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Australia set for uncertain homecoming after tours of tumult

The Australian players walk barefoot around the Perth Stadium Getty Images

The last time Australia played at home David Warner was captain because Steven Smith was given a break from the T20 side. This week, they were both playing the second day of the latest round of grade matches in Sydney.

Even that, however, only scratches the surface of the turmoil in Australian cricket since the 2017-18 season came to a close. There was a sense of problems - on-field aggression had already become a significant talking point and the ODI team was struggling - but what followed was nothing short of a gutting of the leadership. In summary:

The cultural and team reviews, which stemmed from events in South Africa and led to much of the above, have been dissected in detail over the last week. Now the focus moves back to the game as South Africa visit for three ODIs and a T20I to launch Australia's home international summer. The mouth-watering prospect of India follows before Sri Lanka round out the season. Then it's the final lead-in to the World Cup followed by the Ashes in England. It is a bumper slate of action, but the game has rarely felt such uncertainty in Australia.

Sometimes in sport it is possible to divorce behind-the-scenes dramas and what happens on the field. The show goes on, and all that. There is rarely a cricket board around the world that isn't grappling with the politics or economics (or worse) of the game.

The current issues in Australian cricket, however, cut across the entire set-up. And not only is there a crisis at board level, it feels as though the men's team are still falling over themselves trying to put things right and show the right things to the public.

The last few days have revealed a 38-word Players' Pact (in case you missed it: "We recognise how lucky we are to play this great game. We respect the game and its traditions. We want to make all Australians proud. Compete with us. Smile with us. Fight on with us. Dream with us") and, courtesy of a photograph of Australia's changing room at the Perth Stadium, the phrase "elite honesty". It's tempting to say those are the sorts of things social media was made for.

The lengths being gone to in attempting to show a new era highlights the depth to which things had fallen.

"We can put as many words as we like out there, but it's the way we play," Australia coach Justin Langer said. "It's the way we are on and off the cricket field. And our actions will speak a lot louder than any words we write down." Now, at least, there will be some action.

Australia have played plenty of cricket since that South Africa tour, but quite how it has registered in the consciousness of followers and fans is questionable. There was a winless limited-overs tour of England with a threadbare squad, a T20 tri-series in Zimbabwe - a record 172 from Aaron Finch, but defeat in the final against Pakistan - and the recent trip to the UAE where the Test team lost 1-0 and the T20 side was whitewashed.

Only now will we see what the reception is like at home. Has the fallout, from the public's point of view, been overstated or is there a real risk of more permanent damage? Is it something a winning home summer would fix? Winning nicely, of course, and not at all costs.

Australia's ODI side has barely been able to win in any style for a while. There are a host of challenges to overcome, but trying to forge a team capable of defending their World Cup title is high on the list under new captain Finch. Then they will need to work out a way of stopping Virat Kohli, because if India can put enough runs on the board - and learn from their mistakes in England - they have the pace-bowling attack to trouble Australia's uncertain Test batting.

Whether this past week was the last major dose of drama remains to be seen (the ACA have lodged their submission to have the bans of the Cape Town three to be overturned) but for all the corporate-speak and overt attempts at on-message branding, the cricket now begins. It would be a brave person, however, to predict how things will look - on and off the field - when the summer is finished.