Steve Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft have never been closer. Literally.

The returning trio are sharing the field for the first time in a Test match since the ball-tampering scandal in Cape Town last year and have buddied up in more ways than one.

Warner and Bancroft resumed their opening partnership on day one — although it didn't bear fruit as both men were dismissed for single figures — and Smith returned to the five-day format in style by composing a masterful 144 to rescue Australia from potential embarrassment.

There have been reports the Aussie dressing room was divided in the wake of the cheating controversy in South Africa and suggestions Smith and Warner are far from a tight-knit duo after the career-altering development.


But the former captain and his deputy stood side-by-side with Bancroft on day two at Edgbaston.

Australia had a completely new-look slips cordon to the one that graced fields against India and Sri Lanka during the Australian summer. Whereas the likes of Usman Khawaja, Aaron Finch and Shaun Marsh stood in catching positions behind the wicket then, now it is the Cape Town trio who manned the important space next to skipper and wicketkeeper Tim Paine.

Warner was at first slip, Smith at second and Bancroft at third — with Khawaja floating between fourth slip and gully as Pat Cummins and James Pattinson tried to dismantle the England top order.

It was a sight that would have been unthinkable when relationships could have been damaged beyond repair as the fallout of the cheating storm reverberated around the cricket world.

That Paine felt comfortable enough to station them all together is a positive sign of the healing that's taken place since then.

Warner had spent much of his time patrolling mid-off and the covers before copping a one-year ban but was shifted into the slips, and Paine's reluctance to deploy a short-leg meant Bancroft was given a reprieve from wearing a helmet just under the batsman's nose.

Cameron Bancroft, Steven Smith and David Warner field in the slips. Photo / Getty
Cameron Bancroft, Steven Smith and David Warner field in the slips. Photo / Getty

Smith's hands have always been as reliable as his batting and he showed that once again when he took a sharp grab down low to get rid of Jason Roy when Pattinson found the England opener's outside edge on 10 to snare the first wicket of the morning.

While it's one of the fiercest rivalries in cricket, the Ashes was always going to be about more than just bragging rights between Australia and England. Marking the first Test Smith, Warner and Bancroft were available for since their respective suspensions ended, much of this series will centre around how they adapt to life wearing the baggy green again.


Australia underwent a huge cultural shift in their absence where there was as much emphasis placed on being a good bloke as there was on runs and wickets. Smith and Warner fitted seamlessly back into the side for the World Cup and now Bancroft is back to signal a new era of cricket Down Under.

Seeing all three men stand so close on the second morning at Edgbaston suggests Australian cricket has come full circle since its darkest hour 16 months ago.

The first Test in Birmingham is the first time Paine is captaining the team with the former leaders by his side and if he gets stuck for ideas he has some smart cricket brains to turn to.

As the players prepared to resume after Cummins struck Rory Burns on the head with a bouncer early on day two, Warner and Smith were seen locked in discussion about potential plans. The Aussie opener was doing most of the talking, gesturing with his hands as they cooked up ways to find another breakthrough.

In the middle session, during a lull in play, Warner got cosy with his former captain as he wrapped his left arm around Smith's shoulders.

Warner is banned from ever holding a leadership position in Australian cricket again and Smith isn't able to serve as captain or vice-captain until 12 months after his ban expires — but they don't need official titles to set an example.


Smith has always led from the front and let his bat do most of the talking anyway — and it was the same story as he marked his return from Test exile with a spectacular century that rescued Australia from 8/122 and guided it to 284 all out to keep it in the match.

"I obviously don't have the armband, that's OK, I think Tim's done a magnificent job the last 18 months or whatever it is," Smith said.

"For me, I'm obviously an experienced player now and experienced person in the dressing room and you want your experienced players to stand up when it's difficult and show the way and fortunately I was able to do that."