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Banned duo weigh up returns in Top End

Northern Territory officials hopeful of suspended Test openers featuring in the Strike League competition in July

Banned batsmen Cameron Bancroft and David Warner could make returns to competitive cricket as early as July, with the Test openers separately considering winter playing stints in the Northern Territory.

It's understood Bancroft is weighing up a comeback in the Top End which NT administrators hope would see him play in the second edition of the Strike League in July. The Western Australian could also feature in Darwin's main club competition.

While Bancroft appears the closer of the two batsmen to being locked in, NT Cricket chief executive Joel Morrison confirmed they've also had discussions with Warner to play in "Northern Territory's version of the Big Bash".

Cricket Australia's sanctions for Bancroft, Warner and Steve Smith for their part in the Cape Town ball-tampering incident in March prevent them from playing international and Australian domestic cricket, but do permit them to play club cricket.

A short spell in the country's northernmost capital city would give Bancroft and/or Warner vital match-practice during their respective nine- and 12-month suspensions from the Newlands incident, which has seen both players lose overseas playing contracts.

Despite CA's sanctions allowing the players to feature in overseas domestic leagues, Warner's multi-million-dollar Indian Premier League deal was cancelled, as was Bancroft's contract with English county side Somerset. 

Warner hosted a clinic in Darwin over the weekend ahead of a trip to Arnhem Land and was spotted at local side Tracy Village's ground on Saturday casting an eye over former NSW teammate Jake Doran, who is playing for the club and who’s also set to be involved in the Strike League in July. 

Morrison said the league, which features both T20 and 50-over games, could provide the perfect vehicle for the suspended Test players to begin their returns to top-flight cricket.

"Once the sanctions were handed down by Cricket Australia and the dust had settled, I reached out to Cricket Australia and then the players' managers to give them the opportunity to play some cricket over the winter," Morrison told cricket.com.au on Monday. 

"One of the great advantages we have up here is that we have a winter competition which provides playing opportunities year-round. 

"We offered them the opportunity to help them get back and play … if they wanted to pick up the bat sooner rather than later.

"The opportunity to have the likes of David Warner or Cameron Bancroft, if they're available and willing to play, would be fantastic for us. 

"It's very rare that young players from the Northern Territory get exposed to players like that."

Competition organisers are also hopeful Australia T20 star D'Arcy Short, who grew up in Darwin, and Tasmania’s Jordan Silk will be among the dozen or so interstate players featuring in the four-team tournament.

Asked about Warner's potential involvement, Morrision said: "He does seem interested. Now we've just got to see if the timings align depending on what else he's up to. 

"But he has shown some interest and we'll definitely pick up those conversations."

Darwin is growing as an off-season destination for the country's leading cricketers with its tropical climate meaning cricket can be played in the 'dry season' between April and September.

The remote tropical city last hosted international cricket in 2008 but Australia's Test squad held a nine-day camp there in August last year, featuring an intra-squad clash at Marrara Oval, ahead of their tour of Bangladesh.

"Darwin provides an opportunity to become the winter destination of choice for Australian cricket," said Morrison.

"Whether that's players coming up and playing in our local competition or the Strike League, or having state or Big Bash programs coming up to train over the off-season. 

"The NT provides a 365-day-a-year playing opportunity for teams, with Darwin and Alice Springs having opposite cricket seasons."

New Australia head coach Justin Langer, whose appointment was confirmed last week, said the banned trio would be welcomed back into the national fold as long they can meet the standards of the team.

"One of the key values for me is learning from the past,” Langer said on Thursday.

"When I think about Cameron Bancroft and Steve Smith, they love the game of cricket more than anyone I know and they are great kids. That's why it was a surprise they made the mistake they did. We've all made mistakes.

"David Warner is the same. He's a really great young bloke.

"This will be a really important message - if they are willing to meet the standards of the Australian cricket team, I think everyone has a place."