With the ball-tampering controversy nearing its one-year completion, Steve Smith and David Warner are set to make their comebacks ahead of ICC World Cup 2019. And the duo have been offered the perfect platform to prove themselves – Indian Premier League 2019.
Following the ‘sandpaper gate’ in South Africa, when Cameron Bancroft was caught by cameras trying to tamper with the ball, the then-captain Smith and vice-captain Warner were handed one-year suspensions by Cricket Australia for ‘cheating’ and ‘damaging’ the sport. Further down the road, interviews suggested Warner was the master-planner, instructing Bancroft to damage the ball with Smith in the know of the act.
While Bancroft was slapped with a nine month suspension, Smith was barred from leadership roles for two years and Warner for the rest of his career. The punishment also included 100 hours of community service for all three.
One-year into the incident, Warner and Smith are all set to return to the cricket pitch in an official manner with the IPL. The ban ends on March 29, when Australia play the fourth ODI against Pakistan. Australia, however, decided to not include the pair in the bilateral series.
Even though the CA suspensions did not restrict the three players from club-level tournaments, the BCCI banned the duo last year and offered the franchises, Rajasthan Royals and Sunrisers Hyderabad, an opportunity to find replacements.
While Alex Hales was named as the replacement for Warner at SRH, Heinrich Klaasen replaced Smith for RR in the 2018 edition. Despite losing their key batsmen, the Sunrisers did well under Kane Williamson’s leadership, going all the way to the final where they went down to MS Dhoni’s Chennai Super Kings (CSK). Meanwhile, Ajinkya Rahane was handed the responsibility of Rajasthan, who finished fourth in the table, before getting knocked out by Kolkata Knight Riders in the eliminator.
Smith, Warner need the big stage to make a statement
With the two experienced players back in action this year, the franchises will expect even more from them after a year out. For the players, personally, it is a chance to vindicate themselves and use the IPL as a launchpad to make it to the World Cup squad.
Former Australia captain Shane Warne agreed and said that the two will be hungry and raring to go in their first big appearance in front of the fans. "Smith and Warner will be hungry, fresh, raring to go, very determined and would want to let their bat do the talking. Look out for them, anyone who thinks Smith and Warner wouldn't perform, you're wrong," Warne said. "They are playing in a proper competition, in the best T20 league in the world, against guys who will play in the World Cup. So it is fantastic preparation leading up to the World Cup, even if it is T20," he concluded.
Both players are currently recovering from elbow injuries picked up during the Bangladesh Premier League, which has stalled their smooth return to cricket. Smith had also missed the ongoing Pakistan Super League where he was supposed to play for Multan Sultans.
While Warner signalled his return after injury with a blistering 110 runs off 77 deliveries laced with seven sixes and four fours for his Sydney club Randwick-Petersham, Smith has focused on quiet rehabilitation. The former Australia captain was seen knocking a few deliveries during nets in a video he posted on his social media account.
Ahead of the IPL, Smith told Cricket Australia, "I love playing in India. The IPL's a terrific tournament and the elbow's tracking really well. I have been batting for the last two weeks, and yeah able to play all shots." Warner added: "I love going there and playing that tournament. It's a great feel, great buzz, and good energy and India always put on a good show."
During the ban, Smith played T20 in Canada and the Caribbean before leaving for Bangladesh. He has also played regular grade cricket for Sutherland and has trained with the New South Wales and Sydney Sixers squads. But the IPL stands as a big challenge with their World Cup squad inclusion depending on their performance at the big stage.
Warner may be in action on March 24 when SRH face Kolkata Knight Riders and Smith on March 25 with RR facing Kings XI Punjab. The tournament itself gets underway from March 23 with Chennai Super Kings squaring off with Royal Challengers Bangalore in Chennai.