Australia coach Justin Langer has hailed Steve Smith and David Warner‘s “brilliant reintegration” into the national team, and suggested that last year’s tour to England had been a “great dress rehearsal” ahead of his side’s return to South Africa for the first time since the Newlands scandal in March 2018.
Langer replaced Darren Lehmann as coach in May 2018 at a time of uncertainty, with Cricket Australia seeking to improve the game’s image and the national team’s culture amid the fall-out from ‘Sandpapergate’, and he has spoken at length about the way his side play the game throughout his tenure.
“It was obviously a very hard tour last time,” Langer said. “It gave us a great opportunity to reassess where we are in Australian cricket. We talk about making Australians proud of us again and earning respect – not only from the Australia public and past players, but also across the world.
“The guys are in a really good place. They’ve worked hard. We had a tough tour in England, but the way the guys have come together, played great cricket – they’ve been great ambassadors for Australian cricket on and off the field, and we are really excited to be back here. We love playing cricket in South Africa.”
Neither Smith nor Warner has played in South Africa since their year-long bans following their involvement in the Newlands scandal, but both have been successful on the pitch. Smith won the Compton-Miller medal after scoring 774 runs in four Ashes Tests, 333 more than any other batsman on either side, while Warner was awarded the Allan Border medal after his imperious form throughout the home summer.
“David [Warner] loves that banter coming from the crowd. It gets him into the game”
And Langer suggested that the process of reintegration, which began with a series of meetings in the UAE before the 2019 IPL, helped both players slot back into the side seamlessly, despite their prolonged absence.
“There was a brilliant reintegration back into the team, before they came back into the team 12 months ago or whatever it was – eight months ago,” he said. “There was a lot of really good work done there, and we’ve had a great dress rehearsal for South Africa from England.
“[That] was a tough tour for those two guys and I was really proud of the way they let their bats do the talking and again, [they have been] great ambassadors off the field. So hopefully they’ll be looking forward to getting back here and playing great cricket as well.”
Aaron Finch, Smith’s replacement as white-ball captain, said that he has “leant on them quite a bit” during his time in charge of the limited-overs set-up, and said that it was “a powerful statement to the group” to have the pair back in the side.
“I’ve been someone who has leant on them quite a bit for advice, especially out in the field,” Finch said. “These are guys that have played so much international cricket and led in international cricket. You would be stupid not to use that resource at various times.
“They’ve been really supportive of me, and I think having good personal relationships with them… you build up a respect for each other. They’ve been nothing but supportive and helpful of every decision we’ve made as captain and coach, and to have these guys on board is such a powerful statement to the group.”
Finch also suggested that Warner in particular would use any hostility or barracking from the South African fans as motivation to score runs, as appeared to have been the case during the World Cup in England.
“South African fans are very passionate,” Finch said. “Regardless of whether you’re playing in Australia or over here or even in ICC tournaments, the crowd are very vocal.
“Our guys are expecting that and David loves that banter coming from the crowd. It gets him into the game. Regardless of what I think, the crowd are going to act however they please – I don’t think it’s going to make much difference to us. We are going to play cricket with a smile on our face, and represent Australia very proudly.”