Steve Smith is back in the news and has once again divided opinion with regards to his comeback as there are contradictory opinions coming out of Australia over his participation in the upcoming ICC Cricket World Cup 2019.
The former Australian captain is still serving his one-year ban that Cricket Australia handed out to him as a consequence of the ball-tampering incident in Cape Town last year. Although he has not turned up for Australia since then, Smith went to Bangladesh to play in their franchise T20 competition earlier this year.
This is where things went further south for the cricketer as he aggravated an old elbow injury. He has since then undergone surgery and is now in rehabilitation which has put his World Cup participation in jeopardy.
While Smith is expected to be fit in time for the quadrennial tournament, reports coming out of Australia suggest that the cricket board is not keen on Smith participating in the World Cup. Instead, they want him to prepare for the Ashes which begins on August 1, barely three weeks after the World Cup final on July 14. Cricket Australia reportedly want Smith to play for Australia A and then participate in county cricket instead of the World Cup.
Australia is the defending champion of the 50-over World Cup but historically the country has prioritised Test cricket over any other format and the Ashes is beyond debate the biggest event of the Australian calendar. Cricket Australia has remained tight-lipped about the matter and instead issued a non-committal statement in this regard.
"Return-to-play timeframes will be clearer once the brace has been removed near the end of February. We are working with Steve to ensure he is ready to return to play as soon as practical," cricket.com.au quoted a CA spokesperson as saying.
But Smith's camp is adamant that the player will go to the World Cup. Warren Craig, the former captain's manager, stated that the surgery has gone very well and remains bullish that the player will play in the World Cup.
"Until the brace comes off we don't know for sure but all current opinion is that he'll then have about three and a half weeks (before being ready to play)," Craig told cricket.com.au.
"The intent is that he will play in the IPL and then the World Cup and then the Ashes."
The ban on Smith and his former vice-captain David Warner will be lifted on March 29 and the pair of them will be eligible for international selection. In this regard, coach Justin Langer said it would be "crazy" to leave them out.
"We're talking about two great players. We're not talking about two really good players, they're two great players who, on paper, we'd be crazy not to have them in the team (for the World Cup)," Langer said after the Test team's win in Canberra.
At the same time, Langer also stressed the importance of phasing them in as opposed to rushing them back in and spoke about the elbow injury of both players. "We've got to keep working on how they are with their elbows first," Langer said after both players went under the knife last month.
"They're going to need to get some cricket leading into hopefully coming back into the squad. It's all part of the management. We'll have to wait and see what happens there."
While it may seem straightforward to pick Smith in the World Cup team, it is not that simple from the Australian perspective. Once the best team in the world, they have not fared well in Test cricket since the bans on their two star players – losing to India at home being the sorest point. They will thus be extremely desperate to make a statement in the Ashes.
Thus, do not be surprised if you see Smith in England during June-July, playing for some county side in an English suburb.