Australian cricket needs its captain back after paying a ‘heavy price’ for the ball-tampering scandal, former skipper Steve Waugh has said.
Support from the eight-time Ashes winner for the banned Steve Smith comes a week after Australia named a squad featuring five uncapped players for their upcoming two-Test series against Pakistan in October.
And after seeing Smith restricted to playing cricket away from his homeland in Canada and the CPL T20, Waugh has said it is time to forgive all that happened during the Cape Town Test in March which saw Cricket Australia slap Smith with a 12-month suspension.
“We need him back in Australian cricket,” Waugh told Fox Sports Australia.
“You can’t lose someone of his quality overnight and expect to replace it and he’s still only relatively young.”
Australia also lost fellow batsmen David Warner and Cameron Bancroft to bans as a result of what has been dubbed ‘sandpapergate’, where the pair used a strip of sandpaper to illegally encourage the ball to reverse swing during an acrimonious tour of South Africa.
With then Cricket Australia chief executive James Sutherland stating the controversy had caused the public to ‘lose trust’ in the nation’s cricket, Waugh played down the sensationalism surrounding the incident and said forgiveness would be given to Smith once he’s back in the runs for his country.
“The fans still adore him. The Australian public, they are forgiving,” Waugh added.
“He (Smith) made a mistake and he’s paid a heavy price for it.
“But if he gets back out there and plays with the same enthusiasm and passion, he loves playing cricket, he loves scoring runs, he wants to get back playing for Australia, I think Australians will move past what happened before.
“They obviously remember it, but they’re big enough to realise you can make a mistake and grow from that and be stronger.”
As a World Cup and Ashes year beckons in 2019, the hard times are not over yet for the batting trio according to the man who was capped in Tests 159 times.
“It’s going to be a challenge for all of them to come back, it’s not going to be as easy as people think,” Waugh vowed.
“You’re out for 12 months, the game does move on, you lose that aura of invincibility a little bit, you become a bit more fragile, a bit of self-doubt creeps in.
“So it’s going to be a real challenge for all three of those guys to come back strong.”