Warner is an all-time great – but he’s not Australia’s best ever multi-format player


As David Warner reaches the final stages of his career, the accolades are flying thick and fast with the latest plaudit coming from Pat Cummins, calling the opener Australia’s best three-format batter of all time. 

T20s have only been around at international level for a little more than 15 years so it makes it a tight timeframe from the get-go when you are deciding who is Australia’s best all-format player. 

And if you throw in the standard statistical caveat that a player has to have played at least 20 matches in a format to qualify, then there have been only 32 who have hit that benchmark in the T20I arena for Australia.

Many of them were white-ball specialists who played little to no Test cricket so you can wipe out the likes of Aaron Finch, Shaun Tait, Glenn Maxwell, Marcus Stoinis, Adam Zampa, Andrew Tye and David Hussey. 

A best three-format XI on that basis would be:
David Warner
Shane Watson
Steve Smith
Michael Clarke
Travis Head
Mitchell Marsh
Brad Haddin 
Mitchell Johnson
Mitchell Starc
Pat Cummins
Brett Lee

… with no less than Josh Hazlewood, Matthew Wade and Alex Carey running the drinks. 

Cummins on Tuesday said Warner had been a mainstay in all three formats for a long time, a claim that not many international cricketers can make in the modern era.

“Doing it for over a decade, I think his longevity sometimes gets overlooked. Two 50-over World cups, one T20 World Cup and all those campaigns he was front and centre, he was a big reason for it,” said Cummins.

(Photo by Darrian Traynor/Getty Images)

“Then playing over a hundred Test matches puts him in an elite category in basically all three formats. 

“Just his consistency and the bulk of work that he’s been able to achieve, I think he’s our greatest three-format player.”

But there’s a batter who represented Australia in only 15 T20s who has had a far superior career to Warner’s even accounting for the fact that the shortest format only came into effect in the tail end of his playing days. 

Ricky Ponting dominated Test and one-day cricket to an extent where he spent years, plural, as unquestionably the top batter on the planet. 

Ponting won three ODI World Cups and was an integral part of arguably the greatest Test team that has ever dominated the five-day arena. 

He retired with 27,483 runs in Australian colours and while only 401 of them came from T20s, you know he would have been brilliant in the shortest form if he had given it more than a few years’ attention at the end of his career. 

In the very first T20 international against New Zealand in Auckland way back in 2005 when nicknames adorned player’s shirts and Hamish Marshall teased his hair out into an afro which would have made The Hair Bear Bunch proud, Ponting turned on a masterclass of clean hitting. 

He stroked an unbeaten 98 off just 55 deliveries with eight fours and five sixes to show that no matter the format, there was no risk that “Punter” was the surest bet in world cricket. 

Ricky Ponting. (James Knowler/Getty Images)

Warner also has three World Cup trophies (2015 and 2023 in ODIs, plus 2021 in T20s).

Smith is the only other player in the T20 era who could lay claim to rivalling Warner and Ponting for output.

The 34-year-old NSW star has been the best Test batter of his generation but has never dominated the white-ball arena anywhere close to his red-ball supremacy.

Ricky PontingDavid WarnerSteve SmithTests168111104Runs13,37886959472Tons/50s41/6226/3632/40Average51.8544.5858.11Strike rate58.7270.2653.54ODIs375161155Runs13,70469325356Tons/50s30/8222/3312/32Average42.0345.343.54Strike rate80.3997.2687.25T20s159965Runs40128941079Tons/50s0/21/240/5Average28.6432.8825.69Strike rate132.78141.3125.17Total runs27,48318,52115,907

Starc, who like Smith was a member of Australia’s three most recent World Cup wins, is someone to keep an eye on as he’s compiling an impressive record in all three formats.  

He’s up to 651 scalps in international cricket and even though he will turn 34 later this month, the left-armer still has a few good years left in him even though he may shed a format or two in order to lighten his workload. 

Spin king Shane Warne (1001) has Australia’s most wickets when you combine formats even though he never played a T20I with Glenn McGrath (949) and Brett Lee (718) the only others ahead of Starc. 

And of course none of this will concern Warner the slightest as he prepares to pad up in a Test for the final time on his home track, the grand old Sydney Cricket Ground. 

A farewell ton will lift him to 27 alongside Allan Border in eighth spot on Australia’s all-time list while twin centuries would put him into a share of seventh with Michael Clarke. 

If you think Warner has been fortunate to last as long as he has in the Test team due to his on-field production, you’re right – of the 40 top run-scorers last year, he was the only specialist batter who averaged less than 30 with a mark of 28.65 from 20 innings, inflated by his sole century of 164 against Pakistan last month in Perth. 

David Warner. (Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)

In the end, his constant selection could not be blamed on him even if he did declare back in May that he hoped to play on until January if the selectors wanted him to stick around. 

The true test of whether the selectors hung on too long will be revealed in the next couple of months when Australia have just four Tests against the West Indies and New Zealand to bed down a new top order before the marquee five-match series next summer against India. 

There has been a bit of talk around that Warner could be booed by some sections of the ground – that may be the case but the overall goodwill at the SCG towards the polarising veteran will mean the cheers drown out any jeers. 

Warner paid a heavy price for his most glaring blunder – his part in the 2018 Cape Town ball-tampering scandal when he was banned for a year and never allowed to hold a leadership position again. 

For those who still hold onto that moment of madness as a reason to bear a grudge towards Warner, if they’re ever going to let it go, now is that time. 

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