Former Australia captain Steve Smith may have cut a forlorn sight as he watched his compatriots slump to a 5-0 ODI series defeat this week. England tore the Aussies apart in every single match, with Jos Buttler, Jonny Bairstow and Jason Roy in impeccable form. How Australia could have done with their hero. But Smith was on the other side of the world, taking in the sights of New York, and unable to influence proceedings.
Headline writers are seemingly incapable of writing his name these days without inserting the word “disgraced in front of it”. He presided over the ball tampering scandal that brought his team into disrepute in March 2018, even leading Australian prime minister to use the D-word. Smith and his vice-captain, Dave Warner, were banned for a year and Smith is now living out his exile in Canada. He travelled from New York up to Toronto, where he began his Toronto Nationals career with a T20 fixture against the Vancouver Knights at the Maple Leaf ground in King City on Thursday.
Asked if he should not be honouring the ban dished out to Smith, tournament director Jason Harper was refreshingly frank. Are you kidding me? Steve Smith is a world-class player,” he said. “There is no way we would turn away Steve Smith when the phones open. No way. There is no way. He is welcome.” Smith still holds onto his ranking as the world’s top batsman, so it is an outrageous coup for Harper, who has spent several years trying to make cricket a thing in the land of ice hockey. Not only has he landed Smith, he has secured Warner too, as the former Australian vice-captain has signed up with the Winnipeg Hawks. “Really excited to be a part of T20 Canada," he said. “Thanks to the Winnipeg Hawks for selecting me to play in what will be a really competitive tournament. Prep steps up this week in the nets."It is pretty ignominious for these superstars to be plying their trade in such a cricketing backwater, but Australian fans will hope to see them gaining good match practice and emerging all the better for the experience. They are certainly desperately needed in the international fold. Australia were utterly abject against England. In mitigation, Josh Hazlewood, Pat Cummins and Mitchell Starc were all missing too, but it highlighted Australia’s glaring lack of strength in depth.
If you check out Bovada, and gain an appreciation for a reputable betting site, then find the best odds on the market, you will see that Australia are second favourites to win the 2019 World Cup. England, the host nation, head the betting and deservedly so as they are the world’s number one team, playing some brilliant white ball cricket at the moment. But the gulf in class between the two sides was stark, and do not forget that England’s ODI team also trounced Australia Down Under towards the end of 2017, with the big guns still in the fold
There will be calls to leave Smith and Warner out of the World Cup squad, but that would be folly when you consider the dearth of quality beyond them. Australia’s selectors would do well to take a leaf out of Harper’s book. There is no way you turn away Steve Smith when the phones open. With the likes of Hazelwood and Cummins back in the mix, Australia’s attack will look a lot more dangerous, and they might actually stand a chance of toppling England. Until then it will be interesting to see Smith running rings around the finest bowlers Canada has to offer.