Qantas Tour of the UAE
Warner, Smith could return immediately
National team in action the day pair's bans expire but their fitness remains uncertain
10 February 2019, 08:42 PM AEST
The returns of Steve Smith and David Warner to the Australian cricket team could come within hours of their bans expiring after the Pakistan Cricket Board confirmed the dates for the upcoming ODI series between the two countries.
Smith and Warner will be eligible for national selection again on March 29 following the end of their 12-month bans for their roles in the Cape Town ball-tampering scandal.
That same day, Australia will meet Pakistan in Dubai in the fourth ODI of a five-match series that will be serve as pivotal preparations for this year's 50-over World Cup.
The schedule may line up for an immediate return but it remains unclear if either of the pair will be fit to take the park at the first opportunity as each recovers from separate elbow surgeries.
Smith is in greater danger of not being fit to return immediately once his ban ends. His road back to full fitness is the more complicated because his injury and surgery were more serious than Warner's, with the former captain still in an elbow brace until the end of February.
Smith's manager, Warren Craig of Turning Point Management, said the former captain's surgery had "gone very well".
"Until the brace comes off we don't know for sure but all current opinion is that he'll then have about three and a half weeks (before being ready to play)," Craig told cricket.com.au in early February.
"The intent is that he will play in the IPL and then the World Cup and then the Ashes," adding that his participation in the ODIs against Pakistan would hinge on results of CA's assessment once the brace was off.
Australia coach Justin Langer, however, is keen for the pair to play as much top-flight cricket as possible before their World Cup campaign begins on June 1.
"(It's about) how much cricket they get to play between now and then, but I'm sure we'll find opportunities," Langer told reporters in early February.
"They'll find opportunities … but I can't see anything else (stopping them).
"We're talking about two great players. We're not talking about two really good players, they're two great players who, on paper, we'd be crazy not to have them in the team (for the World Cup)."
Both players had surgery in recent weeks after coincidentally each required an operation on elbow complaints following short stints captaining teams in the Bangladesh Premier League.
Smith is set to come out of the brace and begin an extensive period of rehabilitation in late February.
Warner continued to play on in Bangladesh after his elbow issue arose, with his surgery described as a minor "clean up" of the joint.
"We've got to keep working on how they are with their elbows first," Langer said.
"They're going to need to get some cricket leading into hopefully coming back into the squad. It's all part of the management. We'll have to wait and see what happens there."
The possible return of Smith and Warner for the last two of the Pakistan ODIs adds an extra element of interest and scrutiny to the series that Pakistan had hoped would be played in part on their home soil.
Should both be fit and selected, it would mean Australia will have the two ODIs in Dubai, and a further two World Cup warm-up matches in Hampshire, in the south of England, with their former captain and vice-captain before the World Cup tournament gets underway.
Pakistan Cricket Board Director of International Cricket Zakir Khan said it had hoped CA would consent to playing on Pakistani soil for the first time since 1998.
"The PCB was optimistic that it will be able to convince Cricket Australia to send its side for some matches after successfully staging high-profile bilateral international series and the Pakistan Super League matches in the past 18 months," Zakir said.
"However, CA has confirmed they will send their security expert to oversee the execution of security plans for the PSL and bilateral series against other international sides in Pakistan, and will also speak with the ICC-recommended PCB security consultant.
"In the meantime, the CA have confirmed they will maintain regular contact with the ICC."
Australia play Afghanistan on June 1 in Bristol to begin a World Cup campaign they hope will culminate with an unprecedented sixth title in the July 14 final at Lord's.
A condensed tour of the UAE will see five matches played across three venues in just 10 days, starting in Sharjah on March 22.
The series begins the week after Australia's two-T20 and five-ODI tour of India concludes, and the ODI squad is likely to go direct from India to Dubai.
The Pakistan series has long been on the radar for the Australian team, with the Pakistan Cricket Board investigating options to play matches on Pakistan soil, as well as playing more of the series after the expiration of the key duo's bans.
The confirmation of dates for the Pakistan series will also give Australia's ODI players with IPL contracts some certainty.
Players selected in the squad to meet Pakistan will not be released for the IPL by CA until after that series.
The 2019 season of the IPL – its 12th edition – also begins on March 29, and Australian players selected for the Pakistan ODIs will not be available until April 2 at the earliest.
All nations must finalise their 15-man World Cup squads by April 23.
The Australian World Cup squad will assemble at Brisbane's Bupa NCC in early May for a training camp, with players involved to exit the IPL early to attend.
That camp will include a series of practice matches against New Zealand players – although the Kiwis will not recall their stars from the IPL – before heading to the UK for two warm-up matches ahead of the tournament.
Qantas ODI Tour of the UAE
First ODI: March 22, Sharjah
Second ODI: March 24, Sharjah
Third ODI: March 27, Abu Dhabi
Fourth ODI: March 29, Dubai
Fifth ODI: March 31, Dubai