Booed for cheating, Smith silences crowd with ton

Southampton (UK), May 25: Steven Smith made a successful return to international cricket following a year-long ban as he posted a quickfire century during Australia's warm-up match against hosts England here on Saturday.

With Australia deciding to bat first in a crucial practice game just days ahead of the ODI World Cup, Smith scored 116 runs off 102 balls to help the defending champions post 297/9 in their 50 overs.

David Warner, the other senior Australian player who was the main figure in the ball tampering scandal that led to the lengthy ban on him and Smith, was also in good touch with the bat. The opener made a steady 43 off 55 deliveries.

Earlier, Warner and Smith were subject to boos by the crowd at the The Rose Bowl Stadium.

Warner, who opened the innings with captain Aaron Finch, made 43 runs off 55 balls before falling to Liam Plunkett. According to reports, boos and jeers rang out from the stands as he walked back and continued as Smith walked in to take his position at the crease.

Posts on social media from in and around the stadium showed fans walking at the edge of the ground in red cricket ball outfit with sandpaper on their hands. Cricket writer Chris Stocks tweeted that Smith was booed by large numbers in Southampton "as chants of ‘cheat, cheat, cheat, cheat' ring around the ground."

At the World Cup that starts on May 30, Smith and Warner will be making their comeback into the Australian squad after serving out the 12-month bans imposed in the aftermath of the 2018 Sandpaper Gate fiasco. The warm-up match against England thus acts as the start of what will be a gruelling tour of the country of the duo as the World Cup will be followed by the high-voltage Ashes.

Coach Justin Langer had earlier said that while Warner and Smith are ready for the barrage that could be coming their way from the England fans during the tour, they will need to be taken care of. 

"There's not too many I've met in my life who like being booed or heckled or disliked so… they're human beings. We're going to have to care for them, we're going to have to put an arm around them and make sure they're going okay," he said.

England all-rounder Moeen Ali, on the other hand, appealed to fans to not get personal with their chants against the duo. 

"I really hope they don't get too much stick. I want them to enjoy the series. If you have to, keep it funny, not personal," Ali said. 

"We all make mistakes. We are human beings and we have feelings. I know deep down they are probably really good people. I just hope they get treated decently. I just want the cricket to be spoken about."

News24 Bureau

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