DUBAI: Steve Smith and David Warner have been welcomed back into the Australian fold with “hugs and cuddles” at a team meet-up in Dubai, and said it was like they’d never left.
The disgraced pair, whose year-long bans for ball-tampering expire this month, were invited by coach Justin Langer as part of their re-integration after the scandal in South Africa that rocked the cricketing world.
Australia are in Dubai as they prepare for an upcoming series against Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates following their upset one-day series win against India.
“It’s been awesome. It’s like we didn’t really leave, the boys were very accepting of us coming in and with open arms,” said Warner on Sunday.
“A lot of big hugs and cuddles. It’s been great. It’s good to see the spirit they’re in after a great series win in India and I am obviously looking forward to watching them play against Pakistan here and hopefully they win that series as well,” he added.
The “sandpapergate” scandal in Cape Town, which also saw opening batsman Cameron Bancroft banned for nine months, had far-reaching consequences for Australian cricket.
Then-coach Darren Lehmann quit and there was a clean-out of top executives from Cricket Australia after a scathing review said its “arrogant and controlling” culture was partly to blame for players bending the rules.
Australian cricket has since undergone a host of cultural changes under Langer, and Warner and Smith were brought up to speed at the meeting on how it now worked.
“Making sure we’re in line with team values moving forwards,” Warner said of the meet-up, which also discussed the squad’s preparations for the upcoming World Cup.
“Obviously (we’ve) been out for 12 months and there has been a big change, which is great, and it’s about accepting that and playing what our role should be in the team.”
Smith, who was stripped of the captaincy and is barred from being considered for any leadership role for a further 12 months after his ban ends, echoed Warner’s comments.
“It seems like some really good energy among the team at the moment,” he said. “It’s great to be back around the group, they’ve been really welcoming and almost like we’ve never left.”
While the cheating row initially unleashed a torrent of vitriol against them, that sentiment has eased significantly and they are expected to be slotted straight back into the team.
Smith said the Dubai catch-up went through “the values that are instilled in the team at the moment and making sure we are on the right path looking forward to what’s coming up; a huge World Cup and an Ashes series in England”.
While Australia have struggled without their two best batsmen, questions have been raised over how easily they would re-integrate into the squad.
Coach Justin Langer appeared to have no such qualms after meeting with the pair.
“They have been received really well,” Langer said. “They have gone through a really tough time, a 12-month suspension ... it’s great to have them back in the team.
“They’re excited and ... as a coach when you have got two guys with as many runs and experience as they’ve got coming back into a team that’s playing well, that’s very exciting.”
While the bans end in time for the pair to play the final two matches of the Pakistan series, which begins in Sharjah from Friday, neither was included in the squad as they are both recovering from recent elbow surgery.
Langer said the duo had been briefed on the new team ethos that was put into place after independent reviews identified a “win without counting the cost” mentality in Australian cricket.
“We just had a look at how we are going with those values and how we can use our values and behaviours to keep moving the team forward on and off the field,” Langer added.
Smith added that he was making a good recovery from his elbow surgery and should be available for the Indian Premier League T20 competition, which starts next week.
“I’m really excited about playing again,” said Smith, who did not confirm when he would be able to return for the Rajasthan Royals. “The elbow has been tracking really well. I’ve been batting for two weeks and been able to play all the shots. I’ve got my power back and I’m just excited to be back playing again.”
Published in Dawn, March 18th, 2019