<
>

Warner and Smith's grassroots lessons will boost Australian cricket - Stuart Law

Steven Smith and David Warner shake hands at the end of a club match Getty Images

The enforced returns of Steven Smith and David Warner to Sydney grade cricket may have unexpected benefits for Australia's cricket as a whole, says Stuart Law, the former Test batsman, who believes a vital link between the country's grassroots and elite levels is in urgent need of nurturing.

Law, who has joined Middlesex as head coach following a two-year stint with West Indies, believes that Australia - who recently lost a home Test series to India for the first time in their history - are at too low an ebb to ignore the clamour to recall Smith and Warner in March, when their year-long bans elapse in the wake of the Cape Town ball-tampering scandal.

However, while Australia's senior teams have struggled in the absence of their former captain and vice-captain, Law expects both players to have grown as people by the time they become available again. Moreover, he believes that the young players they have been rubbing shoulders with on the Sydney club circuit in recent months will have learnt huge amounts about what it takes to succeed at the highest level.

"Personally, I would [put Warner and Smith back in]; I think a lot of people will want that to happen," Law said.

"I think [them] playing club cricket this summer will not only have given them an idea of what life is really about, it's helped the young kids they've been playing with to improve," he added. "They are still very much looked up to in Australia as cricketers. They are two very fine players, and Australia could do worse than get them straight back in."

Law himself played in a golden era of Australian cricket, in which the pressure for places was so intense that he managed to feature in just a solitary Test, as an injury replacement for Steve Waugh against Sri Lanka in 1995-96, and 54 ODIs.

And part of the reason for that surfeit of international-quality players, Law believes, is the education that his generation was given during their early days in grade cricket, when they would be rubbing shoulders with Test stars on a weekly basis.

"Australia have got the talent, they've just lost track of what's important," he said. "That was always the case when I started playing grade cricket in Brisbane. I was a 15-year old sharing the dressing room with Allan Border, Greg Ritchie, Kepler Wessels. That doesn't happen much anymore.

"The Test players don't play club cricket much once they are away from Test duties. They are wrapped up in cotton wool and put away, whereas kids coming through learn from guys who've done it before."

The scheduling of Australia's season has not helped the Test team either, Law added. The Big Bash League invariably clashes with the Melbourne and Sydney Tests over the festive period, which prevents both new players and those in need of form from getting sufficient first-class experience, before being pitched into the international fray.

"The players they have playing for Australia are good players," Law said. "But whether they are playing enough of the right format at the right time, given the national team's commitments, that probably leaves something to be desired.

"I think the staging of the Big Bash, right in the middle of the Test summer, is probably not the smartest move. It doesn't help keep guys in nick for four-day red-ball cricket.

"We keep hearing [the BBL] is doing so well, but if that's so, play it in February and March, don't take up that time when the boys should be playing red-ball alongside the Tests."

With the Ashes looming in August, Law says that he will be watching keenly from his new vantage point at Lord's, and while he expects England to begin the series as favourites, he is adamant that Smith and Warner's returns would be a massive boost to Australia's prospects.

"There will also be the odd one or two saying they should go back into club cricket and work their way back through," he said. "But the quality of player they are missing out on, I think Australia would be mad not to use their services straight away."