Skipper Tim Paine on Monday said he expects the banned Steve Smith and David Warner to play “a huge” role in this year's Ashes series against England, with Australia now in “a really good place.”
After a torrid 12 months marred by the ball-tampering row and poor form without its top stars, Australia ended its summer on a high by emphatically winning two Tests against Sri Lanka.
The side claimed the first in Brisbane by an innings and 40 runs and the second in Canberra by 366 runs, following a tough home series defeat to top-ranked India.
Smith and Warner's bans for their role in trying to alter the ball in South Africa expire late next month and they are widely expected to quickly return to the national set-up.
“I think everyone to a degree has to earn their stripes. I think those two have got plenty of runs in the bank if you like,” Paine said when asked if they could slot straight back in.
“Look, I see us going to the Ashes and them having a huge part in us winning the series. That's how I see how important they are to this team.
“We know how good they are and hopefully once their bans are up they'll be welcomed back and they will win Test matches like they did before.”
Without the experienced pair, Australia struggled. But at least it broke a century drought stretching back to October in Canberra, with Joe Burns, Travis Head, Kurtis Patterson and Usman Khawaja all cashing in.
Their knocks put the Aussies in prime position for the Ashes against an England side reeling from an embarrassing capitulation in the West Indies.
Following a 381-run defeat by the hosts in the first Test in Barbados last month, England suffered a 10-wicket thrashing in Antigua on Saturday to lose the three-match series 2-0.
Won back respect
The ball-tampering scandal, which led to year-long bans for Smith and Warner and nine months in exile for Cameron Bancroft, led to Australia changing its cricketing culture and toning down its aggressive sledging.
Paine said he was “really proud of the way we have gone about it”.
“We spoke at the start of the summer that our main priority was to win back the respect of our Australian public and cricket fans. Sitting here now, I think we've gone a long way to doing that,” he said.
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