Smith and Warner: On the road to forgiveness
London: It's clear when chatting with Justin Langer that he feels the time has come for the narrative to change on Steve Smith and David Warner but this remains a work in progress.
The latter dominated headlines in Australia and England for all the right reasons this week, his century – and trademark air pump and celebratory leap – returning for the first time since resuming from a 12-month ban for the sandpaper scandal of South Africa.
Warner could not have picked a better time, for this Australian side has a patchwork feel to it, and needs its senior threads to hold things together.
Indeed, Warner, with wife Candice by his side, has held himself together over the past year, and through good management, and even maturity, refused to bite when Smith and Cameron Bancroft gave their side of events of what transpired in the cramped Cape Town dressingroom.
But what now? Are Smith and Warner on the road to forgiveness or at least acceptance from a cricketing world that was left in disbelief?
Warner opened up as much as could be expected in his post-match press conference on Wednesday when he appeared before the Australian and world press pack in Somerset, this being the first interview of significance since his teary airport press conference in Sydney.
Journalists were essentially limited to one question apiece in a ?????-minute interview, but Warner opened the door to what he had endured during the dark days, particularly in the immediate three months after his Cricket Australia-imposed ban was ratified.
Many questions remain, and the repair work – both for Warner and CA – continues apace, although Langer – the coach – insists Warner did not lose the respect of his teammates.
"Honestly, when you pay the price that he has paid for 12 months, and see him come back with a smile on his face and super fit, he didn't have to earn back any respect," he said.
"Everyone knew what he has been through the last 12 months. They also know what a great player he is. He has always had the respect as a player. He is a really good young bloke and he has come back with a smile on his face, he is fit, he had respect as soon as he came in."
Whether that's the case for all players is hard to say, for some were quick to distance themselves from the scandal as soon as it exploded.
Done His Time
Warner is guided by James Erskine, the shrewd sport and celebrity agent who essentially had this message for the former vice-captain when he came aboard last year: "You do it my way or this won't work". That has seen Warner keep a relatively low profile during his time away from international cricket, while allowing Erskine to work behind the scenes with CA on a reintegration process. It was a smart move, for it meant Warner could not inflame tensions at a time when he and Smith were said to be on testy terms.
"His attitude is: 'I just want to get out and play cricket, I have done my time, I took the brunt of this'," Erskine said.
When it comes to pure cricket, Warner and Smith haven't taken long to fit back in. Runs, and lots of them, are their primary currency, and they have largely flowed.
Australia's dependence on them is as great as ever. Teammates have been delighted with their form, and privately with their commitment. They may no longer have an official leadership role, but skipper Aaron Finch has been assured enough to listen to their advice on field.
The stain on Australian cricket and on Australian sportsmanship will take a few more Ash Bartys to step up to the plate.
Celebrity agent Max Markson
Where the task will be tougher for Smith and Warner is in the corporate boardroom, in terms of regaining the trust of supporters and sponsors. Celebrity agent Max Markson said the pair would again be wanted commodities – but that is going to take time.
"Yes, is the short answer. The long answer, it will take a long time. Some companies will be gun shy but some will be interested, there is no doubt about that. But it's not as if suddenly they are going to get Coca-Cola or major corporate organisations to sign them up but people will will want to get involved with them shortly," he said.
"The stain on Australian cricket and on Australian sportsmanship will take a few more Ash Bartys to step up to the plate. Warner and Smith have done a lot of damage, unfortunately, but then they have served their time, they have done their punishment, come back, they will win again, they are playing again, and they will get sponsors again."
Toyota, having dropped Warner in the wake of South Africa, have said they aren't in a hurry to renew acquaintances. But Australians – and world sport – love a redemption tale. Look at Tiger Woods.
Smith used his sponsorship deal with Vodafone last year to tell in part what he had been through, a move which Dr Con Stavros, an Associate Professor of Marketing at RMIT University, said "essentially signals you are back in the marketing picture and lets you move forward".
"It is somewhat similar to what Tiger Woods did many years ago, appearing in a Nike commercial that used his late father's voice, just before he returned to the professional game after his much-publicised incident," he said.
"The brands that probably can't go back to Smith and Warner, or at least not easily, are the ones who ended their relationship in the aftermath of the events of last year."
Stavros said Australian sports supporters were "empathetic" to fallen stars.
"Fans are also quick to separate two components of athlete transgressions, first the event itself and how serious it was, and second the way that the episode is treated. Fans can in this case accept that a mistake was made and that a relatively high price was paid as a result. That lets fans move on; brands, too," he said.
Added Markson: "In cricket, Warney (Shane Warne), he is a bigger star than he has ever been," MarksoRead More – Source[contf] [contfnew]