Smith returns with big runs in Australia's World Cup warmups
BRISBANE, Australia (AP) — Steve Smith scored an unbeaten 91 and hung around after the Cricket World Cup warmup series against New Zealand to sign autographs for supporters, including a kid holding a banner that proclaimed he was the ex-Australia captain's No. 1 fan .
Australia won the unofficial practice series 2-1, clinching the third game on the Duckworth-Lewis method when bad light stopped play on Friday.
What was more important than the outcome for the Australia squad, though, was the reintegration of Smith and David Warner from their 12-month bans following the ball tampering scandal in South Africa last year.
For Smith, the three games at Brisbane's Allan Border Field were more about redemption and his bid to win back the support of the Australian cricket public.
He leaves for England on the back of two confidence boosting half-centuries. Batting at No. 3 on Friday, he faced 108 balls and shared a 104-run partnership with Glenn Maxwell (70) before the game was called off early with Australia at 248-5 in 44 overs in reply to New Zealand's 286-9. Australia was ahead on run rate to win the series.
"His timing and his class was back again," Australia captain Aaron Finch said when asked about Smith's return. "It was like he hadn't left."
The Australians start their attempt to defend the World Cup on June 1 against Afghanistan in Bristol.
Smith and Warner, previously captain and vice-captain, are prohibited from holding official leadership roles for the time being, although both bring a wealth of experience back to the top of the batting order.
Warner on Friday posted his second single-digit score since returning to the opening slot, but he started the series with a rapid-fire 39 to follow up his successful return to elite competition in the Indian Premier League last month.
Finch, who didn't play on Friday, was content with the warmup series and the return of Smith and Warner.
"It's been really productive," he said. "A great opportunity for the team to get together and keep building that bond."
Smith and Warner each served a year-long ban for their part in a ball-tampering plot during a test match against South Africa at Cape Town in March 2018, when opener Cameron Bancroft was caught by TV cameras trying to scratch the surface of the red leather ball in order to assist the Australian bowlers. It triggered outrage in Australia, where cricket is the national summer sport and where the top players are expected to uphold the standards of the game. The Cricket Australia bans were significantly heavier than any sanctions imposed by the International Cricket Council for ball tampering.
Finch, who became captain of the one-day team after Smith and Warner were sidelined, said it was a boost to have them again.
"Two of the best players in the world, which is valuable to have at your disposal," Finch said. "All the work they've been doing off the field with the team has been great.
"It's been a great opportunity for everyone to learn from them as well. They've got so much experience and what they bring to the group is invaluable."