Smith in doubt as Langer plots return path
AUSTRALIA are set go to cold turkey with Steve Smith and David Warner on cricket's biggest stage, with the World Cup looming large as the likely comeback for the banned duo.
The Cricket Australia Board and selectors were seriously looking at the prospect of reintroducing Smith and Warner for the back-half of a one-day series against Pakistan in the UAE in early April, but injury has almost certainly scuppered that possibility for both men.
Smith is expected to remain sidelined from cricket until later in April after undergoing elbow surgery, while Warner may not have any cricket under his belt before the Pakistan series as a result of his own, more minor, elbow operation.
Australia is expected to instead go back to their original plan of letting Warner and Smith build back into form in the Indian Premier League before thrusting them back into the national side for a camp on the eve of the World Cup.
But Smith's elbow is a concern - particularly when he can be back throwing - and ESPNCricinfo was reporting Tuesday night that the deposed captain could even miss the World Cup.
Coach Justin Langer said no final decision has been made on whether they would be re-blooded against Pakistan immediately after their bans expire on March 29, but made it clear neither Smith or Warner would be chosen for Australia until they had meaningful cricket under their belts.
"We've got to keep working on how they are with their elbows, first. They're going to need to get some cricket before coming back into the squad," said Langer.
"It's all part of the management. We'll have to wait and see."
Holding Smith and Warner back to the World Cup will allow them a shot at uninterrupted match practice in the IPL.
However, the downside is it will cost the CA hierarchy a chance to re-blood them in the relative anonymity of a series against Pakistan, rather than in the hype of a World Cup opener in the UK, where the potential for distraction and outside hype will be far greater.
Cricket Australia will privately begin a mediation process with Warner and Smith and other squad and staff members shortly.
However, despite original speculation about team culture considerations, Langer declared that the only possible obstacle to the high profile stars playing the World Cup would be match practice.
"We're talking about two great players, we're not talking about two really good players. Two great players who on paper, we'd be crazy not to have them in the team," said Langer, after captain Tim Paine had already confirmed them as Ashes certainties.
"It's about how much cricket they get to play between now and then, but I'm sure we'll find opportunities. They'll find opportunities. We'll find opportunities, but I can't say anything else."
Medical experts are confident Warner and Smith can both make prompt returns to batting once they come out of their elbow braces, but there are concerns that their throwing capacity in the field may be limited for a more extended period.
The IPL starts on March 23, with Smith racing the clock to even be fit for the start of the tournament.
The amount of match play between now and the World Cup starting in late May is already tight, given Australia will require Smith and Warner to exit the IPL early this year to be available for a pre-tournament training camp - which will include friendlies against New Zealand.
Cricket Australia are looking at the possibility the squad could visit the battlefields of the Western Front or Gallipoli on their way to Europe to honour the sacrifices of Australia's diggers and bond as a team.
Langer, who earlier this summer described Australian cricket as resembling a dysfunctional family in the wake of the Sandpapergate scandal, said the "reintegration" of Smith and Warner has already well and truly began.
"That's been going on for some time now," he said.
"We know it's been a tough time for them, it's been a tough time for Australian cricket, but we know the word integration has been going for the last nine or ten months, or eleven … it's getting closer (now) isn't it."
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