At 2.45pm, former Australian captain Steve Smith is scheduled to make an announcement at a press conference, before the Sydney Sixers have their training session, and then he will join the Sydney Sixers in that training session, which is in preparation for the Sydney Sixers to play their first match of the Big Bash League season, against Perth Scorchers tomorrow.
The question is what is Steve Smith going to say?
The first and most obvious answer is that Steve Smith is going to play in this year’s Big Bash League.
He is training with the Sydney Sixers and has recently been shown in advertisements for the Big Bash League, something that is bizarre for someone who is banned from participating in the tournament.
If Cricket Australia has had a change of heart, it might be because the Bangladesh Premier League (BPL) decided not to allow Steve Smith to participate in their Twenty/20 tournament this season. Smith was not a part of the preliminary squads but had been called in at a later stage of organising participation, only for it to be not allowed based on the technicality that he was not a part of the preliminary squads, and was not covering for any injuries. It had nothing to do with Cricket Australia or his ban for bringing the game into disrepute in relation to the ball tampering by Cameron Bancroft in March. This was all about a technicality.
If that is what the announcement is going to be, then it would be a confusing thing to happen. Smith had just been announced as captain of Indian Premier League (IPL) side Rajasthan Royals, while David Warner, who is also facing a near identical ban, has been named as captain of the IPL side Sunrisers Hyderabad. Their announcement as captain comes after they were banned from the 2018 competition on the mistaken belief that Cricket Australia’s ban extended to the IPL. It didn’t then and nor does it now.
The fact that they have been named as captain, while Smith is banned from captaincy within Australia until 2019 and Warner is banned from captaincy within Australia for life, is one indication that India, at least, don’t consider the bans to be particularly valid. Cricket Australia made the bans in response to public pressure, going against the International Cricket Council (ICC), who had banned Steve Smith for 1 test, had fined Cameron Bancroft and had found David Warner not guilty of any wrongdoing.
In spite of this, Smith found himself facing a 12-month ban from all international cricket and all domestic cricket in Australia, as did David Warner, while Bancroft faced a 9-month ban under the same circumstances, with Smith and Bancroft banned for 2 years for being captain at any level in Australia while Warner faced a life ban of holding any captaincy roles within Australia.
The Longstaff Review concluded that the responsibility for the ball tampering, which was initiated by Cameron Bancroft, who, on top of rubbing sandpaper onto the ball, also hid it down his pants, showed the umpire a black felt sunglasses case, and then Steve Smith claimed on his behalf in the press conference that followed that it was yellow sticky tape and that the leadership group all helped to plan it, was in fact mainly the fault of Cricket Australia itself, something that Cricket Australia refused to take on board.
The review, if anything, made things more confusing, in a situation that saw Australia’s two best batsmen, the captain and vice captain, both banned for lengthy periods of time with severe restrictions for things that, under the ICC rules, were not illegal, and nobody else has ever been penalised for them at all, let alone for such lengths, and they still failed to answer the question as to why two batsmen would tell a third batsman to tamper with the ball to help the bowlers, yet none of the bowlers were involved.
We do not know if Smith’s press conference will be announcing that he is allowed to participate in this year’s BBL season, playing for, presumably, the Sydney Sixers.
It might be that he is merely saying sorry again, and perhaps adding a bit more information.
It might even be that he is announcing his retirement from international cricket, perhaps to become a coach or to hold some other role.
And there is also a chance that, in spite of Cricket Australia promising that they wouldn’t undo the bans, that they actually are undoing it, at least for him, and Smith might be lining up for Australia perhaps for the 4th test at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) on New Year’s Day, which could be with Australia 2-1 up, 1-2 down, or the series tied at 1-1, and either way it is a test that is going to be very important.
I for one hope that his ban is lifted, and I hope to see him line up at the SCG in the 4th test, and also to play for the Sydney Sixers this season.
Whatever he might say, I hope that this isn’t yet another “no comment” interview like the one when he was first banned, where he said that he was sorry for what he did, without ever saying what it was he was sorry for.
If there is some secret for him to reveal, such as, for example, that he didn’t actually know about the ball tampering at all, and was rather just talking about South Africa cheating and Cameron Bancroft took it to mean that he wanted Bancroft to cheat, then that would be fantastic.
But I’d rather his ban to simply be lifted.
Whatever he is going to say, it sounds like this could be very important.