LONDON (AP) — Steve Smith and David Warner did the crime and did the time, and England captain Eoin Morgan understands if cricket fans aren’t willing to forgive them.
Smith and Warner have been booed, jeered, and abused by fans during the Cricket World Cup in England and Wales, in their first official international games since returning from 12-month bans imposed in the wake of a ball-tampering scandal.
It got so bad at one stage that India captain Virat Kohli, during their match at the Oval this month, stepped away from the crease to ask India fans to give Smith a break while he was fielding on the boundary.
Morgan said he won’t be asking fans to leave Smith and Warner alone on Tuesday when England and Australia meet at Lord’s, the spiritual home of cricket.
“You don’t know how sports fans are going to react. I think they are entitled to have their own view,” Morgan said Monday. “Just because punishment was handed out and the two guys served their punishment doesn’t mean they are going to be accepted back into the cricket community straight away with open arms. It will take time.”
Smith, Warner, and teammate Cameron Bancroft were caught in a ball-tampering plot in March last year during a test match against South Africa in Cape Town. Public outrage prompted Cricket Australia to impose the harshest-ever sanctions for such a breach: Smith and Warner were suspended for 12 months from any first-class cricket, and barred from leadership positions.
Smith, the top-ranked batsman in test cricket before his ban, was booed even when he scored a century in a warmup win against England in Southampton. That may have been what prodded Australia coach Justin Langer to urge World Cup crowds to go easy on the batsmen because they were “human” and “paid a big price.”
Langer did add, though, that Smith and Warner were thick-skinned and were prepared for hostile receptions.
That’s been proven, so far. The players have drawn inspiration from the fans’ abuse they have been accustomed to for years, and been major contributors to Australia’s 5-1 win-loss record. Warner is near the top of tournament run-scoring list with two centuries, and Smith is averaging 41.
“It hasn’t affected our boys one bit, I can honestly say,” Australia captain Aaron Finch said. “If anything, it’s given them a bit more motivation.”
Finch believed the verbal abuse doesn’t make a difference.
“As a player, you don’t tend to hear a hell of a lot of stuff from the fans. You hear noise at times, but you don’t hear specifics. So I’m sure that’s the last thing on Steve or Davey’s mind when they are walking out to bat. If a handful of people or a whole stadium are booing them, it doesn’t make any difference to how hard they watch the ball or how hard they doubt themselves or anything like that. It’s a bit of white noise.”
Still, England opener Jonny Bairstow regarded Langer’s plea as a double standard.
When asked to comment, Morgan declined. Pressed on the subject, Morgan said he believed the nature of the England-Australia rivalry changes year by year as new players replace old ones, and old grudges aren’t worth holding.
“Every team is different. Year on year, particularly when we play against Australia, it’s a different set of circumstances,” he said. “I believe that was a long time ago under a different regime.”
He added he wasn’t thinking about what reception Smith and Warner might receive at Lord’s, or whether a bad reception for them might help England in the World Cup, and in the Ashes test series that follows.
“I think fans and supporters up and down the country will have different reactions, as they will around the world,” he said.
“Sport is beautiful in many ways because it attracts people from far and wide. I think people can get carried away with sort of home support and away support. I think throughout the tournament, everybody has had support at the ground, if not more so than the home team. So it will probably be the same instance tomorrow.”
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