Steven Smith and David Warner have said it felt like they had never been away from the Australia set-up having been welcomed back with “open arms” during the first part of their reintegration with a series of meetings in Dubai before heading to the IPL.
The pair, whose international bans expire on March 29, spent little more than 24 hours with the one-day squad before heading to India during which time the new culture built by coach Justin Langer in the wake of the ball-tampering scandal was instilled on them ahead of their full returns which are expected to be at the World Cup.
Though both players, who have undergone elbow surgery in the last two months, were eligible for the final two ODIs of the upcoming series against Pakistan – fitness permitting – it was decided by the CA management that it would be better for them to have an extended stint at the IPL before returning to Australia in early May for a training camp in Brisbane.
“It’s been awesome, like we didn’t really leave,” Warner said. “The boys have been really accepting of us coming in with open arms and a lot of big hugs and cuddles. It’s good to see the spirit they are in after a great series win in India.”
Smith said. “It’s been great to be back around the group, they’ve been really welcoming again and it’s almost like we never left so everything is on the right track.”
The events in Newlands led to a stinging cultural review of Australian cricket on and off the field. Langer and the two captains, Tim Paine in Tests and Aaron Finch in limited-overs cricket, have stressed the importance of the manner in which the team plays which is something Smith and Warner will need to fully buy into on their return.
“Making sure that we are aligned with the team values moving forward, we’ve been out for 12 months there’s obviously been a big change which is great and it’s about accepting that and playing what our role should be in the team moving forward,” Warner said.
Smith, who admitted he had turned a blind eye to the unfolding ball-tampering plans in the Cape Town dressing room last year, said it was important to get everyone on the same page ahead of the World Cup and Ashes campaigns in England.
“It’s just been going through the values that are instilled in the team at the moment, making sure we are on the right path looking forward to what’s coming up – a huge World Cup and an Ashes series, it’s a pretty exciting time ahead for the team so just making sure everyone is heading in the same direction. It’s been very beneficial and really good.”
Langer has previously admitted the fallout to the ball-tampering bans left Australian cricket like a “dysfunctional family” and he is now delighted to have two “brothers” make among the set-up.
“It’s great to have them back on the team, it’s like two brothers coming back home,” he said. “Brothers leave home for different reasons in families so nice to have them back in there. They’ve been received really well, we had a good night last night and some great meetings today so it’s been really positive.
“They’ve gone through a really tough time, a 12-month suspension is unprecedented really, so they are excited and because they are so excited they have a hunger to play well and make a lot of runs to help the team be successful. When you are a coach with two guys with as many runs and experience as they’ve got coming back into a team that’s playing it’s pretty exciting.”
The pending return of the pair will leave Langer and his fellow selectors with some tough decisions to make about how to fit them both into a one-day side that returned to winning ways with an impressive comeback against India.
Ricky Ponting, who will be Langer’s assistant at the World Cup, said the pair had to show they were still among the best players during their IPL stints and Langer acknowledged it was an important period for them.
“The IPL will be a really important time for both because it gives them the opportunity to play some competitive cricket again, to hit a lot of balls, to get moving again, get the feel of the game,” Langer said. “It will be about getting back into the rhythm of high class cricket and I’m sure they’ll get plenty out of that.”
Warner made a hundred in Sydney grade cricket last week on his return but Smith, whose elbow problem was more serious, has so far been restricted to net sessions although was bullish about his progress. “The elbow is tracking really well, been batting for the last two weeks and able to play all shots, got my power back, so tracking really well and just excited to play again,” he said.