Kolkata: Pencilling in David Warner and Steve Smith into the Australia top-order could be a headache, but there is no doubt the pair will only make the playing XI richer as they strive to defend their World Cup crown in England and Wales next month, says former batsman Simon Katich.
Former Australia skipper Smith and his deputy Warner served the bans handed to them in the wake of last year’s Cape Town ball-tampering affair, and are now back in the thick of things for Australia.
While Warner has been in the form of his life, finishing the Indian Premier League as the highest scorer for Sunrisers Hyderabad, Smith stamped his class in the warm-up games against New Zealand in Australia.
“They are both quality players and their records speak for themselves. The hard part is the Australian team has a problem of plenty particularly in the top four.
“Both of them are top four players. There is (Usman) Khawaja, (Aaron) Finch, Shaun Marsh, and the two and these guys will try to fit into four slots. Then there is Maxwell, Stoinis. It’s going to be a tough selection call,” Katich said.
For the defending champions, the primary selection question centres on how to fit in Finch, Khawaja and Warner into the top three.
There have been talks of the duo receiving hostile treatment from the fans in England during the World Cup besides being greeted with greater scrutiny after a turbulent 12 months.
After the World Cup, Australia will take on England in the Ashes.
“They will welcome back the experience of Smith and Warner,” said Katich when asked about the off-field baggage that comes along with the pair.
“The balance with the batting line-up is what they need to get right.”
Australia coach Justin Langer believes no amount of crowd abuse Smith and Warner may receive while on tour in England can compare to what they’ve already experienced while serving year-long bans.
Warner was widely seen as the instigator in the “sandpapergate” scandal during a Test against South Africa in Cape Town that saw novice opener Cameron Bancroft - banned for nine months - deliberately trying to alter the condition of the ball in the field while then captain Smith turned a blind eye.
But having witnessed the angry reaction in Australia to Smith and Warner’s conduct, Langer said it would be hard to imagine any English taunts could be worse.
“Well we can’t control the crowd. What I do know? It may heat up, but it won’t be any hotter than it was 12 months ago,” said Langer.
“I’ve never seen anything like it so the boys are very well prepared,” added the former Australia opener, who took over as coach after predecessor Darren Lehmann resigned in the aftermath of the scandal.
“They’ve paid a heavy price and we’re expecting always to come here and to face the fire and we’re ready for that.”
Smith’s return to Australia duty this month, albeit in three unofficial World Cup warm-up matches at home to a New Zealand XI, included unbeaten innings of 89 and 91.
By contrast, Warner could only manage a top score of 39 but Langer was encouraged by what he’d seen from both batsmen.
“I watched Steve Smith batting against New Zealand, he’s literally a master of the game, so it’s nice to have him back,” he said.
“He’s just shadow batting the whole time. He loves batting, he’s shadow batting on the sand, he’s shadow batting in the shower - I’m not joking.”
As for Warner, Langer added: “Dave’s got that look on his eye, he’s really hungry, he’s a great player as we all know, he’s so dynamic, he brings so much energy, and that’s what we ask from our players.
“They’ve had 12 months to have a good think about a mistake they and the team made. I’m sure they’ll be better people for that.”