Ashes 2019: Surviving the Barmy Army will be the biggest challenge for Smith and Warner
Steve Smith and David Warner have been the pantomime villains for many cricketing nations and their fans. Often accused of being cocky rather than confident, the duo have never shied away from letting their mouth do the talking, in addition to their imposing willows.
Warner in particular has seen a metamorphosis of sorts - from the Bull to Reverend, and back to Bull again (remember his exchange with Quinton de Kock in Durban, or the way he celebrated raucously after running out AB de Villiers?). It was so far so good for Warner and Smith, but then the infamous Australian Ball Tampering Scandal, also known as Sandpapergate, unfolded.
In a matter of few days, the imposing, self-styled bullies of international cricket became a subject of national shame, with no less than the Australian Prime Minister calling it a 'disgrace'. The duo were handed one-year bans and the events after that have received heightened media coverage, with many international players, including Smith's arch rival Virat Kohli, voicing concerns on how Smith and Warner were treated - especially their arrivals at airports.
Smith and Warner would like to believe that the emotions over the ball-tampering saga may have simmered down. But they should expect a certain level of hostility once they make a comeback in Ashes 2019; the Barmy Army will never miss the opportunity of giving Warner and Smith a taste of their own medicine.
An indication of what's to come can be gauged from Barmy Army's Twitter post on the day the Oscar winners were announced. Mocking the tearful apologies of Warner, Smith, Cameron Bancroft and Darren Lehmann, the Twitter post asked, "It's almost time for the Oscars! Who gets your vote for Best Supporting Actor?"
There is not an iota of doubt that Warner, Smith and Bancroft will have to cop it from the English fans in Ashes 2019. The intensity of the trolling may vary from stadium to stadium, and Lord's may be less stinging than Old Trafford. But nothing on this earth can prepare Warner and Smith for the legendary (or infamous) Hollies stand in Edgbaston.
The combination of Hollies stand and Barmy Army has produced some real gems - the 'tribute' to Mitchell Johnson has become a part of cricketing folklore. It is another thing that the Barmy Army's constant sledging of Johnson fired up the pacer and he responded by turning the 2013 Ashes series on the back of sheer pace and intimidation.
Smith and Warner will be available for the Barmy Army and English fans before the Ashes 2019, as the World Cup 2019 will be played in England. However, considering that that will be in the ODI format, and that the two teams will be squaring off in Lord's - a relatively conservative venue with a significant attendance of MCC members - that might not be such a cause for worry for the Australians.
It will truly be the August 1 encounter at Edgbaston that will be the real test for the Australians in general, and the duo in particular.
Australia vs England in the Ashes at Edgbaston, with a tipsy Barmy Army at the Hollies stand - well, Australia's psychology coaching staff will need some worst-case visualization therapies.