Smith and Warner in action as Khawaja gives Australia a World Cup worry
Khawaja was struck on the jaw by a steepling delivery in a World Cup warm-up match against the West Indies.
Steve Smith marked his return to English soil with a typically assured half century but there were contrasting fortunes for his Australia team-mates David Warner and Usman Khawaja.
Smith and Warner are back on the international scene after one-year bans for their part in the ball-tampering scandal and made their comebacks on these shores in the first of the summer’s World Cup warm-ups against the West Indies.
There is likely to be plenty of barracking from partisan crowds in the coming months, not least when it comes to the Ashes, but they were afforded the gentlest of baby steps during a seven-wicket win at the Ageas Bowl’s Nursery Ground.
In front of less than 30 spectators – a function of this unofficial fixture’s non-existent build-up – Smith’s measured 76 guided the team safely to a modest target of 230. If that was barely surprising, the batsman may not have been expecting the smattering of applause that greeted his run-a-ball half-century.
Steve Smith having a bowl against the Windies pic.twitter.com/fcswmDWjg5— Rory Dollard (@thervd) May 22, 2019
Even Warner, hardly English cricket’s most beloved rival, might have welcomed the silence that accompanied him back to the pavilion when he was brutally bounced out by Oshane Thomas for 12. He has been prepared for worse and can brace for an escalation in another practice outing against England on Saturday.
Early in the first innings, propped up by fifties from Evin Lewis and Carlos Brathwaite, those in attendance even allowed a Warner misfield to pass without comment.
For Australia the noise that follows their fallen leadership axis is an inevitability to be managed and there will be greater concern over opener Khawaja.
He was struck on the jaw by a steepling bouncer from Andre Russell after only two overs and retired hurt following on-field treatment. He was later sent to hospital for precautionary scans, with team management hopeful of no serious damage.
Warner replaced him at the crease and promptly pulled his first delivery for four. That was an authoritative start but also the highlight of his 24-ball stay, which ended dramatically at the hands of Thomas, who fended a steepling bumper into the wicketkeeper’s gloves.
Smith was off the mark with a upper cut for six but soon received his own working over from Thomas, first surviving then settling and finally controlling the chase.
He put the game out of the Windies’ reach alongside Shaun Marsh (55 not out) before a nick off Brathwaite allowed Glenn Maxwell to finish up.
50! Steve Smith is seeing them beautifully. He brings up a run-a-ball half-century in Southampton as the Aussie score moves to 2-155 pic.twitter.com/4I5ziCIq3g— cricket.com.au (@cricketcomau) May 22, 2019
The latter had earlier been one of four bowlers to take two wickets, joined by quicks Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins and Nathan Coulter-Nile.
Smith did not take questions after the match, with Marsh on duty in his stead.
“He’s come back in and done what he usually does: score runs. I’ve got the best seat in the house,” said Marsh.
“He’s been going fantastically since he came back in. It’s really great for our confidence to have two world class players back in our team. It’s been a great few weeks back with them.”
Asked about the likelihood of pricklier reactions for Smith and Warner on the horizon, he added: “We’re ready, we’re braced for it. We’ll stick together as a team. We’ll be there for them, looking after them.
“We just focus on what we’re here to do.”