Steve Smith scored an unbeaten 91 as Australia won the unofficial Cricket World Cup practice series against New Zealand 2-1, clinching the third game on the Duckworth-Lewis method when bad light stopped play on Friday.
More important than the outcome for the Australia squad, though, was the reintegration of Smith and David Warner from their 12-month bans following the ball-tampering scandal in South Africa last year.
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For Smith, the three games at Brisbane’s Allan Border Field were more about redemption and his bid to win back the support of the Australian cricket public.
He leaves for England on the back of two confidence-boosting half-centuries. Batting at No 3 on Friday, he faced 108 balls and shared a 104-run partnership with Glenn Maxwell (70) before the game was called off early with Australia at 248-5 in 44 overs in reply to New Zealand’s 286-9. Australia were ahead on run rate to win the series.
“His timing and his class was back again,” Australia captain Aaron Finch said when asked about Smith’s return. “It was like he hadn’t left.”
The Australians start their attempt to defend the World Cup on June 1 against Afghanistan in Bristol.
Smith and Warner, previously captain and vice-captain, are prohibited from holding official leadership roles for the time being, although both bring a wealth of experience back to the top of the batting order.
Warner posted his second single-digit score since returning to the opening slot on Friday, but he started the series with a rapid-fire 39 to follow up his successful return to elite competition in the Indian Premier League last month.
Finch, who did not play on Friday, was content with the warm-up series and the return of Smith and Warner.
“It’s been really productive – a great opportunity for the team to get together and keep building that bond,” he said.
Smith and Warner each served a year-long ban for their part in a ball-tampering plot during a Test against South Africa at Cape Town in March 2018, when opener Cameron Bancroft was caught by TV cameras trying to scratch the surface of the ball in order to assist the Australian bowlers.
It triggered outrage in Australia, where the top players are expected to uphold the standards of the game. The Cricket Australia bans were significantly heavier than any sanctions imposed by the International Cricket Council for ball tampering.
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