The ball-tampering incident in Cape Town is more than a year old. David Warner and Steve Smith have served their sanctions and returned to cricket fresh. But for the English spectators, the incident remains a sledge-trigger in the World Cup. Unfortunate as they are the host nation.
Smith, not as unpopular as Warner for chatting up to players, often ducks the mild taunts. He has never been a fan of personal sledging. Warner tries hard to keep his ears shut. The only noise the duo have been making, of late, is by scoring runs to shun the scoffing; a Kiwi-like approach.
It is not a downer. Among the 50-odd people who chanted ‘cheater’ against Warner in Bristol in Australia’s Cup opener, there were a few kids who came asking for an autograph. Deaf to the cuss words, Warner let the bat speak. He was unbeaten on 89 in the victory over Afghanistan. The world isn’t used to this Warner.
This is a new Warner; somebody who is going out of his skin to shed the bad boy image. A family man who plays cricket for a living, an IPL-winning captain who can shine under a new skipper in his old franchise and an aggressive left-handed batsman who can take the match away by swinging his willow sticking to the cricket grammar; mouth zipped.
The traces of Warner 2.0 could be found in a Grade game in Sydney in October 2018 when Jason Hughes — brother of fallen cricketer Phillip Hughes — attacked Warner saying why he shouldn’t be playing cricket [referring to the tampering scandal]. Instead of retorting, the former Australia vice-captain left the ground for a few minutes to regroup emotionally. He came back and scored 157. Warner’s return fifty against the Afghans had a similar defence mechanism. More abuses, more runs.
Watson: Australia will be lucky to have Warner in World Cup
Smith’s century against England in the warm-up match in Hampshire had the same resolve. The greatness gained flesh as he added 102 runs with No.8 batsman Nathan Coulter-Nile to rescue Australia from hell against West Indies in Nottingham in the main fixture. This time, he scored 73, and the partnership was the turning point of the rubber.
Talking of the refurbished Warner, former Australia cricketer Kerry O’Keeffe was quoted as saying to Fox Sports how the opener adjusted his game to meet the coach’s orders.
“He brought into the game plan of Langer – preserve wickets in the first 10 overs, he made sure he was still there after 10. A left-hander had to dominate our innings, Warner took it upon himself to be that left-hander. He wanted to be there at the end. He was. I thought he was absolutely fantastic.”
‘It’s my job’
Once a thick-skinned Australian cricket captain, always one. Smith is one of those tough guys. The fact that he broke down at the time of the sandpaper-gate controversy shows that there were regrets. The World Cup in England is the opportunity for Smith to rewash the stains.
“It doesn’t bother me. I am doing my job. I have the support of my team-mates. If I can make them proud, make the Australians proud, that’s my job. I heard a few things when I went out to bat. It really didn’t get to me,” Smith told reporters on how it felt to be at the receiving end of the notorious welcome.
Why they still matter
The fact that they have been World Cup winners make them important members in any side. Their captaincy brain makes them good mentors. Plus, they are flexible with their game. They can adjust to situations.
Warner played at a lower strike-rate [78.07] against Afghanistan than his usual 95.99. All the other Aussie batters worked their way around Smith against the Caribbeans. Having batted from 26/2 to 247/9, he played the anchor.
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When Rajasthan Royals struggled in the IPL, Smith replaced Ajinkya Rahane as captain for results. Under him, the franchise won three out of four games.
Warner led Sunrisers Hyderabad to its maiden title against Virat Kohli’s Royal Challengers Bangalore in the 2016 edition. To end on a better note, former England spin bowler Monty Panesar claimed in his autobiography ‘The Full Monty’ how the English cricketers have used mint to alter the condition of the ball in the past. That should end the debate.
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