KING CITY, Ontario (Reuters) - Steve Smith made his comeback from cricket exile on Thursday in front of a sparse crowd in a sleepy, rural town north of Toronto where the former Australia captain helped kick off the inaugural Global T20 Canada league.
Smith, playing for the Toronto Nationals, showed few signs of rust in his 41-ball innings of 61, which included eight fours and a six, before being stumped and leaving the field to a standing ovation.
“I didn’t feel as good as I would’ve liked but it’s nice to score runs when you’re not feeling good,” Smith told reporters.
The match, played before a mostly docile crowd at the Maple Leaf Cricket Club about 50 km (31 miles) north of downtown Toronto, was far from the hallowed venues he was used to but Smith was just happy to be playing again.
It was Smith’s first match since he, vice-captain David Warner and Cameron Bancroft were banned by Cricket Australia in March for conspiring to scuff up the ball with sandpaper during the third test against South Africa.
Smith’s 12-month ban, however, does not extend to domestic tournaments outside Australia and so he was eligible to play in the six-team Canadian league.
The 29-year-old Australian, who apologised for the ball-tampering incident at a March news conference during which he broke down in tears, said the scandal was not on his mind during his first game back.
“Honestly when I am out in the middle everything else is a blur. Just concentrate on what I am doing and it’s almost like my haven I guess,” said Smith.
“I’m not going to lie, its been a difficult time in my life, there’s no doubt about that.
“But I’ve accepted my punishment, I’ve accepted what I’ve gone through and I’m moving forward and part of my rehab is playing cricket as well and that’s what I love doing.”
Clad in the two-tone blue of his Toronto team, Smith’s side won the toss and elected to bowl first.
He showed some early rust when he got under a ball hit by Vancouver’s Evin Lewis that was swirling away from him and was unable to take the catch.
Lewis top-scored with 96 for Vancouver in their 227 for four from 20 overs.
Smith, who was frequently practicing his batting strokes while in the field, came in at number three for Toronto and played and missed at his first ball before ultimately finding his groove.
When he was stumped by Vancouver wicketkeeper Chadwick Walton, Smith enjoyed a standing ovation from the crowd as he made his way back to the Toronto dressing room.
“It’s nice to hear people supporting you,” said Smith.
“It’s great to have the support so I am thankful that everyone has been supportive since I’ve been here.”
Toronto won the match by six wickets after former New Zealand international Anton Devcich anchored their chase to score 92 not out as they reached 231 for four in 19.2 overs.
Editing by Greg Stutchbury