SYDNEY (Reuters) - Former test captain Steve Smith scored 85 runs off 92 deliveries for his Sutherland club in his first innings on Australian soil since the ball-tampering scandal that led to his one-year ban from international and state cricket.
Smith and David Warner, who was also suspended for his role in the incident, still have another six months of their bans to serve but are continuing their rehabilitation in the new Sydney club cricket season, which got underway this weekend.
While former vice-captain Warner was making his return in Randwick-Petersham's first fixture a few miles away at Coogee Oval, Smith was the first of the two test batsmen to face a ball in his club's match against Mosman.
The 29-year-old, who got married this week, received a warm welcome from an unusually large crowd at the Glenn McGrath Oval and looked his usual twitchy self at the crease as he rattled off a half century in 62 balls.
Still the number two test batsman in the ICC rankings, Smith took his tally to 85, including six fours and a six, before holing out to mid-on and receiving another ovation as he trudged back to the pavilion.
It was all a far cry from the March day when he returned home from South Africa a broken man after the ball-tampering scandal, which resulted in one-year bans for Smith and Warner and an nine month suspension for batsman Cameron Bancroft.
Smith repeatedly succumbed to tears at a news conference at Sydney Airport as he apologised for his part in the incident that rocked Australia and also precipitated the departure of coach Darren Lehmann.
All three players have been allowed to play non-international cricket outside Australia and Warner and Smith have taken advantage with cameos in T20 tournaments in Canada and the Caribbean.
Their Cricket Australia bans expire on March 28 and it looks like they will be welcomed back into the Australia set up for next year's 50-overs World Cup and Ashes series in England.
"If our environment's right and they're playing well, there's no reason they shouldn't be welcomed back in to help us win the World Cup and help us win the Ashes next summer," Lehmann's replacement as coach Justin Langer said this week.
"If we can have an environment of great young leaders and welcome those guys back, we can be a real force and perhaps a team that's smiling a lot more than the team was before it happened."
(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney; Editing by John O'Brien)