Adil Rashid is excited to face a full-strength Australia side featuring Steve Smith and David Warner at the Cricket World Cup.

A year on from the ball-tampering scandal that rocked Test cricket, Smith and Warner have now completed their suspensions and will eligible for selection going forward.

Both batsmen are likely to come straight back into the Australia ODI side for the World Cup, while Test spots are also expected as Australia prepare to travel to England for the Ashes.

While some may not be too welcoming towards the duo, Rashid is looking forward to facing them as England embark on a big year of their own.

"It'll be nice to face a full-strength Australia with all their batters and all their bowlers," the leg-spinner told Omnisport.

"It's better for everybody watching as well with all the players playing. It'll be exciting for us boys to play against them again."

Even if Smith and Warner return to their ranks, Australia are unlikely to be considered favourites for the World Cup.

That honour is likely to fall on England's shoulders, and Rashid is confident they will be able to handle the weight of expectation.

"I think we'll handle it [the favourites tag] quite well, in the past few years we've handled that pressure well, playing against the best teams wherever," he added.

"But we don't look that far ahead and that we may be favourites or not, we'll take it a game at a time, a step at a time, a practice at a time and work like that and let everything else fall into place and let it happen.

"We know if we go out there, stick to our strengths, we all back each other, we have that belief, we'll go a long way."

Jofra Archer could feature for England and Rashid is confident the Barbados-born seamer would be a useful asset should he be selected.

"I've seen a bit of him on tv, but I’ve not spent much time with him," he said. "It's up to the selectors [if he plays for England], but I'm sure if he is selected he will fit right in straight away because he has proven himself to be a top bowler."

Duanne Olivier would welcome a chance to represent England at international level once he has gained citizenship.

The seamer turned his back on South Africa in February when he signed a three-year deal with Yorkshire on a Kolpak contract.

His decision came in the week that Olivier broke into the top 20 of the ICC's Test bowling rankings, the 26-year-old having impressed during the Proteas' series with Sri Lanka.

It may not be the last time Olivier appears on the international scene, though, after admitting a role with England is something he would consider in the future.

"There's been controversy around the situation, for me my main focus is playing for Yorkshire," he told Omnisport.

"There is rules and regulations where you can qualify [for] citizenship, that's my bigger goal to become a citizen here, and if it allows me to play for England one day I will never say no to that.

"For me, playing for South Africa was an honour and I never used that as a stepping stone to move to England, there were different factors and situations that played a role to me coming here.

"My main focus is to play cricket and do well for Yorkshire and win trophies."

His decision has led to some criticism, but Olivier has no regrets as he prepares for the start of the County Championship next month.

"I think if you focus on external things it will influence your game," he added. "For me it is more about what I feel, what I want to do, what I want to achieve.

"I focus more internally, and at the end of the day I'm here to play cricket, I'm not here to entertain or field matters on how people feel.

"Every person has their opinion and they can share their opinion, so for me it has been ok, yes there have been people criticise me and there's people understanding, that's part of life."

Any Australia captain would expect to be sternly tested in a year that features a Cricket World Cup and an Ashes series, but Aaron Finch and Tim Paine are set to face particularly challenging examinations of their leadership credentials as they prepare to welcome Steve Smith and David Warner back to the international fold.

Twelve months on from the sensational ball-tampering scandal in Cape Town that prompted suspensions, recriminations and plenty of tears, Smith and Warner are now available to play at the highest level once again.

Ahead of the expiry of their year-long bans, Australia's former skipper and second-in-command, who were sanctioned by their country's cricketing governing body along with opening batsman Cameron Bancroft, met up with the ODI squad in the United Arab Emirates this month. 

Somewhat predictably, Smith, Warner and head coach Justin Langer - appointed as the successor to Darren Lehmann soon after last year's controversy erupted - all offered glowing reviews of that reunion, each man sure to reference the importance of the team's "values" at every opportunity.

Yet while the returns of two of the world's best batsmen would appear to provide obvious positives for Australia in such an important year, Finch and Paine will surely be aware that the comebacks of Smith and Warner could also act as destabilising influences for a team that finally appears to be heading in the right direction.

Australia endured plenty of on-field misery in the aftermath of the ball-tampering saga. A humiliating 492-run defeat in the fourth Test against South Africa – after Smith, Warner and Bancroft had been sent home - was followed by a limited-overs humbling at the hands of England and further series losses across all three formats before 2018 was up.

However, there were encouraging signs for the Test team as they beat Sri Lanka 2-0 on home soil earlier this year after going down 2-1 to India, while recent Australian ODI displays have been nothing short of magnificent, with a stunning series win from 2-0 down in India preceding three emphatic thrashings of Pakistan in the UAE.

Intriguingly, 50-over skipper Finch has found top form in the ongoing rubber with Pakistan, compiling successive scores of 116, 153 not out and 90 to seemingly end any debate over whether he will retain the captaincy for the World Cup that begins at the end of May.

In a sense, though, the success of Finch and Australia over the last few weeks has only made things more complicated. Smith and Warner - who are both in Indian Premier League action at present - remain likely to earn immediate recalls in England given their hugely impressive records, but their availability is now set to provide a bigger headache than many may previously have imagined, with the team in such superb form.

Rather than approaching a major event with their best XI locked down and every player aware of their precise role in the team, a scenario you could reasonably expect after six successive away wins against high-calibre opponents, Australia face the prospect of two significant changes being made just before the World Cup begins.

If that has the potential to damage morale in certain quarters, the fact Smith and Warner are returning to international action in England is also far from ideal.

The pair would anticipate plenty of scrutiny and reminders of their transgressions in any circumstances, but English fans and media alike will doubtless be particularly persistent in bringing up the subject.

It remains to be seen how Australia's players react to that situation and there are many other unanswered questions.

Will Smith and Warner really slot seamlessly back into the dressing room? Or will some of their team-mates harbour resentment?

Can Finch and Paine fully exert their authority – in high-octane situations - over two men who were previously above them in the hierarchy?

And perhaps the biggest elephant in the slip cordon … if Paine continues to struggle for Test runs at the start of the Ashes, how awkward will it be for Australia to have Smith, who boasts a stunning average of 61.37 and plenty of experience as the chief decision-maker, in the side but unable to take over as skipper? The former captain is barred from taking a leadership position for at least another 12 months.

This month's carefully managed meeting in the UAE, complete with talk of "hugs and cuddles", represented the first step in the reintegration of Australia's fallen stars, but the answers to these posers will only become clearer as the pressure ramps up during the World Cup and Ashes.

Turning around a listing ship in the absence of two marquee players has proven a stern challenge for Australia over the past year. Smith and Warner may be set to come back on board, but that does not mean it will now be plain sailing.

Eddie Jones is not interested in becoming the British and Irish Lions coach as he feels the role is an "ambassador job". 

England boss Jones' future at Twickenham is uncertain despite last January signing a contract extension through to 2021, taking him beyond this year's Rugby World Cup. 

But the Australian holds no interest in the Lions job for the 2021 tour to South Africa, claiming there is not enough coaching involved for him to enjoy the position. 

"The last thing I want to do is spend eight weeks in a blazer," Jones told the Brisbane Courier Mail. "That's an ambassador job. 

"I'm a coach. I'd rather coach the Queensland Sheffield Shield [cricket] team." 

One role Jones will not rule out a future interest in, however, is with Australia. He coached the Wallabies from 2001 until 2005, losing the 2003 World Cup final to England. 

"I don't think I would ever say 'never' but it's not something I have really thought about," he added. "One thing Australia are not short of is talent. 

"[Australia coach Michael] Cheika is in a good position. This could be his last hurrah and he's got nothing to lose."

Joey Carbery has signed a new Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) deal to keep him at Munster until June 2022.

The Ireland fly-half has looked very much at home in his first season with the province since his switch from Leinster.

Carbery initially put pen to paper on a two-year deal and has now agreed to extend his stay at Thomond Park for a further two years.

The 23-year-old is also set to give Munster a boost by returning to fitness for the European Rugby Champions Cup clash with Edinburgh on Saturday, having suffered a hamstring injury during the Six Nations.

Former New Zealand scrum-half Alby Mathewson has also signed a new contract with the Pro14 side.

Mathewson's deal was due to run out at the end of this month, but the 33-year-old playmaker will stay on until November.

This week marks the one-year anniversary of the Australia ball-tampering scandal that rocked world cricket. 

During the third Test against South Africa in Cape Town in March 2018, Australia opening batsman Cameron Bancroft was caught on camera attempting to change the condition of the ball with a piece of sandpaper that he subsequently hid down the front of his trousers. 

Bancroft, captain Steve Smith and vice-captain David Warner were subsequently banned by Cricket Australia (CA), as the cricketing fraternity expressed its severe condemnation of such a blatant act of cheating. 

Bancroft is back playing while Smith and Warner's lengthier suspensions are set to come to an end - in a World Cup and Ashes year, no less. 

Below, we recap the events of a damaging 12 months for Australian cricket.

 

March 24, 2018: During day three at Newlands, television replays begin to emerge of Bancroft rubbing the ball with sandpaper, which he then hides down his whites.

March 24: Bancroft and Smith face the media after the day's play, admitting - along with the "leadership group" - their plot to manipulate the ball, although they claim the foreign object was tape. Bancroft confirms he has been charged by the International Cricket Council (ICC) while Smith insists he will not resign as skipper.

March 25: Amid rising condemnation, Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull is scathing in his assessment of the issue, saying the plan to cheat "beggars belief". CA promises to investigate.

March 25: Shortly before the start of day four, it is confirmed Smith and Warner will relinquish their leadership roles for the remainder of the Test, with Tim Paine taking over as captain.

March 25: The ICC announces that Smith has been suspended for the fourth Test, although Bancroft is free to play. Australia collapse from 57-0 to 107 all out to lose by 322 runs in Cape Town.

March 27: Smith, Bancroft and Warner are all sent home from the tour. CA decrees they were the only individuals who knew of the plan. Matt Renshaw, Joe Burns and Glenn Maxwell are called up.

March 28: CA hands Smith and Warner one-year bans from international and domestic cricket. Bancroft is suspended for nine months, while Warner will not be considered for any leadership roles in future. James Sutherland, CEO of CA, reiterates that head coach Darren Lehmann knew nothing of the plan. It is confirmed Bancroft used sandpaper and not tape on the ball.

March 29: An 'absolutely devastated' Smith breaks down in tears when addressing the media upon his return to Sydney. Bancroft also faces reporters and expresses remorse for his part in the fiasco.

March 29: Lehmann confirms he will resign from his post after the fourth Test. Sutherland insists he will not follow suit. Somerset cancel plans for Bancroft to join as the county's overseas player for 2018.

March 31: Speaking to the media at the Sydney Cricket Ground, Warner takes full responsibility for his actions while adding he has a "tiny ray of hope" that he will play for Australia again.

April 6: CA launches a review into "cultural, organisational and governance issues", employing an independent, player-driven panel to advise on future steps.

April 11: As expected, Smith, Warner and Bancroft are absent from CA's contract list for 2018-19.

May 2: Former opening batsman Justin Langer is appointed as Lehmann's successor as head coach.

June 3: Smith and Warner are each selected to play in the inaugural Global T20 Canada tournament. The pair later feature in the Caribbean and Bangladesh Premier Leagues, as well as Australian grade cricket.

June 13: During the first ODI between the sides at The Oval, England fans mock Australia's plight, distributing sandpaper marked with "4" and "6" to celebrate boundaries.

October 29: CA slammed as "arrogant" and "controlling" in the results of the body's independent review. 

December 26: In the build-up to the Boxing Day Test against India, Bancroft gives an interview during which he suggests the plan to tamper with the ball was Warner's. "I didn't know any better," says Bancroft.

December 30: Bancroft returns from his ban and scores two for Perth Scorchers in a Big Bash League defeat to Hobart Hurricanes.

March 8, 2019: Although set to be eligible for the final two matches of the ODI series against Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates following the expiry of their bans, Smith and Warner are not included in the Australia squad.

March 21: Durham announce Bancroft as their new captain for the County Championship and One-Day Cup ahead of the start of the English domestic season.

Troy Cooley has been appointed as Australia's bowling coach for the Ashes, 14 years after helping England regain the urn.

Cooley will take over from Tasmania coach Adam Griffith, who has been handed the role for the Cricket World Cup.

Justin Langer turned to the duo after David Saker - another former England coach - resigned in February.

Cooley worked with the Australia bowlers in the recent one-day international series in India, which the tourists won 3-2.

The 53-year-old is credited with playing an important role in England's victory over Australia in the classic 2005 Ashes series.

Australia have played 43 games across all formats in the time Steve Smith and David Warner have been banned - and the statistics suggest the two should have no problem walking back into the XI for the upcoming Ashes.

Ex-captain Smith and former vice-captain Warner are available to be selected for their country again from this week when the 12-month bans for their roles in the Cape Town ball-tampering scandal come to an end.

Here, with the help of Opta, we take a look at how Australia's batsmen have fared across all three formats over the past year without the duo.

 

TESTS (P9 W3 D2 L4)

The first Test without Smith, Warner and Cameron Bancroft, who was given a nine-month ban for his part in the saga, ended in a 492-run loss to South Africa as the Proteas wrapped up a 3-1 series success.

Matthew Renshaw was one of those drafted in for that final match in Johannesburg, but having scored a cumulative 13 across two innings, he has not appeared in a Test since. 

Peter Handscomb initially filled Smith's spot at four and averaged fewer than 19 across seven innings, though Joe Burns was one of the success stories, the opener's 180 against Sri Lanka last month helping him to an average of 50 over the past year.

Travis Head (51) had a better average than Burns in that time, but openers Aaron Finch (27.8) and Marcus Harris (32.7) were unable to replicate Warner (48.2), particularly when they struggled in a 2-1 home series loss to India.

Having made his Test debut in October, Marnus Labuschagne batted at four in the recent two-match series with Sri Lanka, yet his average of 26.3 pales in comparison with Smith's 61.4.

 

ODIS (P18 W7 L11)

With a World Cup on English soil looming on the horizon later in 2019, Australia's 50-over fortunes were looking grim as little as three weeks ago.

A five-match series in India began with defeats in the opening two matches, meaning the world champions had lost 11 of 13 ODIs since the Newlands scandal.

But a stunning comeback sealed a 3-2 win over Virat Kohli's men, and Australia have continued that momentum in the UAE, where successive Finch hundreds mean the tourists lead Pakistan 2-0 in a best-of-five contest.

Those centuries have lifted Finch's ODI average across the past year to 39.4, while the likes of Usman Khawaja (60.9), Shaun Marsh (59.3) and Handscomb (52.1) have all benefitted from opportunities they may not otherwise have had.

Two months out from the start of the World Cup, the holders appear to be finding form at just the right time, and the returns of Smith and Warner will leave head coach Justin Langer nursing a welcome selection headache.

 

TWENTY20S (P16 W7 L8 NR1)

Smith's ban had little effect on his nation's T20 form - the 29-year-old having not featured in that format since March 2016 - yet Warner left a bigger void to fill having scored more than any other Australian in the shortest format.

Despite that, four leading batsmen averaged more than Warner's 26.7 over the previous 12 months.

Finch amassed 465 runs, though that total comes with the caveat that 324 of those were accrued in his first three innings. In his past 13 T20 knocks for Australia, Finch has averaged only 10.8.

All-rounder Glenn Maxwell (averaging 34), D'Arcy Short (28.3) and Head (27.3) were the others to shine in Warner and Smith's absences.

Gareth Anscombe wants to stay in Wales with Cardiff Blues, according to coach John Mulvihill, and the two parties are close to agreeing a new deal.

Anscombe raised doubts about his future – and that of other top players – amid uncertainty over the restructuring of the Welsh regions.

A merger between the Ospreys and the Scarlets had been mooted earlier this month, and Grand Slam winner Anscombe suggested it could lead to Wales' heroes looking elsewhere – even though it could harm their international eligibility.

Mulvihill is confident Anscombe has no intention of leaving, though, despite greater financial rewards being available elsewhere.

"Hopefully we are getting closer," said the Blues coach. "There are a few contractual issues we are trying to work through to make a final offer to Gareth that I think shows his worth in the game in Wales.

"He can get a lot more money playing overseas, but he doesn't want to do that.

"He wants to play for Wales, he wants to go to the World Cup and I think deep down in his heart he wants to be at Cardiff Blues with all his mates here.

"We are just working through that and hopefully we can get something done in the next few weeks.

"I want him to stay here and hopefully sooner or later we can sort it out."

Wigan Warriors say they will not stand in Shaun Edwards' way should he renege on an agreement to become the Super League champions' head coach in 2020.

Edwards agreed to take over at the club last year, with his time as Wales' defence coach set to come to an end following the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

However, the Wigan legend caused confusion after Wales wrapped up the Six Nations Grand Slam with victory over Ireland at the weekend, claiming his future was up in the air.

Warriors chairman Ian Lenagan has confirmed that no contract was signed at the time of Edwards' announcement and that the move to Wigan was "cemented by a handshake".

Wigan now say they will accept whatever decision Edwards - linked with a return to Wasps - comes to.

"Wigan Warriors Rugby League Club's position is that it has an oral agreement with Shaun Edwards to become head coach from 2020, cemented by a handshake and announced publicly in a press conference by both parties in August 2018," said Lenagan.

"I take full responsibility for including the mention of a signed contract in Wigan's press release at the time of Shaun's appointment. I have done business on many occasions on the basis of an oral agreement over a handshake.

"Shaun and I have known each other for a long time, have great respect for each other and share a passion for all things Wigan – of course the main focus for that being Wigan Warriors and its supporters.

"Following the announcement of his appointment we agreed not to distract Shaun, at his request, in any way throughout the Six Nations.

"With Wales' emphatic victory in Cardiff at the weekend, it is understandable why their coaching team have become so desirable throughout world rugby and Shaun is obviously an integral part of that.

"Rather than debating the merits and legalities of an oral or written agreement, I have had constructive dialogue with Shaun this week to make it clear that, despite our desire for him to take up the Wigan Warriors head coach role as agreed, we would not attempt to hold Shaun to any agreement - disputed or otherwise - if he now preferred to take up a different option.

"During our conversations, Shaun asked for more time to consider his options. I agreed to his request and fully understand his reasons for doing so.

"It is obvious we need to clear up this situation as quickly as possible in a dignified manner for the best interests of Wigan Warriors and Shaun.

"It is proving to be a difficult and emotive situation for us all to navigate, but I am determined to provide our loyal fans with the clarity they deserve once Shaun has come to his decision. We will support whatever decision he reaches."

Billy Vunipola says England must stop buckling under pressure but denied they are mentally weak after falling short in the Six Nations.

Coach Eddie Jones plans to recruit an expert to work on the players' mentality after England squandered a 31-point lead to draw 38-38 with Scotland in their final match of the tournament.

England were also in front against Wales before Warren Gatland's men came roaring back en route to winning the Grand Slam.

Jones feels his players have been suffering psychologically since England's Rugby World Cup failure on home soil four years ago, but Vunipola says they just need to be more resolute when under the cosh.

The number eight told Omnisport: "I wouldn't say [mental] weakness [is an issue], I'd probably say something that we haven't, as a group, haven't experienced before [is] being under that pressure.

"A lot of us are probably new to it and it's a good learning curve for us and hopefully we can take the learning from it and stay positive because the last thing we want to do is feel sorry for ourselves.

"We've got to pick ourselves up, play well for our clubs and put ourselves in the best position to play for England again."

Vunipola thinks there were plenty of plus points for England to take after they finished second.

"I'm disappointed we didn’t win the whole thing. We did a lot of good things, we did a lot of positive things within the tournament." he added.

"We're probably five or 10 per cent off where we need to be and that's huge going into a World Cup, we've still got things to improve on and hopefully we can do that."

- Vunipola was speaking at a coaching session he was leading with fellow Saracens and Harlequins players on behalf of Land Rover at Beaconsfield RFC

Billy Vunipola has staunchly defended Owen Farrell's leadership skills after England's Six Nations capitulation against Scotland.

Farrell had a second half to forget as England blew a 31-point lead to draw 38-38 in an astonishing final match of the tournament at Twickenham on Saturday.

Eddie Jones replaced Farrell, sole captain in the absence of Dylan Hartley, and said the fly-half had "lost a bit of his edge" after Scotland roared back to retain the Calcutta Cup.

Vunipola says his Saracens and England team-mate does not deserve the criticism that has come his way.

The number eight told Omnisport: "The media is up and down and sometimes you can't believe the hype. I support Faz and what he's brought to the group, the way he's led us.

"It's just unfortunate that we didn't get the results that we wanted but it's coming, I believe that it will, I have faith that it will, we just have to show everyone else."

He added: "It was only a few weeks ago that he was one of the best [fly-halves in the world] and now obviously we have one bad half and now everyone's questioning, is he still our captain?

"That's the pressure that comes with playing for England and that's just something that we have to learn from, same for him.

"He has my support and I'm just in the team to try and help in any way that I can and he's doing the same but leading us."

 

- Vunipola was speaking at a coaching session he was leading with fellow Saracens and Harlequins players on behalf of Land Rover at Beaconsfield RFC.

 

Gareth Anscombe has warned members of the Grand-Slam winning squad could turn their back on Wales amid uncertainty over regional rugby.

Warren Gatland's side pulled off a Six Nations clean sweep despite an untimely domestic dispute.

A merger between the Ospreys and the Scarlets was on and then off as talks between the Welsh Rugby Union and the regions over restructuring continue.

Players who have won less than 60 caps are ineligible to play for Wales if they ply their trade for clubs outside of the country and fly-half Anscombe said there could be an exodus unless issues are resolved.

"Players have been let down a fair bit certainly when you look at the results we have provided them. We all want to play for Wales - there's no doubt about that - but players need to be treated well and we deserve to be," said the Cardiff Blues man.

"I think it's made all the boys think about that, to be honest. We've got only a 10-year window to really look after ourselves, and I guess the important thing is you don't want to look back with any regrets.

"There's a fair bit going on behind the scenes which needs to get sorted. I'd love to keep playing for Wales but we've got to work out a few things, for sure.

"I think we've given the union something to be pretty proud about and hopefully the union and the regions can come together and sort out the best deals for the players, because that is important."

Wayne Pivac is "disappointed" Shaun Edwards suggested he was surplus to requirements with Wales and says there is no chance he will stay on as defence coach.

Edwards last year agreed to take over as Wigan Warriors head coach when he finishes his commitments with Wales after the Rugby World Cup.

It now appears the Wigan legend may not take up the role with the Super League champions after he stated that he will be "unemployed" following the World Cup, given he has not signed a contract with his hometown club.

Edwards said after Wales sealed the Grand Slam on Saturday that he is open to offers, but a role on the Wales staff is out of the question as incoming head coach Pivac is "going in a different direction".

Pivac confirmed he has secured a successor to Edwards, but says the Englishman was on the shortlist and the pair held talks. 

He said: "We have finished the process and we have recruited a defence coach and that will come out in due course, hopefully not too much longer." 

Pivac added: "Shaun has done a fantastic job - we all know that. He's a very, very good defence coach. Shaun was the first person I spoke with. He indicated early on he was under pressure from

Wigan and that the timeline that was imposed on us were unrealistic.

"I talked around a process we would be going through. That was pre-autumn and pre-Six Nations. Shaun signed with Wigan and that put paid to the discussions going any further.

"Shaun knew he was on the shortlist, that he was the incumbent. We'd had a meeting and subsequent conversations.

"We are a little bit disappointed that's come out over the weekend but we are certainly not going to let it detract from a great result at the weekend.

"It's between Shaun and Wigan. I have no control over that. I only know about the discussions we had way back in August."

Warren Gatland believes Wales can mount a strong challenge to win the Rugby World Cup after their Grand Slam triumph.

Gatland masterminded a clean sweep in his final Six Nations as head coach, a comfortable victory over Ireland on Saturday sealing the title.

The New Zealander will end his long reign after the World Cup and he sees no reason why he cannot sign off in style in Japan.

"I know that these guys won't go down in any match without a fight. We've got a very special group of players at the moment," said Gatland.

"We enjoy each other's company, we challenge each other on a lot of things, but once we make a decision we back each other 100 per cent.

"I promise you that these guys will give 100 per cent in every game at the World Cup."

He added: "You need a little bit of luck and hopefully we don't pick up too many injuries.

"We'll have a few months of preparation and as we have in the last few World Cups, we'll be one of the fittest teams, if not the fittest team there.

"There's some real depth, some real competition in this squad and that makes it tough on us as coaches. There are quality players that will miss out on the 31-man squad and that will be incredibly tough.

"I assure you that we'll go there with some confidence and belief that we can have a great World Cup."

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