The Contrasting Comebacks of Aussie Kingpins – Warner & Smith

Serving a one-year ban following the ball-tampering scandal, both Steve Smith and David Warner were first seen in action in the Global T20 Canada League and then the Bangladesh Premier League. Both of them then suffered eerily similar elbow injuries and had to go through surgeries. However, since then, little has been common in the comeback trail of both Australian batsmen.

Remember, how the entire cricketing fraternity was up in arms when video clips of Cameron Bancroft hiding a yellow piece of sheet, resembling a sandpaper, flooded the internet? The aftermath of which led to Smith and Warner being banned for one year each, with their international careers threatened to end. But those who knew them well were quite confident of the duo bouncing back from the rock-bottom with all their might.

Misty-eyed press conferences, hundred hours of community service and a few exhibition games later, it was time for the real deal – the IPL. A tournament, which could either pave or clog their path to the 2019 ODI World Cup.

David Warner and Steve Smith had contrasting fortunes when they flew into India for their first proper top-quality assignment since the ban – IPL 2019.
IPL 2019: Warner’s Extravagance & Smith’s Scratchy Start

Both players had contrasting fortunes when they flew into India for their first proper top-quality assignment since the ban. Warner lit up the tournament with extravagant returns, including an unbeaten century. His impact was so profound that despite playing only 12 matches, he not only ended as the highest run-scorer of IPL 2019 with 692 runs from 12 matches at an average of almost 70, but scored almost 100 runs more than KL Rahul who was placed just below him in the batting charts. It seemed as if Warner had gone nowhere – the same tenacity, the same belief, the same bat swing.

Steve Smith, on the other hand, did not have the same impact and looked quite scratchy to begin with. The best stat that captures his struggle, especially in the initial matches, is that his 275 runs from 12 matches came at a pedestrian strike rate of 116. The former Australian captain began to come into his own as the business end of the league approached and ultimately replaced Ajinkya Rahane as the Rajasthan Royals' skipper.

Australia’s Steve Smith, left, and Australia’s David Warner chat after their first batting over together during the Cricket World Cup match between Afghanistan and Australia at Bristol County Ground in Bristol, England, Saturday, June 1, 2019.
2019 World Cup: The Australia Comeback

All eyes were now on the World Cup and the reintegration of Smith and Warner in the Australian national team. After a camp in Dubai, there did not seem any bad blood between them and fellow teammates and the transition was smooth – both on and off the field.

Those who had followed Warner closely in the IPL were not at all surprised by his consistent performances in the World Cup, that included three centuries and three half-centuries. It was quite surprising that despite 647 runs from 10 matches at an average of over 70 and a strike rate of almost 90, the southpaw was criticised for playing slowly. Regardless, the 1,154 runs between him and opening partner Aaron Finch helped Australia power through to the semifinals.

Smith, though not being so prolific, did the job for the team and pulled them out of a few deep holes, not least his 100-run partnership with Alex Carey when Australia were reeling at 147-6 against West Indies.

Despite a seamless return to international cricket for both David Warner and Steve Smith, it were the Ashes, following the mega event, which were considered to be the real test of the duo's technique and temperament. They had been out of international red-ball cricket for a long time and had not faced quality bowlers and that too in bowling friendly conditions. Despite all their class, would they be able to cope against the likes of Jimmy Anderson, Stuart Broad and Jofra Archer? Many had reservations.

Ashes 2019: Unstoppable Smith & A Pale Warner

It was the morning session of the opening Ashes Test at Edgbaston when batting first, Australia were reduced to 17-2 at the time Steve Smith came out to bat. The conditions were overcast and the ball was hooping around corners. Did Smith still have it in him to counter the most hostile batting conditions and a top-quality bowling attack?

After a couple of overs of tentativeness, as he found his groove, things started coming back to him more and more – the characteristic shuffle, the eccentric leave and the back foot punch with bare minimum movement of the feet against the swinging ball, which rejects all the postulates of the proverbial cricket book. Pushing, prodding, punching and leaving in his own unique yet effective style, Smith fought his way to an Ashes ton of the highest order.

This was followed by another gargantuan effort of 144 in the second innings. There he was, having overcome his ban, putting aside all the boos and the acerbic comments, coming out on top with twin tons in his first Ashes Test on return. The trend continued with a 92 in the first innings of the Lord's Tests, before a blow on the neck from a Jofra Archer bumper led him to experience signs of delayed concussion.

As he returned after having to sit out for three innings, many in the England camp chirped about the bouncer having ruffled him. Ruffle it did, but the opponents as Smith responded with a double century in the 4th Test, backing it up with 100+ runs in the last Ashes Test, finishing with a tally of 774 runs from seven innings at a truly Bradman-esque average of 110.57.

In the process, he broke a slew of records, some of which were held by Bradman himself. His 774 are the most number of runs scored by a batsman in a Test series since 1994. Brian Lara had piled up 778 runs in a series 25 years ago. Smith registered 10 consecutive 50+ scores against England, making him the first-ever batsman to do so. The wizard also joined Don Bradman, Sunil Gavaskar, Brian Lara, Everton Weekes and Gary Sobers to a select list of batsmen who have registered more than 700 runs in a Test series more than once.

Also Read: Bradman, Richards’ Heroics Still Outdo Smith’s Ashes Masterclass

Right at the other end of the spectrum was David Warner, looking like a pale shadow of himself. It was a pity that when Indian cricket analysts so wanted to portray him as the only plausible example of an explosive white-ball batsman clicking in Test cricket in favour of Rohit Sharma being promoted at the top of the order in Tests, his terrible run in the Ashes came in the way.

Yes, there was some fantastic swing and seam bowling from Stuart Broad, who had Warner on toast and dismissed him seven times in 10 innings. But, just one half-century from 10 innings is unbecoming of a player of the stature of Warner.

Smith arrived in England to boos and walked back to the pavilion after his last Ashes 2019 innings to a round of applause. As for a player of Warner's pedigree, one good knock will set the ball rolling for him, again.

(Saksham Mishra is a freelance sports journalist, justifying hours of watching sports by scribbling down a few logical lines that might just about hold your interest. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own.The Quintneither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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