MELBOURNE: As expected Steve Smith and David Warner completed their remarkable comeback from the ball-tampering scandal that rocked cricket when they were on Monday selected in defending champions Australia’s World Cup squad.
But there was no room for Josh Hazlewood or Peter Handscomb at the tournament in England and Wales.
It is the first call-up for the former captain and his deputy since the expiry last month of year-long bans for their part in ‘sandpaper-gate’ in Cape Town that had wide repercussions for Australian cricket.
Then-coach Darren Lehmann quit and all the top brass from Cricket Australia left after a scathing review said their ‘arrogant and controlling’ win-at-all-costs culture was partly to blame for players bending the rules.
Both players were eligible for the final two games of Australia’s recent limited-overs tour against Pakistan, but selectors preferred that they eased themselves back at the Twenty20 Indian Premier League.
“Steve Smith and David Warner come back into the squad. Both are world class players and it has been pleasing to see them produce some good form in the IPL,” Chairman of Selectors Trevor Hohns said in a Cricket Australia statement.
Warner has registered five 50-plus scores, including an unbeaten century, for Sunrisers Hyderabad in seven IPL matches this season while Smith, returning from an elbow surgery like his former deputy, has also looked in good touch for Rajasthan Royals.
“As far as I’m concerned they have done everything that’s been asked of them in the last 12 months,” said one-day skipper Aaron Finch, adding that he didn’t believe their return would be destabilising. “Knowing them both personally as I do, I don’t think there will be any issues whatsoever. They are both great, great guys.”
Their return has left head coach Justin Langer with a dilemma on the back of Australia winning eight One-day Internationals on the trot, against India and Pakistan.
All the top order has been firing, and it is Handscomb who is the fall guy despite averaging 43 in 13 games this year. The decision to drop him means the team only has one wicket-keeper in Alex Carey.
Australia’s recent red-hot form has been built on the back of a rock-solid opening partnership between Finch and Usman Khawaja.
The decision for Langer now is whether to retain that combination when the 50-over World Cup begins at the end of next month or move one of them down to make way for Warner, who traditionally opens the batting.
Shaun Marsh, Smith, Glenn Maxwell and all-rounder Marcus Stoinis make up the middle order.
“There’s so much flexibility in our order and there will be a lot of options,” said Finch. “There have been a couple of hard decisions made on the 15, but there’s going to be some even tougher ones with the 11.”
Selectors opted for two spinners in Adam Zampa and Nathan Lyon and five quick bowlers.
As with the batsmen, Australia’s selectors faced a bowling conundrum as they target a record sixth World Cup triumph.
Pat Cummins will spearhead the attack while Mitchell Starc, the 2015 World Cup player of the tournament, has been recalled after being sidelined with a muscle tear since early February.
Hohns said Hazlewood, who is included in Australia ‘A’ one-day and four-days squads, remained a big part of Australia’s Ashes plans.
The quick, who has taken 72 wickets in 44 one-dayers, has been sidelined since January due to a back injury but had been confident of being fit for the World Cup.
“Having not played at the highest level for some time, we feel this will provide him with the best preparation to get some quality cricket under his belt,” Hohns said. “Our focus is to have Josh back bowling at his best for the commencement of a big Ashes tour.”
Jhye Richardson, who dislocated his shoulder last month, makes the grade along with Nathan Coulter-Nile and Jason Behrendorff.
Handscomb was instead named in both Australia’ ‘A’ one-day squad, which will play games in England while the World Cup is on, and their four-day ‘A’ squad to face English county sides in the build-up to the Ashes.
World Cup: Aaron Finch (captain), Usman Khawaja, David Warner, Steve Smith, Shaun Marsh, Glenn Maxwell, Marcus Stoinis, Alex Carey, Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, Jhye Richardson, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Jason Behrendorff, Nathan Lyon, Adam Zampa.
Australia ‘A’ one-day: Travis Head (captain), Matthew Wade, Will Pucovski, Peter Handscomb, Ashton Turner, Mitch Marsh, D’Arcy Short, Kurtis Patterson, Ashton Agar, Michael Neser, James Pattinson, Josh Hazlewood, Kane Richardson, Sean Abbott.
Australia ‘A’ four-day: Tim Paine (captain), Marcus Harris, Kurtis Patterson, Will Pucovski, Travis Head, Peter Handscomb, Matthew Wade, Mitch Marsh, Michael Neser, Jon Holland, James Pattinson, Jackson Bird, Josh Hazlewood, Chris Tremain.
Published in Dawn, April 16th, 2019