Australia captain Tim Paine has argued that Steven Smith was too immature for the demands of captaincy when the national role was first handed to him in 2014 and 2015. But Paine has fewer qualms about Smith returning to the job whenever the incumbent chooses to retire.
Paine, who initially had been unsure of whether he would continue as captain beyond the end of the 2019 Ashes, has hung on for another two years since, and the national team coach Justin Langer has attempted to end any speculation on the future by claiming that the selectors aren't even discussing the issue.
But this summer's Ashes series looms as the most logical conclusion to Paine's unexpected run in the job, which came about directly through the Newlands scandal that saw Smith banned from playing for a year and banned from leadership for two years.
"At least another six Tests," Paine told the Chappell Foundation dinner when asked how long he had left. "If I feel like the time is right and we've beaten the Poms 5-0, what a way to go out. But it might be a tight series and we might be chasing 300 on the last day and I'm 100 not out and hit the winning runs -- and then I might go again."
Smith's entourage, including his leadership mentor Maurice Duffy, are adamant that he should get the chance for a second go at a role that was snatched away from him after events in South Africa.
"It would be a tragedy right now if he didn't get the opportunity to be captain again," Duffy told the Sydney Morning Herald in 2019. "He owns himself much more now. He has an inner calmness. He owns his own feelings a lot better now, he's much more in control of himself. I think he's got a better outlook on life right now and I think he appreciates hugely what has been given to him."
Other senior figures in Australian cricket are not so sure, and New South Wales broadened the race to replace Paine by handing domestic limited-overs captaincy duties to Pat Cummins instead of Smith earlier this year. Paine, who has never argued against Smith getting the job again, maintained his stance on Wednesday night.
"I think so. Obviously I don't make that decision but the time I played with Steve as captain he was excellent. Certainly tactically he is as good as you get," Paine said. "He's probably a bit like me when I was at the start of my captaincy journey in Tasmania -- he was thrown into a very big role at a very, very young age and he probably wasn't quite ready for it.
"But by the time I came in he was growing into that role and getting better and better. Then obviously South Africa events happened and he's not doing it anymore. But yeah I would support him getting that job again."
On captaincy in general, Paine said that in his experience that ambition for leadership was often a dangerous thing. "In my experience the guy who wants it too much is probably not the best option," Paine said. "So if [his son] Charlie does come up and says he wants to be captain of Australia, I'd say just lower your expectations and worry about being a good player and a good team man and whatever happens from that would happen."
Reflecting on the series defeat to India, Paine said that the hosts had been distracted by the tourists' psychological tactics. "Part of the challenge of playing against India is they're very good at niggling you and trying to distract you with stuff that doesn't really matter," Paine said, "and there were times in that series where we fell for that.
"The classic example was when they said they weren't going to the Gabba so we didn't know where we were going. They're very good at creating these sideshows and we took our eye off the ball."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig