Steve Smith and David Warner won’t be leading out an Australia side anytime soon. (AAP: Richard Wainwright, File)
Steve Smith and David Warner’s year in exile from Australian cricket is over, but the highly publicised and scrutinised cheating scandal has had a lasting effect, on and off the field.
A leadership vacuum emerged after the captain and his deputy, were banned for 12 months for their part in the Cape Town scandal, while head coach Darren Lehmann resigned amid the fallout.
At Cricket Australia (CA), key personnel including chairman David Peever and chief executive James Sutherland left the organisation as the public backlash over the incident — and the way it was handled — intensified.
While some of these banished figures have left the game permanently, the two most important players in this furore are set to make their representative return — albeit a conditional one.
The leadership void
At a time when the Australian team craves strong leadership — with a World Cup and Ashes series on the horizon — Smith and Warner, as part of their Cape Town punishment, are ineligible to hold such a role.
Warner has been barred from ever holding a leadership position in a national side, while Smith must serve another 12-month sanction before he’s reconsidered.
The former skipper, Steve Smith (left) and the new Test captain, Tim Paine (right). (AAP: Dave Hunt)
Former Australia head coach John Buchanan is no stranger to managing big names in the national set-up and said two of the world’s leading batsmen will not have suddenly forgotten how to bat.
But can two of the game’s biggest personalities and brightest stars return to the side merely as players and serve no part in the official leadership group?
“There will be a change of dynamics,” Buchanan said.
“I don’t think just because of who they were they’ll automatically be given selection right. Once they’re back in the side, they’ll know and feel that the culture will have changed.
“Their initial steps will be one of performing as players and delivering on their skills — that’s the first important task. The second task is to fit in with where the group’s at and the changes that [coach] Justin Langer has already made.”
David Warner is never allowed to be captain, while Steve Smith will be eligible again in 2020. (Reuters: Rogan Ward)
In the duo’s absence, Tim Paine and Aaron Finch have led Australia’s red- and white-ball teams respectively, but support for the current skippers has been a collaborative process.
Six months after the South African saga Josh Hazlewood and Mitch Marsh were added to the leadership group as the Test co vice-captains, but an eventual injury to Hazlewood and Marsh’s axing due to poor form, forced further changes.
Pat Cummins and Travis Head assumed the roles of joint vice-captains during the Test series against Sri Lanka, while Cummins and wicketkeeper Alex Carey — when he is selected — have shared the deputy role in the white-ball format.
“Everyone has the capacity to lead … Smith and Warner will bring experience, but they won’t be the only ones called upon by the captains,” Buchanan said.
“They should both come back wiser for what has happened — both as a cricketer, but more so as a person — and just very, very clearly understand just how cricket is regarded in Australia as being a part of the fabric of the nation, and we expect nothing less of our international players [than] to play hard but to play fair.”
When superstars return to the fold
Buchanan has had experience in reintegrating big personalities back into an established Australian cricketing side.
In 2003, Shane Warne failed a drug test and was ousted for 12 months for taking a banned substance.
Shane Warne under the spotlight upon his return from his one year drug ban. (Reuters: Tim Wimborne)
Buchanan, who coached the national team during a golden run between 1999 and 2007, oversaw Warne’s return and the impact it had on the playing group.
“My recollection of Shane fitting back in was pretty seamless,” he said.
“He became just one of the group. Not necessarily one of the leaders of the group, which he had been previously, but he led by example on the field.”
And that’s what Smith and Warner will need to do when they make their long-awaited international comeback.
The duo are set to play against each other in the Indian Premier League on Saturday morning (AEDT), but in two months’ time, they could well be teammates again when Australia plays its first World Cup fixture, against Afghanistan in Bristol.
“There will be a microscope cast across the group, but I hope that lessons are learnt from the past … and their behaviours and actions will demonstrate a real pride and the privilege they have been given to play and represent Australia again,” Buchanan said.
“Australians are very good at forgiving, but they don’t forget.”