AUSTRALIA’S WC PREPARATIONS
Smith scored a 77-ball 89 in the second warm-up fixture against New Zealand XI. © Getty
Head coach Justin Langer believes comeback men Steve Smith and David Warner have returned to Australia fold in ‘pristine condition’, while particularly praising the erstwhile skipper Smith. “[Smith is in the] best physical condition of his life,” Langer told SEN radio. “I think his skin folds are the lowest they’ve ever been and they’re talking elite level.”
Langer revealed both Warner and Smith had vowed to return from their 12-month ball-tampering imposed exile in better physical shape than before, and that they’ve come a long way in achieving it.
“That was one of his goals at the start of the ban, come back in better physical shape than ever before. He and Davey (Warner) have done the same thing, they are in pristine condition,” Langer said.
The one big concern regarding Smith going into IPL 2019 was his shoulder injury that led to a very restrictive movement of his right arm. Through the season – in which he scored 319 runs in 12 games – he refrained from using his natural arm for throwing. Warner too had a shoulder trouble ahead of the IPL but it didn’t hinder him one bit as he came away as the leading run scorer – with 692 runs in 12 league stage games at an average of 69.20. Langer reckoned Smith and Warner are both working their way up as far as fitness is concerned.
“They’re in pretty good shape, they’re not throwing like Nathan Coulter-Nile or Jason Behrendorff at the moment or Glenn Maxwell, but they’re certainly working their way up to it and that’s good for us,” he said.
Langer got a closer look at the pair on Monday and Wednesday, as Australia XI played two warm-up matches against New Zealand XI in Brisbane, in the build-up to the World Cup.
David Warner played the first game at No. 3 (scoring 39 off 43) but was offered his preferred position at the top in the second fixture, even as it came at the cost of breaking up the opening duo Aaron Finch and Usman Khawaja – who’ve batted exceedingly well together in the recent series against India and Pakistan. Warner fell for a six-ball duck in that game, but Langer hinted at the explosive left-hander reclaiming his opening slot going forward, while also praising him for being ‘adaptable’.
“The obvious thing is we should [open with Warner]. But I think he’s quite an adaptable player, too. What I’ve loved is the partnership between Finchy and Usman Khawaja as well. They gel really well and in the past Finch and Warner gelled really well. I’m not trying to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes, but we’ve got really good options there,” Langer said.
Smith had a better outing in the second fixture, where he batted at No.5 and thoroughly impressed Langer with an unbeaten 77-ball 89, which the coach hailed as a ‘tutorial in batting’.
“I watched him [Smith] on the weekend, he had a nets session on Sunday night and I was sitting with a couple of coaches and I just said ‘How good is this kid’. We know his statistics and I’ve heard all the stories but when you see him first hand. [Wednesday] was a tutorial in batting. It’s great for the team.”
Australia begin their World Cup title defence against Afghanistan, in Bristol on June 1.