CHENNAI : Chances are high that August 1, 2019 will remain a memorable day for three particular Australian cricketers.About 16 months ago, Steve Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft had been suspended for ball-tampering. Back then, they may not have been able to fast forward to the day when they would be playing Test cricket again.
Suspension served, the first day of the Ashes series marks the completion of a circle for the trio. And also for the Australian team. Their absence, particularly that of Warner and Smith, had weakened the batting and in the period when they were not available, Australia won three and lost five of the nine Test matches played. The victory column got a fillip after the 2-0 triumph against Sri Lanka at home. Beginning in Birmingham is a test for the three batsmen, and also for the team that has not won a series in England after 2001.
While the collective batting might of Smith and Warner will undoubtedly boost the team and go some distance in supplementing the efforts of the bowlers, there is also this aspect of reintegration. The last time they played Test cricket, Smith was the captain and Warner his deputy. As they start afresh, Tim Paine is at the helm. But it’s something they have got a taste of. After returning to the ODI side in the World Cup, they turned out under Aaron Finch.
Former Australia coach John Buchanan feels that the process of having the players back in the side has started off smoothly. “It would appear from the media comments made by Paine, Justin Langer (coach) and Trevor Hohns (chief selector) that the three have integrated well into the mix. They bring a pretty important skill set into the Test side and their return should put Australia in good stead ahead of the Ashes. They will certainly change some of the dynamics of the team,” Buchanan told this newspaper from Brisbane on Wednesday.
Given that Smith and Warner are big names with performance to speak for themselves, they have to eschew egos and get used to playing under a low-profile captain. “Paine has been outstanding all these months and has the respect of the group. This is part of the integration process. The whole team, not just these three, have to accept he is the person who will lead them through the Ashes. From a distance, it seems to be going amicably and effectively.”
Coach from 1999 to 2007, Buchanan was in charge when Australia last won an Ashes series in England. He feels depth in batting provided by Smith and Warner gives them the edge. “If you look at England’s top order, only Joe Root has a depth of Test experience. Batting of both sides can be fragile against the swinging Duke ball. And with bowling being more or less equal, experience and depth in batting gives Australia the edge. I expect them to win the Ashes.”