Steve Smith is back in business after a lengthy spell on the sidelines.
Steve Smith is back in business after a lengthy spell on the sidelines.

Smith back in limelight after self-imposed exile

THE weight of expectation being shouldered by Steve Smith in his return to cricket has been amplified by news several of his high profile teammates have not arrived in Toronto.

West Indian star Darren Sammy demanded the fledgling Toronto Nationals side make Smith their No.1 pick at the inaugural Canada Global T20 draft, and on Thursday morning (EST) he revealed that he's told the deposed Australian captain he will emerge from the ball-tampering scandal a "more respected man".

Smith has barely picked up a bat since he was banned from international cricket for 12 months, but even in the backwaters of Ontario he will walk straight into the hot seat with Pakistani internationals Kamran Akmal and Muhammad Sami to miss Friday's opener (EST) against Chris Gayle's Vancouver Knights after being delayed by visa issues.

It leaves Smith out there on his own, with help from Sammy and fellow West Indian Kieron Pollard as the only experienced figures in the Toronto line-up trying to dethrone Gayle and fellow six-hitting king Andre Russell.

Unheralded players from the ICC's pool of associate nations will have to fill in until the Pakistanis arrive.

Sammy will skipper the Toronto side, but heaped praise on the leadership shown by Smith during the most tumultuous period of his career and played down the pressure he is under to perform.

"I wanted to pick him first in my team. I knew (all the other internationals here) and I said give me Steve Smith," said Sammy, who will bat the Australian at No.3.

"That's because he knows how to win cricket matches.

"What I really respected about him was the way he took full responsibility as a leader.

Darren Sammy is Smith’s skipper in Canada. Picture: AFP.
Darren Sammy is Smith’s skipper in Canada. Picture: AFP.

"After this experience, like I told him, he'll walk out as a more respected person."

Controversial figure Gayle - no stranger to the spotlight himself - also threw his support behind Smith and David Warner, who will play his first match the following day for the Winnipeg Hawks.

"They've already been punished for what they've done. They should be able to get on with their lives and have some fun," Gayle said.

"Like any cricketer they should be able to work for their family and put food on the table for them."

Sammy said Smith and Warner had been punished enough and declared there should be no resistance to them making comebacks in Canada.

"I've spoken to him (Smith) about how I want him to play in the team. As to what's going on in his mind, I think only Jesus can tell you what's going on in a man's mind," he said.

"As a Christian, you commit sins and there is punishment for your sins. It doesn't mean everything is OK, but there's always forgiveness.

Streve Smith comes up against Chris Gayle in his opening match. Picture: AFP.
Streve Smith comes up against Chris Gayle in his opening match. Picture: AFP.

"They've (Smith and Warner) missed out on the IPL, they've been sacked … but life goes on. There's a right to punish, but there's also a right to forgive and move on."

Akmal is a veteran of 53 Tests for his country, while Sami is one of Twenty20 cricket's leading spinners and is on the list for the Brisbane Heat.

At a hastily constructed temporary 7000-seat facility in Ontario which will host three weeks worth of matches, Gayle is out to steal the attention from Smith and Warner with his eye on a walk-up century in cricket's newest tournament.

"Maybe the first thing to try and get is a century here," he said.

"Hopefully from a personal point of view I can set the tournament alight. I'm all about entertainment and having fun.

"I want to let (Smith and Warner) be free."



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