Banned cricketers Steve Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft could return to cricket as early as July in the Northern Territory’s domestic competition, a move that is gathering momentum by the day.
The trio’s suspensions for involvement in the ball-tampering scandal in South Africa do not preclude them from playing in the NT, and officials are hopeful the warm winter weather and improving standard will tempt the Australia stars to head north.
Cricket NT CEO Joel Morrison said on Tuesday – the same day that the government backed the ambitious push – that discussions with Warner and Bancroft were progressing well and that both players had showed “genuine interest” in playing in the Top End.
“There’s definitely interest and it’s genuine, which is good,” he told The New Daily, adding: “We kick off in July so the timing would suit them.
“Darwin provides a really good environment for the guys to return. It is an inclusive, relaxed and community-minded place. The weather is nice and warm.
“It was part of the sanctions that the guys were able to play local cricket if they wanted.
“Our elite competition is a level below state cricket and presents a chance for the guys to play.”
Morrison said he had also been in contact with Smith but added that the 28-year-old had “only recently returned from overseas”.
“Discussions with David Warner and Cameron Bancroft are more advanced,” he said.
Government supports plan
The Northern Territory government’s acting Minister for Tourism and Culture, Eva Lawler, told The New Daily that having the banned trio playing in the NT would be a major boost for the area.
“I am sure that NT Cricket will welcome these players and that local cricket will benefit greatly from their presence,” she said.
“I also have no doubt that both players will also gain a lot from being welcomed into the Territory cricketing family.
“We support any endeavours by professional sportspeople that provide aspirational programs for young Territorians and increase pathways for our sports stars of the future to achieve their goals.”
Morrison echoed those sentiments, insisting that the benefit to the community would be “fantastic” if the move goes ahead.
“The opportunities for local players to rub shoulders with these guys and play with some of the best cricketers in the world would just be invaluable,” he said.
How is NT cricket structured?
Smith, Warner and Bancroft could play in the club cricket season in Darwin and in the Strike League.
The Strike League is a mixture of 50-over and Twenty20 cricket, played on Saturdays and Sundays throughout July.
It runs parallel to the club season and is made up of four teams, while seven play in the club competition.
Bancroft is reportedly considering playing in both, while Warner has been linked with a Strike League move.
There are no contracts or payments for players in either competition.
What is the standard like?
“In the Strike League, the standard is probably equivalent to state cricket,” Morrison said.
“There’s a mixture of state cricketers, potentially some overseas ones and our best local cricketers.
“It is high-quality cricket and they [Smith, Warner or Bancroft] would get a great test.”
Tasmania batsman Jake Doran, the fifth-highest run-scorer in the Sheffield Shield last season, will play both club cricket in the NT and feature in the Strike League this season.
Teammate Jordan Silk will play in the Strike League, too, with Australia batsman D’Arcy Short, South Australia’s Jake Weatherald and Western Australia’s Will Bosisto likely to feature as well.