Justin Langer says Cameron Bancroft returning for Australia would be a great comeback story, even if the head coach has admitted his response to the gladiatorial atmosphere of an Ashes series in England remains a great unknown.
While David Warner and Steve Smith both played in the recent World Cup and went about their business unaffected, Bancroft – the third player banned after the ball-tampering scandal last year – has not represented his country since volunteering to apply the infamous sandpaper in Cape Town.
The 26-year-old was suspended for nine months by Cricket Australia – a reflection of his role as the stooge in the plot, given the other two served a year out – but he is now vying with Marcus Harris to open alongside Warner in the first Ashes Test starting on Thursday at England’s Edgbaston stronghold.
Langer has long been fond of Bancroft since their time together at Western Australia. And having seen the right-hander bounce back with runs against the Duke ball in the latter half of the Sheffield Shield, while captaining Durham in the County Championship this summer and during the inter-squad match last week – he made 93 not out on a spicy pitch – this backing remains.
“It would be a great story if he comes back into the team, from where he’s come from – his learnings over the last 14 months,” Langer said after Australia’s training session was cut short by rain yesterday. “His development after what happened in Cape Town has been absolutely extraordinary. We’re that proud of him. If he gets the nod he’ll be very excited about playing for Australia again.”
Bancroft played all five Tests of the 2017‑18 Ashes but struggled for impact. Bar an unbeaten 82 to put Australia 1-0 up in Brisbane, his only notable moment came in the post‑match press conference when relaying Jonny Bairstow’s curious “headbutt” greeting in a Perth nightclub at the start of the tour.
But while sitting out nine months of top-level cricket, Bancroft experienced something of a personal rebirth. He threw himself into yoga and took the unusual step of writing an open letter to himself on the eve of his return in which h spoke of “having faith” and “embracing uncertainty” while “healing” from the incident that nearly derailed his career.
On Bancroft’s ability to block out the expected crowd hostility this summer, Langer said: “I know what the reception is going to be. We’ve been to lots of Ashes series and they’re all the same. That’s just the environment we’re in. It’s like being in the Gladiator movie.
“Steven and David have had a pretty good dress rehearsal during the World Cup. I thought they were brilliant. We’ll find out [with Bancroft]. He’s a good kid, a really good kid. He’s physically as tough as anyone you’ve seen in your life. Mentally he’ll have to be strong. But to endure the scrutiny of the last 14 months I think he’s had a pretty good dress rehearsal as well.”
Nudging out Harris would be tough on the incumbent – the left-hander looked the part during his first six Tests against India and Sri Lanka, even if only two half-centuries resulted – but Australia appear in no mood for sentimentality as they look to secure their first series win in England since 2001.
Langer confirmed the fiery James Pattinson will play alongside Pat Cummins, the world’s No 1-ranked bowler, leaving two Ashes winners from 2017-18 in Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood slugging it out for one spot along with the hugely experienced campaigner Peter Siddle. Nathan Lyon will complete a four-man attack with his off-breaks.
Warner is all clear to play too, having recovered from a blow to his thigh in the nets on Monday. Langer said: “He’s fine. He would not miss this for anything in the world. Steve Waugh’s in the changing room [as team mentor] and there’s no way David is not walking out to bat. ‘Tugga’ would kick him out the door. He’s a bit stiff this morning, but he’ll be 100% ready to go.”
Asked if retaining the Ashes this summer would represent redemption for Warner and Smith in particular, Langer replied: “There’s a lot of attention on Davey and Steve. [But] I don’t think it’s redemption. They want to beat England and England want to beat us. That’s why the Ashes is so great, isn’t it?”