Steven Smith is far from the only long-term captaincy option in the eyes of the Cricket Australia board, after the Test skipper Tim Paine's flourishing display in Adelaide served largely to kick the leadership can down the road into 2022 and beyond.
An outstanding innings of 73 from Paine at No. 7, combined with seven catches and sharp captaincy to help deliver a stunning three-day victory over India, took much of the earlier urgency out of leadership discussions that had been forced by an injury to Aaron Finch during the T20I series, causing Matthew Wade to act as stand-in.
Opinions within Australian cricket are divided about who might ascend to the top roles with the men's team whenever Paine or Finch choose to retire, but the former's display in Adelaide made it clear that on a performance basis he will likely be around until at least after next summer's home Ashes series. That much means that a CA board debate around the merits of Smith or the current vice-captain Pat Cummins, to name two possible candidates, is still some way off.
Earl Eddings, the CA chairman, was eager to broaden the discussion when asked how the board now viewed Smith's standing as a leader more than two and a half years after the Newlands scandal and a little over 14 months since he returned to Test cricket in a blaze of Ashes run-making glory.
"First of all we've got three great captains in Meg, Aaron and Tim," Eddings told ESPNcricinfo. "We've got some great young leaders coming through. So it's not just about should Steve take over, it's about what's best overall. Steve's a great young man and he was a good captain when he was there. Like any succession there's planning in place. Have we sat down as a board specifically to discuss the next captain? No we haven't.
"But I think over a period of time we've given a range of people options to be vice-captain, Matthew Wade was already vice-captain, so we're seeing that and it gives us an opportunity to look at the future leaders of Australian cricket. We'll be guided by the recommendations of the selection panel, they always come back to our board at the right time with their recommendation, and we'll go through it in detail when they do that."
Smith was generous in his praise of Paine on Tuesday after watching the 36-year-old carve out the precious first innings runs under lights that enabled Cummins and Josh Hazlewood to bring the Adelaide Test to a swift and violent conclusion on the third afternoon. Paine has freed up his previously conservative approach somewhat, allowing him to score 342 runs at 42.75 and a strike rate of 52.29 in eight matches since the end of the Headingley Test in 2019 - he's also claimed 39 catches and two stumpings in that time.
"He's another one who will take a lot of confidence out of the way he played the other day," Smith said of Paine. "He took the game on, he was scoring at a good rate and changed the momentum of the game. We've always known Tim's had such a good ability with the bat and I think he's just getting better.
"If he can keep having those performances and change the momentum, think that's part of his job as No. 7, a wicketkeeper, the guys who do that the best around the world are willing to play the situation and take the game on. Whether it's pushing a total up or getting us out of a bit of trouble by playing aggressively, I thought he did that the other day and hopefully he can keep doing it."
Paine's strong displays, plus the understanding that Finch will likely carry on as white-ball captain until the 2023 ODI World Cup in India, mean that Eddings and the board can concentrate on their next major succession task, that of settling upon the next permanent chief executive to replace Kevin Roberts.
"At the moment Nick Hockley is doing a fantastic job, he's delivered a summer of cricket when at times we were thinking 'how are we going to do this', but he's done that in very difficult circumstances, so he's doing a great job and so are the rest of the team," Eddings said. "We'll start a process early in the new year and we're thinking through what we think the needs are for the next five years for a CEO.
"Stakeholder management is critical, the depth and breadth of stakeholders in Australian cricket and international cricket is paramount, someone who is a strategic thinker, and given the challenges we're seeing in media rights around the world, where are our next revenue streams coming from, they may look very different in five years' time. Also managing the ICC. So there's a range of different requirements and it's a tough gig."
Unusually, both CA and the Australian Cricketers Association are searching for chief executives at the same time. The seasoned figures of Todd Greenberg, David Gallop and Stuart Clark have all been linked to the ACA role, while the current FICA chief executive Tom Moffatt, recently relocated back to Australia, is another option.
Eddings himself is up for re-election in October next year, and is yet to declare his hand about seeking a second term in the chair. "First of all I'm there at the behest of the board and the members, so it's up to them to make that call," he said. "Succession is really critical and we're always talking about succession. My comment around longevity is you don't want to stay around too long, however with the dynamic of the ICC, it takes a long time to build relationships.
"If we didn't spend time building a relationship with India this summer could have been in jeopardy. So it takes time to build those relationships. You don't want to be just getting there and then having to start again. You need to balance out the needs of your standing at the ICC to allow Australia's needs to be met."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig