa (ODIs 5-0) have made him a point of discussion.
Smith will have to grow into his captaincy and his tactical awareness and captaincy skills seem to be in the right place. Unlike his predecessors, he isn't blessed with a group bursting with talent and will have to strive to make this group a winning one.
#4 Michael Clarke - 4/10
"Pup" as he was fondly called was not a very fond captain amongst his teammates. Several Australian players including Matthew Hayden, Andrew Symonds and Mitchell Johnson have gone on to criticise his captaincy severely.
Johnson went on to call the dressing room atmosphere under Clarke as 'toxic'. Clarke's tiffs with Simon Katich in the dressing room is well known to the public now.
Stats: Clarke captained Australia in Tests 47 times, winning 24, losing 16 and drawing 7 with a Win/Loss (W/L)ratio of 1.5, pretty low compared to his close predecessors. In ODIs, his record was much better with 50 wins in 74 games at the helm with a W/L ratio of 2.38. Even in T20Is, where he was the skipper till 2011; Clarke had a W/L ratio of 3 with 12 wins in 18 games.
High point: The biggest highlights of his captaincy would be the 2015 World Cup triumph at home where he made 74 in the finals against the Kiwis, in what would be his last match for Australia.
Low point: Under his captaincy, Australia were bowled out for their lowest Test score in 109 years - 47 against the Proteas in Johannesburg.
Final Verdict: Though Clarke's W/L ratio is comparable to the likes of Mark Taylor and Steve Waugh, the fingers pointed at him by several players and coach, John Buchanan, suggests that he wasn't a popular leader.
His inability to merge his group of players and create a good team atmosphere go against him in the final verdict. His W/L ratio mainly stemmed from a good, if not excellent, group of players rather his tactical acumen.
#3 Ricky Ponting - 7/10
Ricky Ponting's era as Australian skipper saw the team stay at the top of world Cricket as the most dominant side for a long time. He had some brilliant players and made the best use of them as the years between 2004 and 2011 is termed as the 'golden era' of Australian cricket.
Ponting was a specialist close-in fielder and known to enjoy a word or two with the batsmen. In spite of being the skipper, his war of words with opposing players continued. He was termed aggressive, brash and uncouth but it worked for Australia and him in a period where the side was almost unbeatable.
Stats: Ponting stood as Australian skipper in 77 Tests, winning 48 and losing just 16. His W/L ratio of 3 after so many games at the helm suggests a winning culture. In ODIs too, Ponting was a great captain, with 164 wins in 229 games. He never got a hang of T20s though and lost 10 of the 17 games he skippered.
High point: Back to back World Cup wins in 2003 and 2007. The first triumph was architectured by a fine inning in the final by the skipper himself. Meanwhile, in 2007, he led a group of old warhorses and emerged victorious in the unfamiliar conditions of the Caribbean Islands.
Low point: The 'Monkey-gate' incident at Sydney Cricket ground, where he and Symonds were alleged of racial comments against Harbhajan Singh turned out to be a bleak point of his captaincy. He was severely criticised for his arrogant nature after the match.
Verdict: Ponting is undoubtedly one of the best skippers Australia have had. He had an aura of confidence about him and much of that, it must be said, stemmed from a group of highly skilled players.
His captaincy cannot be undermined, though and was vital to Australia's success during the period. However, it was the golden players under him that contributed the most. But when all said and done, two World Cup wins and a comeback win in the Ashes is no mean achievement.
#2 Steve Waugh - 9/10
The most effective skipper Australia has ever had, Steve Waugh was cold blooded and ruthless when it came to burying opposition with his captaincy skills. He played a record 168 Tests for Australia (still the most by any from his country) despite being considered less talented than his twin brother, Mark.
While his batting had little to do with his long tenure in the Test side, it was an important part of Steve Waugh, the cricketer. A brilliant batsman and a good part-time bowler, Steve Waugh rallied his troops with intent and shrewd judgement of situations. Under him, Australia won the World Cup after a gap of 12 years in England in 1999.
Stats: Waugh, it can be safely said, started the golden period of Australian cricket. In 57 Tests as skipper, he had a mind-boggling 41 wins and seven draws, losing just nine times. A W/L ratio of 4.5 is the best for any Aussie skipper since Don Bradman. In ODIs, Waugh stood as skipper 106 times with 67 wins at a W/L ratio of 1.9.
High point: The 16-Test unbeaten run from 1999-2001 saw Australia becoming the indomitable force in world cricket. They were deemed as an unbeatable unit under the charismatic captain.
Low point: The 2001 series loss in India which he termed as the 'Final Frontier'. Despite winning the first Test of the series, Australia lost the next two with the loss in Kolkata coming after enforcing a follow on.
Verdict: If ever a World XI of skippers is made, Steve Waugh would be among the first names on that list. His skills as captain and management of players and the press are among the best World cricket has witnessed. A truly gifted natural leader, Waugh knew to make use of his limited talents in the best possible manner.
#1 Mark Taylor - 5/10
A cheerful Australian captain was unheard of in cricket. But that is just what Mark Taylor was. He succeeded Allan Border and brought a refreshing charm to Australian cricket with his adventurous style of captaincy.
He, it is said, started Australia's dominance in Test cricket in the late 1990s. Although not a tactical genius, his style of captaincy whilst different was also effective.
Stats: Taylor did not have the best of stats for an Australian skipper. He had 26 wins from 50 Tests with a W/L ratio of 2.0. In ODIs, a format he could never quite decode, he won 36 of the 67 matches at the helm.
High point: He started the 1997 Ashes tour with controversy surrounding his place in the side. Australia lost the first two games of the series. However, he had silenced all with a brilliant hundred in a losing cause. He led admirably to help Aussies win the next three Tests and retain the Ashes curtesy of a memorable 3-2 win.
Low point: Several times during his career, Taylor was angry at himself for his form in ODI cricket. He dropped himself in the midst of series a few times because he wasn't contributing with the bat. His ODI captaincy wasn't up to the mark and it remained a low point right through his career.
Verdict: Taylor may not be the most gifted Australian player or captain. But his habit of taking things in its stride and fostering a good team culture needs appreciation.
After all, Taylor groomed the players that would go on to create Australia's golden era in the early 20th century. The likes of Shane Warne, Ricky Ponting and Glenn McGrath debuted under him.