Cricket Australia chief Kevin Roberts has dismissed concerns the impending returns of the team’s former leaders will unsettle the resurgent side as it emerged Australia’s bowlers threatened not to play alongside David Warner in the final Test in South Africa.
Multiple sources have confirmed that star bowlers Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, Pat Cummins and Nathan Lyon were intending to withdraw from the fourth Test of last year’s infamous series if Warner had been free to play.
Smith and Cameron Bancroft were immediately called to question by the ICC over the ball tampering incident with Warner not initially charged.
A Cricket Australia investigation, however, later found the combative opener to be the instigator of the ball tampering plot which saw sandpaper applied to the ball in a desperate bid to induce reverse swing.
While Warner was later suspended, the revelation highlights the difficult task cricket bosses have in integrating the stars back into the Australian set up.
The World Cup starts in late May in England, so there’s not much time left for players to prove themselves, or get reacquainted.
Smith and Warner met up briefly with the Australia squad in Dubai this month and said it felt like they’d never left.
But Aaron Finch, who took over as captain of Australia’s limited-overs squad, said there was some nervousness at that meet-and-greet.
“It’s a totally different set-up to when they left it,” Finch was quoted as saying. “What’s important is they’re really keen to slot back into how this current side works.
“They were probably as nervous as anyone coming back into the group. You’d think guys with 20-odd test hundreds would just come back in, but it is a different time and they have been out for quite a while.”
Australian paceman Pat Cummins said it was hard to judge how the last year has changed Smith and Warner.
“Cricket was pretty much their life, and having that taken away, it took them both quite a while to adjust,” he said. “Hopefully they’ll both be right in the mix for the World Cup.”
Cricket Australia chief Kevin Roberts described the meeting as a “really positive step” in the reintegration process though he noted, “a meeting in Dubai doesn’t mean everything is fixed”.
They are set to return to an Australian set-up that has changed markedly under the leadership of Test captain Tim Paine and limited-overs skipper Aaron Finch.
Roberts said he had been “really impressed” by the banned trio’s behaviour while serving their suspensions. Warner and Smith have been widely praised by their local clubs for their contributions on and off the field. Bancroft, Roberts said, had personally apologised to CA’s receptionists who fielded hundreds of calls from disappointed fans last year.
While Smith and Bancroft created headlines with controversial interviews that overshadowed the start of the Boxing Day Test, Warner has limited his rare public comments to general cricket matters.
Roberts is confident Smith and Warner will not have a negative impact on team harmony when they return.
“What we’re focused on is doing everything we can to support Dave, Steve, Cameron and all the other players in support staff with this reintegration to build harmony rather than to disrupt the harmony that is building,” Roberts said at the Melbourne Press Club.
“At the same time, let’s be open about it. At any workplace, you don’t have to be best mates with everyone you work with.”There needs to be a foundation of respect, absolutely. I think there’s growing respect there and we’ll continue to support players, with the right discussions, and work those through to continue building respect in those relationships.
“As to whether every player in the men’s team or women’s team is best mates with the rest of their teammates it’s not far different to any other workplace where we’ll have some very close friendships, some cordial relationships and some that are a bit more challenging.”
Roberts dismissed fears held by former CA director Mark Taylor that ball tampering may have been more widespread than what happened in Cape Town.He defended CA’s investigation, which Taylor said should have probed deeper, as being “absolutely fit for purpose” and said there was no evidence to suggest other incidents despite “extended invitations” to the cricket community and wider public to report any issues.
“We’re not going to jump at shadows or speculation, we’ll deal with the facts,” Roberts said.”All the evidence suggests that was the first time a foreign object such as that [sandpaper] had been used.
“We don’t have any suggestions from the ICC, match officials, broadcaster footage, players or player agents, CA staff, cricket fans – no one has made any allegations of any other inappropriate goings on.”