Mumbai: Cricket Australia has announced the 15-man World Cup squad that will travel to England but what has drawn the most attention is Steve Smith and David Warner's return to the fold. It was little over 12 months ago, during the Test against South Africa, that Australian cricket descended into the ball-tampering debacle. What transpired in Cape Town on March 24, 2018, has left an indelible imprint on Australian cricket and the cricket fan’s psyche.
The youngest of the lot, Cameron Bancroft, was left standing in the dock as the whole incident was captured by TV cameras and played out in front of the whole world. So much so that after the International Cricket Council (ICC) fined them and handed suspensions for the three players, Cricket Australia (CA) slapped Smith and Warner with a ban from the national team and top-level domestic games for 12 months.
Warner was singled out for his role as the “instigator” in the scandal. While Smith was also handed an additional 12-month leadership ban once the playing ban expires, Warner, CA declared, would never be considered for a leadership position again. They were given an option to appeal against their bans but considering the public furore over the matter, it would have been impossible to fight the duration of suspensions.
The Sandpaper incident called for a deeper introspection into Australia’s toxic ‘win at all costs’ culture. And the culture review report made it clear that the administrators were merely trying to wipe their hands clean by dishing out punishments. Kevin Roberts would replace James Sutherland as the new CEO of CA.
Since then, both Smith and Warner have played in the inaugural Global T20 Canada in June and then in the Caribbean Premier League. Smith represented the grade side Sutherland, Sydney, which under his leadership captured the Kingsgrove T20 Cup, while Warner played for the Sydney grade side Randwick-Petersham. Smith and Warner have been playing for the Rajasthan Royals and Sunrisers Hyderabad respectively in the cash-rich Indian Premier League.
In the fallout from Capetown, Bancroft, being the youngest player in the side, has elicited the most sympathy from the public and media alike. Smith and Warner have had it rough as they have had to hold on to form and confidence amidst dwindling public opinion.
The board's ambiguous definition of what constitutes the game’s spirit doesn’t absolve their willful participation in the incident. At the same time, their transgressions don't give trolls the right to heckle them. They emerged from the incident with a bruised reputation and have both served the time.
Contrite, they have both been. Warner, in particular, has approached the matter with quiet dignity since regretting the effects of his actions on the "game under your care and control". They have worked their way back into the circle of his teammates as they started training with the Test quicks in Sydney in March.
Warner and Smith will go down as great Aussie batsmen but whether they leave a legacy beyond accumulating runs remains to be seen. The two batsmen, arguably Australia’s best, will don the national kit for the first time since their shaming at Newlands as they prepare for the team’s World Cup defense. Now is the time to suspend judgment and let them rebuild it without letting unworthy acts from the past cast a shadow on it....