David Warner: From 'sandpapergate' to super send-off in Sydney

The southpaw devised his unique, often radical method to be up there among the top openers for Australia

David Warner: happy to play the 'ugly Aussie'
David Warner: happy to play the 'ugly Aussie'

Gautam Bhattacharyya

Where exactly would you place David Warner in the pantheon of great opening batters in Test cricket, if at all? The challenge certainly becomes more difficult when you consider that Australia itself has boasted so many — Bill Lawry, Bobby Simpson, Geoff Marsh, David Boon, Mark Taylor, Matthew Hayden and Justin Langer among them. 

It’s not that some of these men didn’t adopt radical shot-making, such as think Hayden. It was primarily him and Langer who ushered in a brisk run rate as openers, and were instrumental in seeing Australia pile up 350-plus scores in a day and put opponents under the pump, time and again. No, Warner was not of their class, but the legacy he leaves in the history of the most successful country across formats is second to none. 

As he walked in, along with childhood friend Usman Khawaja, to bat for a potential final innings in his farewell Test to a guard of honour by the Pakistan players in Sydney on Wednesday, the 37-year-old must have felt a sense of gratitude deep down.

‘’It is like a fairytale ending,’’ Warner admitted at a lengthy pre-match press conference where he also confirmed his retirement from ODIs — keeping the window open for the 2025 Champions Trophy provided he is still playing ‘decent’ cricket. 

Such a sign-off would have felt like a long shot for the hard-as-nails Sydney bloke six years back in the wake of 'Sandpapergate' in 2018. It was the only other occasion, barring the last one where he remembered the departed Phil Hughes, that one saw Warner breaking down in public as he admitted in being complicit to roughing up the ball to help the likes of Mitchell Starc extract reverse swing against the South Africans. 

He lost a year thanks to the resultant ban slapped by Cricket Australia, but came back with a vengeance in 2019, though the bigger blow was losing out on a potential captaincy or vice-captaincy. Ever since he took guard for the second time, Warner has endured a mixed run, ending up as the highest scorer for the champions in the recent 50-over World Cup in India, while his consistency of the past was missing in Test matches. 

The Australian cricket culture, unlike in the sub-continent, places no premium on an elder statesman status, and if there are so many survivors of their golden generation from the previous decade, it’s because the cupboard was not exactly overflowing. While Warner announced that the Pakistan Test series at home would be his last during the 2023 Ashes itself, he was at his abrasive best in response to a relevant question.   

"The way I play, and my strike rate (of 70), says it all, I’m not going to be as consistent as everyone else who strikes at 50," he said on Tuesday. “Towards the end of your career with your age, people will say there are youngsters coming through who deserve your spot. Without sounding rude, there are no younger players coming through.

"It’s Cameron Bancroft, who’s played 20 Tests. Marcus Harris has played 20. Matt Renshaw has had a taste. None of them are knocking down the door. These guys waiting in line, we know one of them will be the right person. Which of those three complements the guy at the other end (Khawaja)?” 

That’s the quintessential Warner for you, never shying away from wearing the 'ugly Aussie' tag in the initial years until he mellowed down after his comeback. A 12-year career with 8,695 runs from 111 Tests (ahead of Sydney), with 26 centuries and 335 not out as his highest at an average of 44.6 reflects that he hasn’t done too badly for someone who carved his place in red-ball cricket on the back of his stupendous strike rate in the shorter formats. Speaking of which, his ODI aggregate is 6,932 runs from 161 matches at an average of 45.3.

Long before 'Sandpapergate' erupted, Warner was involved in an infamous bar room brawl with Joe Root during the 2013 ICC Champions Trophy in England after Australia’s defeat in a league game. Difficult to know who provoked whom, but Warner was slapped with a heavy fine of £7,000 after an internal inquiry by Cricket Australia, and missed the rest of the tournament. 

Well, the Warner show with its array of tennis swats, pulls, and lightning-quick singles as if one’s life depended on them will continue for some more time in T20 cricket as well as franchise leagues around the world. Meanwhile, should Australia need someone to deliver a pep talk to the boys ahead of any big challenge in any format, they will not have to look beyond this dyed-in-the-wool Aussie. 

Love him or hate him, you cannot ignore David Warner!

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