In a press release, Cricket Australia Chief Executive Officer Kevin Roberts today confirmed that selection criteria for Australia’s World Cup defence – with the 15-man squad to be submitted to the ICC by April 23 next year – will include performances in offshore domestic T20 competitions, which all but confirms that Smith and Warner’s inclusion in the squad will be based on merit, not based on their bans, which expire on March 29th, almost a month prior to the cut-off date for the 15-man squad.
The question is whether Australia should include the two players.
Australia’s ODI captain, Aaron Finch, said that he hadn’t even thought about the prospect of not including them, saying: “From my point of view, they’ll be welcomed back with open arms,” Finch said. “There hasn’t been any chat about it in the changeroom at all to be fair, Whatever’s happened, has happened. The punishment has been dealt. They’ve been working really hard off the field to meet every criteria, and go above and beyond everything that has been asked of them, to come back and play international cricket again.”
The main barrier towards David Warner’s reintegration had been Mitchell Starc, the man who had publicly stated that he never wanted to be in the same side as David Warner again, and who had called for Warner to be banned for life after Warner had reportedly told Starc to “admit that he knew what was going on” with regards to the ball tampering issue, which Warner was eventually found guilty of masterminding.
Starc, though, has since then publicly stated that he is now okay with being in the same side with Warner, and, with others such as Josh Hazlewood publicly stating that he never had a problem with Warner in the first place, it seems that any animosity felt towards him within the team has completely disappeared. Smith, for his part, also stated that he was “best mates” with Warner, and had never had an argument with him in the first place.
The one lingering issue remains whether Cameron Bancroft can be in the same side as David Warner, and equally the other way, after Bancroft publicly labelled Warner as the mastermind of the ball tampering. This issue, however, is unlikely to matter for the World Cup at least, as Cameron Bancroft is a very long way off consideration for the squad.
He is also unlikely to be considered for the test team, with both Aaron Finch and Marcus Harris performing better than Bancroft did in his time in the team. While it could be an issue if Bancroft’s performances ever qualify him for consideration into the national team, that may never happen, and if it does it is likely to be a very long way away, by which time Warner may have retired, so it may not be relevant.
I have devised my own potential World Cup squad, which I think is a decent chance of winning the World Cup, and I think it highlights the importance of both Warner, arguably Australia’s best ODI player, and Smith, who is perhaps Australia’s 2nd or 3rd best.
Aaron Finch (c)
Alex Carey (wk)
If Warner is removed, then D’Arcy Short or perhaps Travis Head or even Glenn Maxwell moves in to open, and a replacement in the squad may be Usman Khawaja or perhaps Shaun Marsh, neither of whom are ideal ODI players. While Aaron Finch will be the other opener regardless, it severely weakens the side without Warner there, as there is no second reliable opener.
If Smith is removed, then there is simply nobody who comes close to filling his role as the stable rock in the middle order who the rest of the team can build around. No other Australian ODI batsman fills that role. We may be left with going back to others who previously filled that role, such as George Bailey or Usman Khawaja, or including the out of form Mitchell Marsh, or even bringing back the long ago discarded James Faulkner, a player who is more of a bowler than a batsman but who filled a great role as a batsman in ODIs.
While there are uncertainties about the makeup of the squad, especially with regards to the two specialist spin bowling positions, there is no doubt that Warner and Smith would both be walk-up starts into the starting XI, as the first and second players chosen.
One thing to note is that, in the ongoing test series against India, had Smith and Warner played, the likelihood is that Australia would have won 4-0 and now there is a chance that India may win the series for the first time, such is the difference between these two and the next best.
With the bans expiring prior to the World Cup, it would seem silly to enforce additional length to the bans or to ignore two players who are hot property in the T20 competitions around the world, so much that the Bangladesh Premier League today changed the competition’s rules to allow Smith to compete.
The New South Wales Premier League, for grade cricket teams in the greater Sydney area, which has recently seen Smith and Warner play almost the entire season, has seen record crowds, as spectators have delighted in seeing Australia’s two best batsmen see out their ban by participating in grade cricket.
Whether Australia will actually win the World Cup or not is not the point. With Warner and Smith we are giving ourselves a chance. Without them, we may lose all of our matches. That is the difference, and that is why they must be considered on merit, not based on politics.