Smith, Warner back in Aussie camp to prepare for World Cup
BRISBANE, Australia (AP) — Titled. Untitled. Entitled. Australia coach Justin Langer doesn't care too much about labels in the process of reintegrating the ex-captain and vice-captain into his World Cup squad following 12-month bans.
Steve Smith and David Warner are in camp with the defending champion Australian squad less than a month out from their World Cup opener against Afghanistan in England, and Langer said there's not even the hint of tension.
Smith remains barred from leadership positions in the Australian team for at least another 12 months, and Warner will never again be selected as captain or vice-captain because of their roles in a ball-tampering scandal last year in South Africa. But that doesn't bother Langer.
"Whether it's titled or untitled, we expect all our players to be leaders. They're (Smith and Warner) both natural leaders," Langer told a news conference Friday at the national cricket academy, where the Australians will play three warm-up matches against a New Zealand XI next week. "We'll draw on their experience on and off the field. We'd be absolutely crazy not to.
"Their leadership will be crucial for us to win on the field, and win off the field. We're looking forward to them developing that."
Langer took over as coach after Darren Lehmann quit last March following the ball-tampering episode that sent Australian cricket into turmoil. Smith, Warner and opener Cameron Bancroft were rubbed out of the game by Cricket Australia for lengthy periods for their parts in a plot to tamper with the red leather ball in a test match in Cape Town.
The sanctions were significantly harsher than anything ever imposed by the International Cricket Council for ball tampering, but reflected a deeply held sentiment in Australia that the players who represent the country in the national sport should be above that kind of cheating.
Langer, a gritty opening batsman for Australia in its era of domination around the turn of the millennium, guided the remnants of the team through a domestic summer that included a first-ever test series loss on home soil to India and an extended drought in limited-overs cricket.
Things have only just turned around, with the Australians recovering from 2-0 down in a five-match limited-overs series in India to win it 3-2, and then securing a series sweep against Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates.
Aaron Finch, who took over as one-day captain in the absence of fellow World Cup winners Smith and Warner, struggled to make runs until he went on a roll of high scores that now has created a problem for selectors of where to include the returning star batsmen in the lineup.
Suddenly, the Australians have risen from being rank outsiders to strong contenders to win the World Cup for a sixth time. England is ranked No. 1 and is playing at home, and Langer regards the hosts as the favorites.
Being in England, the Australian players can expect some extra attention from the Barmy Army, the vociferous band of England cricket supporters who're renowned for their songs and chants. That applies particularly to Warner, who has made himself a target for their attention in previous trips to England.
Warner returned to competitive cricket with 692 runs in 12 games in the Indian Premier League last month, immediately hitting the form in Twenty20 cricket that makes him one of the most destructive batsmen in the shorter formats of the game.
Langer said he'd learned during his own career not to antagonize the Barmy Army, and would be advising Warner and his teammates to ignore them or, at the very least, treat them with respect.
It's a mantra that Langer uses across the board as he bids to reintegrate two of the best Australian players of the last decade back into a team that struggled in the enforced absence of the pair. He regularly uses the words humility, recognizing that Smith and Warner will need to show a lot of it after losing their titles as team leaders and having to play under a new captain despite having a wealth of experience, and respect — for rivals, fans and for the game.
"We've had a very humbling experience, and we brought it on ourselves," Langer said. "I still have that vision of Steve almost being almost frog-marched out of South Africa. Sad vision.
Now, "Obviously every opportunity we get of celebrating Australian cricket, and to make Australians proud of us again ... is important for us. We'll make sure we make the most of every opportunity that comes up, including this World Cup."