Push for Warner, Smith ban reductions
THE push is on within the walls of Cricket Australia for Steve Smith and David Warner to be given an early reprieve from their bans.
It's understood serious discussions have taken place amongst the game's hierarchy about softening the domestic side of the suspension and opening the door for the deposed captain and vice-captain to be allowed to play the final four Sheffield Shield games of the season for NSW starting on February 23.
Nothing is over the line yet ahead of a decisive CA board meeting either on Monday or Tuesday, but a shock change to the banishments handed down for bringing the game into disrepute is closer than it's ever been.
Under former Chairman David Peever Cricket Australia was adamant the bans would be upheld in full, but his resignation has brought about a softening in thinking and a spirited boardroom discussion is assured.
There is no chance of Smith and Warner playing Big Bash or international cricket before their 12 months is up but Shield cricket is well and truly on the table.
The Australian Cricketers Association made a submission in the wake of the Cultural Review for Cricket Australia to lift the suspensions on the basis that responsibility for bringing the game into disrepute should be borne by more than the ball-tampering trio Smith, Warner and Cameron Bancroft.
Tensions between CA and the players association remain frayed and there is significant anger from head office and players alike that the ACA launched such a controversial public campaign without the support of its members.
As it stands Smith and Warner are not permitted to play anything higher than grade cricket in Australia, but discussions have been had by cricket hierarchy that relaxing the terms to allow a few first-class games from late February - a month before the ban is due to expire - would be a fair and reasonable compromise.
Smith has a contract to play in the Pakistan Super League in February, but there are already doubts over whether he would actually be willing to play games scheduled in Pakistan - and as such getting out of such a deal would not be difficult.
The debate raging behind the scenes has completely polarised opinion across the game.
It is understood at least three states would be dead against any change to the bans, but others are more open to the sanction being reconsidered.
It's understood one of the fiercest arguments being mounted against the big push being staged is the fact Bancroft is almost finished his nine-month ban and so far it looks like no one has considered a compromise for him.
In the judicial system reductions are made for good behaviour, and there is a feeling that Smith and Warner deserve to be cut a small break for the way they've accepted their bans and thrown their energy into grade cricket.
Warner is the competition's leading run-scorer and Smith's attitude at local grounds around Sydney has been praised.
There is also a feeling that the 12-month ban as it was handed down was more like a 13 or 14 month ban because it effectively gave Smith and Warner no decent cricket to mount a case for World Cup or Ashes selection.
With the IPL to start earlier next March due to the World Cup, being available for Shield matches could further impact Smith and Warner's salaries in India.
There are also sure to be concerns over the fabric of the Shield give NSW would suddenly have the services of two of the world's best batsmen for games against Western Australia, Queensland, Victoria and Tasmania, but equally there is a belief Warner and Smith's presence could only be a good thing for the improvement of opposition bowlers.