Pakistan to set scene for Smith, Warner comeback

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News Desk

Steven Smith and David Warner may return to international cricket as soon as a matter of hours after their bans are lifted at the end of March, after it was revealed that Pakistan’s board is open to the concept of shifting its ODI series with Australia into April ahead of next year’s World Cup.

As Cricket Australia’s (CA) Board deliberates on whether to make any alterations to the bans imposed on Smith, Warner and Cameron Bancroft, possibly freeing them up to play Sheffield Shield matches ahead of the time originally stipulated in their suspensions, ESPNcricinfo has learned that the PCB would be eager to see the ODI series played in April, rather than the late March dates currently pencilled in.

Such a shift would aid both teams in terms of World-Cup preparation, with squads due to be finalised and submitted to the ICC by April 23. But it would also allow Smith and Warner to play under the terms of their penalty.

A clue as to the possibility was raised last week when CA’s interim team-performance manager Belinda Clark released the governing body’s position on player availability for the IPL, which stated “Players who are participating in the One Day International series versus Pakistan will not be released until its conclusion”.

Earlier discussions between the two boards are believed to have taken place against a backdrop of CA concern over interfering with the IPL “window”, but this now appears to have changed. The PCB, with none of its players considered for the IPL due to political tensions between Pakistan and India, will have a full ODI complement available to play in April.

One of the other factors in discussion is the PCB’s eagerness for more teams to break the nearly decade-long dearth of international matches in Pakistan. There is hope on the PCB side that CA would consider playing at least part of this five-match series in Pakistan, before the remainder of the fixtures take place in the UAE. The PCB’s new chairman Ehsan Mani made his feelings clear during Australia’s recent Test series against Pakistan.

“Obviously they rely on the [Australian] High Commission’s advice, but a lot of it is a matter of perception,” Mani said. “I am yet to meet people who, once they’ve been to Pakistan, have any concerns about going there. On the sidelines, we’ve certainly raised this with them, that they should consider this.

“It will certainly happen sooner or later. It’s a matter of comfort levels. We are getting PSL matches played in Pakistan, foreign players are coming for that. We’ve had a couple of other teams come and play, but I really want Australia, New Zealand, England to come. One thing we need to explain to Cricket Australia properly is that where we are planning to host the matches is away from troubled areas.”

The bans on Smith, Warner and Bancroft have polarised views for some months, and the Australian Cricketers Association submission to CA about reducing their terms has forced the Board, its interim chairman Earl Eddings and new chief executive Kevin Roberts to consider the state of play.

Should Smith and Warner be given dispensation to return to Shield ranks for the final four rounds of the season, ahead of the expiry of their 12-month bans, there is a sense that Bancroft, too, should be afforded similar treatment. To do so would require him to be made available for the next two rounds of Shield matches, meaning a decision either way would need to be reached this week.

 

Nathan Lyon expressed hope that the trio would be allowed to return to domestic ranks before the end of the home summer. “Always want to see them playing Shield cricket, I think the whole of Australia would like to see them playing Shield cricket,” Lyon said in Canberra. “It’s up to the powers that be to make that decision, and no matter what decision they make, we’ll respect that.

“I actually think the way Steve and Davey are going about it, they’ve been absolutely incredible and what they’re doing for grade cricket in Sydney has been exceptional. I actually take my hat off to them.”

Should they be allowed to play in the Shield, Smith and Warner in particular would be able to build a legitimate case for inclusion in the ODI team to face Pakistan via their performances. In turn, participation in the ODI series would also mean the selectors and coach Justin Langer could see them in action, and observe their behaviour in the context of a touring team, before making a final call as to the composition of the World-Cup squad.

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