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Australia’s reluctance to risk the fitness of Twenty20 captain George Bailey means an untried skipper is likely to lead the national team into Friday’s one-day international against England in Perth.
Bailey, who was nominated as skipper of the one-day team earlier in the week when the selectors opted to rest incumbent captain Michael Clarke, Test vice-captain Brad Haddin and his predecessor Shane Watson from the Perth match, is battling to overcome a hip flexor injury.
He moved gingerly during a 30-minute fitness test at the WACA this morning under the eye of team physiotherapist Alex Kountouris, and was then involved in discussions with chairman of selectors John Inverarity and coach Darren Lehmann (picture above).
It is understood the Australian brains trust is unwilling to take a risk on Bailey further aggravating the problem given that he is scheduled to lead Australia’s KFC T20 team in three internationals against England immediately after the current one-day series.
And then in a three-match T20 series in South Africa that precedes the ICC T20 World Cup, scheduled for Bangladesh in April.
But the problem facing selectors should Bailey fail to make muster is that the man they nominated to serve as his deputy in Perth – Ashes hero Mitchell Johnson – has virtually no captaincy experience.
Indeed, it’s unclear whether Johnson’s leadership credentials extend much beyond his junior days in Townsville when he was far more interested in tennis than cricket, which only adds to the curiosity of the decision to install him as vice-captain in the knowledge that Bailey was under an injury cloud.
Bailey missed the previous Carlton Mid Series match against England in Sydney after sustaining the injury while batting in Brisbane on Friday night, and the revised squad with its updated leadership was unveiled late on Sunday evening.
History also raises questions about the selectors’ thinking given that no fast bowler is among the 21 men to have captained Australia at one-day international level.
And the most recent specialist quick to hold the title for Australia in any form of the game internationally was Ray Lindwall, who filled in for Ian Johnson in the second Test of Australia’s first tour of India in 1956.
There are other options available should Bailey be ruled out of game four of the series, in which Australia already holds an unassailable three-nil lead.
Steve Smith, widely touted as a future Australian captain and who has spent the past couple of weeks leading the Sydney Sixers in the KFC Big Bash League competition, could be entrusted with the role although it’s unlikely given he has only recently been drafted into the squad as cover for Bailey.
Opener Aaron Finch has also experienced captain’s duties during the BBL with the Melbourne Renegades and was earlier this week named as Bailey’s deputy in Australia’s T20 line-up.
But the more likely and slightly more embarrassing scenario is that one of the senior players who was granted some rest and recreation time following their gruelling Test and one-day schedule of the past two months might be urgently recalled and sent on a coast-to-coast flight to Perth.
If that’s the case, it’s expected the lucky loser called back from holidays will be either all-rounder Shane Watson – who was spelled from the Brisbane, Sydney and Perth matches and who has captained the ODI team on nine occasions – or veteran ‘keeper Brad Haddin.
If Haddin – who has yet to captain Australia at Test or ODI level - gets the nod it will complete a remarkable career resurrection given the pivotal role he played in regaining the Ashes having lost his place in the Test team when forced to return home early from the 2012 tour of the West Indies for personal reasons.
The selectors are not expected to make a final decision on Bailey’s fitness until tomorrow at the earliest.