World Cup: Langer confident Smith and Warner can face South Africa
Australia coach Justin Langer believes Steve Smith and David Warner will be under no extra pressure when they face South Africa for the first time since both batsmen were given 12-month ban for ball-tampering.
Then-captain Smith and Warner, his deputy, were hit with year-long bans by Cricket Australia for their roles in an extraordinary incident during a Test in Cape Town that saw team-mate Cameron Bancroft indulge in a brazen breach of the rules by applying sandpaper to the ball.
Both Smith and Warner have been subjected to repeated booing by English crowds during the World Cup – the pairs first major international tournament since their suspensions ended.
“They got a good taste of what they were going to expect from the moment we turned up in England,” Langer told reporters at Old Trafford on Thursday.
“This game is significant for a lot of our players, but we’ve just got to take all the emotion out of it.”
Reigning champions Australia are already through to the semi-finals but Saturday’s match could determine whether they finish top of the standings and so avoid a last-four clash against resurgent hosts England.
“We’re here to take the two points, keep the winning momentum going forward and for those guys this is just another exciting game of World Cup cricket,” said Langer.
Warner, one of the leading run-scorers at the World Cup, became a father again when his wife gave birth in London to the couples third child last weekend, and Langer was delighted with the form of both his star batsmen.
“They’re cherishing playing cricket for Australia again, they’re both playing really well,” he said.
Australia, for all they have won a record five World Cups, were not among the favourites coming into this edition, with some pundits arguing their “old-fashioned” approach was ill-suited to modern one-day internationals where scores of around 400 are increasingly commonplace.
There were also concerns the lingering fall-out from the ball-tampering scandal would prove a distraction. But instead Australia were the first team to qualify for the semi-finals.
“To get to this point has taken a lot of hard work from where we came from in Cape Town,” said Langer, appointed after Darren Lehmann resigned in the aftermath.
“It was one of the great crises in Australian cricket, a lot of heartache, certainly a lot of pain.
“But when it came to the World Cup, we talked about when Steve and David come back we want to make sure we build a really strong team so they come in seamlessly.” Its certainly worked so far with Australia the first team into the semi-finals.
“I’ve talked for a long time about the formula which works for Australian cricket,” said Langer.
“It’s a proven formula, we had to trust it and we are trusting it.”
As for Cape Town providing any further motivation, Langer said: “We’ve had enough emotion in Australian cricket for the last 12 months to last us a lifetime.
“The motivation for us is to get two points and end up on top of the World Cup table. We talked about making Australians proud of us back home; hopefully were doing that. We talked about earning respect again from other countries; hopefully were doing that, not just by the way were playing our cricket but also by the way we are going about our business on and off the cricket field.”
“We talk about humility as one of our values. We don’t just say it because its a word on a wall, its not just corporate speak. We actually believe it.”
Langer, recalling a conversation with Kumar Sangakkara after the Sri Lanka great had addressed all the teams in the build-up to the tournament, added: “He said, I’ve got a feeling this World Cup means more to you than just the trophy. I think he’s right.”