The moment when Steve Smith and David Warner will be welcomed back with open arms has almost arrived.
Smith and Warner’s formal reintegration into the Australian side will begin earlier than expected, with the banned duo to meet up with World Cup teammates in the UAE later this month.
Smith and Warner are set to catch up with Australia’s ODI squad in Dubai prior to joining their respective Indian Premier League franchises for the Twenty20 tournament that begins on March 23.
The face-to-face meetings are the surest sign yet the gifted batsmen will be part of Australia’s World Cup defence, as has long been the widespread expectation.
Chairman of selectors Trevor Hohns recently suggested Smith and Warner, now in the final three weeks of year-long suspensions, would likely have played ODIs against Pakistan on March 29 and 31 if not for their elbow injuries.
Coach Justin Langer and selectors will not rush the former captain and vice-captain back into the XI, having left them out of the 15-man squad that will travel from Delhi to Dubai on Thursday.
But the visit will give Smith and Warner a chance to reconnect with support staff and teammates, and start repairing any strained relationships within the touring party.
It will be their first exposure to a team culture and high-performance environment that has undergone major changes under Langer since the Cape Town cheating scandal.
Langer has been in regular dialogue with both Smith and Warner since being appointed coach, while they’ve been part of NSW training sessions and kept in touch with many teammates during a year in exile.
But, up until now, Smith and Warner have been kept at arm’s length from national squads.
Smith and Warner’s trip is expected to fall before the five-match series against Pakistan starts on March 22.
Langer, who likened himself to a soap opera director and described Australian cricket as a dysfunctional family this summer, wants his charges to focus on maintaining the momentum they’ve generated with back-to-back wins over India.
‘They are two really good guys’
Nathan Lyon, Pat Cummins, Usman Khawaja, Shaun Marsh, Peter Handscomb and Jhye Richardson are members of the current ODI squad who were also on deck at Newlands when the ball-tampering furore erupted.
Cummins has backed Smith and Warner to make seamless returns.
“We have all played a lot of cricket with them. It’s not a surprise they are coming back, we have known it for a long time,” Cummins said.
“They are two really good guys … I don’t see any problems.”
Khawaja suggested the squad is content with a scenario in which two incumbent batsmen will be axed to accommodate Smith and Warner.
“They are world-class players and they’ve been amazing for the one-day team … when they do come back they’ll be welcomed with open arms,” Khawaja said.