Steve Smith will captain Sutherland when he returns to the Sydney Cricket Ground for the first time since January on Sunday.
The Sharks take on local rivals St George in the preliminary final of the Twenty20 Cup on Sunday morning, with the winner to face either Sydney University or Penrith in the final on Sunday night.
Smith has not played at the SCG since a one-day international against England on January 21.
The former Australia Test captain is serving a year-long ban from international cricket for his roll in the now infamous ball-tampering scandal in South Africa in March. He will not be considered for a leadership position for the national side for a minimum of 12 months after his suspension expires.
But with Ben Dwarshuis unavailable for Sunday’s finals due to a Big Bash practice match between the Sydney Sixers and Sydney Thunder at Spotless Stadium on Sunday night, Sutherland required a new captain for their T20 side.
It took a quick phone call from Sutherland coach and former NSW coach Steve Rixon to hand Smith the captaincy.
And Rixon told the Leader Smith’s influence would be a huge weapon for the Sharks, hoping to lift their first silverware in almost a decade.
“If he made about 100 in each of the finals it would be nice,” Rixon said with a laugh.
“It is his calmness. His knowledge, his ability to read the wicket and the game and to use his bowlers. Because T20 cricket moves so quickly there’s no time to have a committee meeting about what to do next.
“The reality is I made a very quick phone call and Smithy said ‘no problems, looking forward to it.’
“To be honest I didn’t expect any different. He’s been unbelievably good since he’s been with us. I’ve seen him on grounds all around the world from my time with the Australian team and no matter what game of cricket it is he gets right into the game and wants to do well. He has so much personal pride in his performance.”
With Smith’s ban to expire in March, Rixon said he would reinstate Smith as Australia captain immediately if it were up to him.
“He’s done a very good job in the past. He leads from the front the way Allan Border used to. He’s got the respect of the players and he’s a very, very well-respected captain,” Rixon said.
“To be fair to Tim Paine he’s done an excellent job but I don’t think he needs the captaincy.
“Obviously [Smith] has been remorseful about the ball-tampering issue which is natural. I think everybody would be. But the sooner that is alleviated and the suspension is lifted he’ll be back to the Steve Smith we all know doing what we love him to do and that’s score a lot of runs for Australia.”
Smith has been in good form for Sutherland, scoring 463 runs at an average of 46.3 across all three formats.
But a century has alluded him. And Rixon believes Smith is primed to score a ton, an ominous thought for Sunday’s opponents St George.
“I probably would have expected somewhere and I’m sure he’s been hoping himself to get a hundred,” he said.
“He’s batted extremely well. The way he controls an innings. It’s effortless. He’s been caught up in a couple of run outs and things along the way, a couple of very good catches [to dismiss him]. The hundred is probably sitting there in the back ground.
“Everything else I’ve expected. The way he’s gone about it, how easy he looks at the crease. He’s got a lot of overs with the ball as well so he’s become an intricate part of our bowling attack and gives us nice variety.
“He’s a kid who loves the club. That’s why he comes back. Some go where it’s easiest to get a game but Smithy knows his roots, where he came from. And he wants to give back whenever he can.
“It’d be magnificent if we win. It’s the only trophy the club hasn’t won. We’ve won the one-day and two-day comps. To win it’d be very special. And probably even more important for us and for Smithy to do it with him leading that side.”