Warner may need to stand in as captain
David Warner may find himself as stand-in captain of Australia for the first time in some of January's limited-overs matches against India if Steven Smith's current knee and hip niggles don't clear up over the next two weeks.
Smith is not in doubt for the Boxing Day Test against West Indies in Melbourne or the following fixture in the new year at the SCG. However, the selectors and team medical staff may elect to rest him from portions of the five-match ODI series against India in order to give him the best chance to be fit and limber for the February tour of New Zealand and also the Twenty20 matches to be played in the lead-up to the World T20 in India in March.
The decision to rule Smith out of the opening rounds of the Big Bash League that sit between now and Boxing Day is an admission that his knee in particular will need careful management over the coming months. He has carried the problem since the latter part of the Ashes tour, saying the discomfort he faced while running could be "hidden" in Test matches. But it is likely to be more problematic in T20, the only format in which Australia are yet to win an ICC trophy.
The coach and selector Darren Lehmann said further breaks for Smith would be discussed. "He keeps telling me he is 26 but [in Hobart] he was running as though he is 36. The pressure of captaincy is quite large. We have to look at that but we get a decent break now with two weeks off. He is not playing BBL so he gets a good break.
"The ODIs are important to us and then the T20 World Cup so I can't see him getting a break until the end of the summer, unless we play really well or the niggles get worse. I'm no medical expert but [rest] is what they are saying. They will say what he can or can't do and if I disagree with it he plays and if I don't he might not play."
Smith has impressed many within the team since being named full-time captain, fostering relationships off the field as well as providing sound judgment on it. Lehmann said Smith was handling the extra demands on his time with aplomb, while also utilising the advice of mentors such as Brad Haddin and Mark Taylor. Warner has also done well as deputy, compiling mighty scores against New Zealand while keeping some of his more outlandish traits in check at the right times.
"Doing it easy - much easier when you win," Lehmann said of Smith. "It was a tough series against New Zealand while this was a less stressful Test match, [but] he has been flying with the extra demands. He has good mentors and good advice from former captains who are helping with how to handle his time and the demands which are so much greater than just a player. Players love what he brings to the table."
Looking ahead to the MCG, Lehmann said he would be happy for Usman Khawaja to return to the team as an opening batsman, though would have to run that past Smith. The selectors have a difficult task ahead in finding room for the fit-again Khawaja after Shaun Marsh's exceptional performances in Adelaide and Hobart, leaving Warner's opening partner Joe Burns also needing to look over his shoulder.
"We will have to see if Uzzy is fit and then we will have a dilemma," Lehmann said. "If he is fit, having scored two hundreds in the two Test matches [against New Zealand] yes, you would think he would be in form to play. We need him playing. With a hamstring, we don't want him playing Test match cricket if he is not fully fit.
"He will have to be sharp in the T20 games and then we will make a decision from there. If he comes back in someone will miss out. We have to work out that is. I would [be happy with Khawaja opening] but the captain might not want that. We have to work out the best six and the batting order from there."
Not for the first time, Lehmann emphatically ruled out the prospect of dropping the allrounder Mitchell Marsh, insisting that the fifth bowling option was vital for team flexibility and cover for any injuries that might crop up. "There has been talk about 6 batsmen and no all-rounder," he said, "but we saw in the day night Test against New Zealand where [Mitchell] Starc got injured that you need the all-rounder. We will certainly play Marsh."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig