Australia's woeful form means David Warner will be in line for return despite Cameron Bancroft claim
With Australia averaging 250 per innings in series against India, selectors cannot be blamed for looking to get Steve Smith and Warner, suspended last year, back in as soon as possible
A year can be an awful long time in sport. Just ask Australia, and especially Steve Smith and David Warner.
Twelve months ago as 2018 began Australia and Smith were in the ascendancy. The Ashes had already been reclaimed from England. An emphatic victory by an innings and 123 runs in the final Test in Sydney in the opening days of January completed a rout, all under the leadership of Smith.
Fast forward to now and the situation is rather different. Australia, now led by Tim Paine, are in Sydney, not on a wave of delight, but instead with a struggling team on the field and lots of recrimination off it.
The last week of the year, while far from the worst one of 2018 for Australia, was still a tough one.
They were thrashed by India in the third Test in Melbourne to go 2-1 down in the series. This was going on while TV interviews from banned pair Smith and Cameron Bancroft overshadowed the action.
It was not good timing and brought up again one of the ugliest chapter's cricketing history as the current side were struggling on the field.
Cricket Australia was hoping that the end of 2018 could wipe the slate clean and bring the focus on to fresh beginnings in a new year when a Cricket World Cup and an Ashes series in England are among the activities that await.
That will not happen, however. Even if Australia can beat India in Sydney when the final Test begins on Thursday morning to square the series talk of Smith, Warner and Bancroft will not go away.
It will not, because the speculation is on which of them will be recalled and who will not be when the 12-month bans end at the end of the March for Smith and Warner.
Bancroft's was a nine-month suspension and he is already back playing Big Bash League cricket, knowing that with only eight Tests to his name and no real legacy that he will need big domestic runs to have any chance of returning to the team.
If there was any doubt about Smith, who was stripped of the captaincy for his role of having knowledge of Warner and Bancroft's plan to use sandpaper on the ball in Cape Town but choosing not to do anything about it, then coach Justin Langer's comments in December should have ended them.
"That makes me feel warm and fuzzy," Langer said of the prospect of Smith's imminent return.
Warner is the harder one to call. Bancroft said last week that it had been his fellow opener's idea to rough up the ball and his justification for following the instruction was he "didn't know any better because I just wanted to fit in".
Bancroft's comments were the closest any of the shamed trio have come to talking openly about what went on and the apparent logic behind the move.
Given the fact he has been the architect to the whole affair, it is probable Cricket Australia would ideally not like to rush him back into the limelight.
But the problem is the team have not moved on without them, particularly Smith and Warner.
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The reason Australia are losing this current series to India is because they have not batted well enough.
The bowlers have done their job. Pat Cummins and Nathan Lyon particularly have been excellent, with Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood completing a fine quartet.
But there has not been one century from any of Paine's side in the first three Tests. If no one reaches three digits in Sydney, it will be the first time in 136 years that a hundred has not been scored in a four-match series on home soil by an Australian.
None of the top six has put his hand up and consistently stepped up since March so it is completely understandable why Smith is coming straight back and why Warner is a serious option, too, despite him being again demonised over the South Africa affair thanks to Bancroft's words.
When you are averaging 250 per innings, which Australia are in this series, can you really blame them for looking to get Smith and Warner back in as soon as possible?
Australia have the bowling attack to win a first Ashes series in England since 2001 and also retain the World Cup, also being played on English soil.
They need runs and it would be a brave selector to ignore Warner, when he has effectively done his time, and then watch the problems of the last few months play itself out over the next year.
Australia may want to move forward from 2018, but they face going back to the past so they can progress to being winners again.
Updated: January 1, 2019 10:55 AM