Australian spin legend Shane Warne believes that the tainted duo of Steve Smith and David Warner will be hungry to collect runs after they return to the international fold, a factor that makes the defending champions a strong contender going into the 2019 World Cup.
Smith and Warner are currently serving year-long bans that expire on 29 March, having been suspended by Cricket Australia (CA) for their role in the ball-tampering scandal during the away Test series against South Africa in 2018. Cameron Bancroft, who had received a nine-month suspension for his involvement in the event, has already completed his ban and is currently representing the Perth Scorchers in the Big Bash League.
"Smith and Warner are pure class, they walk straight back in. The Australian public and the worldwide public I think will give them a hard time and the Australian side need to earn the respect back of the cricketing community around the world by their actions and the way they play their game," said Warne in an interview on CricketNext.
"But I think in a way that's why Australia have got a bit of an edge in the World Cup because Smith and Warner will be hungry. They will be so determined to play well and they'll realise how much they have missed the game. So that's why I think don't write off Australia at the World Cup. I think they are going to be a big chance and I am looking forward to Smith and Warner playing," added the leg-spinner with 708 Test wickets and 293 ODI wickets to his credit.
The Australian team was at the peak of its dominance during Warne's years as an active international cricketer, having recorded a hat-trick of World Cup titles and won 16 successive Tests on two different occasions under different captains. The current team, though, has witnessed a decline since the ball-tampering incident, and serious questions were raised after the Tim Paine-led team were outplayed by India in the recently-concluded Test series.
Warne points towards CA shifting its focus from Sheffield Shield to the shorter formats as one of the reasons behind the decline.
"Sheffield Shield was always the strongest first-class cricket because the international players always played. It was tough, it was hard and everyone wanted to play Sheffield Shield cricket. At the moment I think the authorities, the cricket board are disrespecting and degrading Shield cricket with players bowling one innings and pulling them out of the rest of the match.
"So, to me I want Cricket Australia to come out and say Test cricket is our number one priority, and stop being greedy with T20 cricket and start getting back to making sure Shield cricket is important and Test cricket is important," said the veteran of 145 Tests.
Warne, who had captained the Rajasthan Royals to title victory in the inaugural edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL), has been appointed as the franchise' brand ambassador for the 12th edition of the tournament, in which the team will be donning pink kits for the first time, moving away from the blue that they had been associated with till now.