Dubai: England batsman Ian Bell put Ashes rivalry aside on Thursday to say that “international cricket needs Steve Smith”, in the wake of calls this week to reduce the Australian’s ban for his part in the ‘sandpaper-gate’ scandal.
Smith and David Warner were banned for 12 months each in March for their part in overseeing ball tampering by teammate Cameron Bancroft during the third Test against South Africa, in Cape Town, eight months ago.
Bancroft got a nine-month ban, and all three cannot be considered for a leadership role in the team for 12 months after the completion of their suspensions.
Former Australia coach Darren Lehmann, who resigned after the scandal, joined calls to reduce the trio’s bans this week, and Bell, who won five of the seven Ashes Tests he played against Australia, also became an unlikely source of support for Smith in particular.
It followed the resignation of David Peever as Cricket Australia chairman on Thursday, three days after a damning report into the ‘win at all costs’ culture of the team in the wake of the scandal.
“We don’t want to see ball-tampering in the game, but look, Steve Smith is a good guy, a good bloke, obviously it got to the point where it got out of control a little bit,” Bell told Gulf News at the DHL Swing Against Cancer charity golf series finale at Jumeirah Golf Estates on Thursday.
“Test cricket needs superstars and we’ve got ones in Virat Kohli, Joe Root and Kane Williamson, but international cricket also needs Steve Smith.
“He’s averaging 60 runs in Test matches, is great to watch and is different technically than a lot of the other players, and that’s the kind of thing that’s great to watch in Test cricket, guys doing it their own way, so we do need him back in Test cricket in particular.”
All three bans will be over before next year’s 50-over World Cup in May and the Ashes Test in August, which will both be held in the UK. However, Bell — who scored 22 Test centuries in 12 years with England, and is still holding out for a recall even at the age of 36 — said it was in no one’s interest to see Australia head into those encounters depleted or undercooked.
“England in particular will want Smith, Warner and Bancroft, because they’ll want to beat the best Australia team that Australia can put out.”
He did warn, however, that despite his apparent leniency toward the offending three, England fans might have a different welcome.
“I think it’s inevitable in Ashes cricket that there will be banter, you don’t want to see it go too far, but they are going to cop some stick, but that’s just part of the game.”
It was this ‘banter’, he said, that made playing against Australia so great, as he went on to dismiss this week’s Longstaff review that prompted Peever’s resignation after an ‘arrogant’, ‘bullying’ and ‘dictatorial’ internal culture was found to have led to the ball tampering scandal.
“Everyone is desperate to win and what happened there obviously did go beyond the point you want to see in cricket, but I’ve a lot of respect for Australian cricket, they play hard on the field but the majority are good guys off it.”