Main character energy with villainous synergy: Deciphering David Warner and his pitch for greatness despite the headlines
His talent was obvious from the outset; there he was in the summer of 2009, a freshly faced 22-year-old making his international debut without having represented his state, the first Australian to do so since 1877.
He had to be destined for greatness – here he was already setting a new record and he had not even put bat to ball.
“You’ve been warned… you’ve been Warnered! This bloke is here to stay”, bellowed an ecstatic Michael Slater in commentary as young David Warner blasted a hapless South Africa to all parts of the MCG in that fateful T20 game that would set the scene for all his future exploits with the bat.
It was not just any old South African attack he plundered that day – this bowling line-up featured Jacques Kallis, Makhaya Ntini and prime Dale Steyn coupled with the wily spin of Johan Botha.
Yet Warner was unperturbed by the glittering prowess of that star-studded Proteas outfit – instead, he showed the highest disrespect by dismantling their bowlers to every inch of the ground on that balmy night.
The cricket world was put on notice to witness this pocket dynamo unleash his devastating array of shots to announce his arrival on the international stage.
He would remain as just another entertaining white-ball player we all thought. But no, here he was again less than three years later making his Test debut, and thus began one of the most controversial and drama-filled cricketing careers of the modern era.
It always felt like he was hungry and wanting more, and apart from it being bucketloads of runs even he was not sure what else it was that he really wanted from this game that had already given him and his young family so much.
It is hard to know where one really sits with David Warner as a cricketer and as a bloke.
It appears every argument you can find in favour of liking him is met equally with a counterpunch that successfully negates all the positive things he has done for the game.
His fans and haters are locked forever in a debate about his place in the pantheon of all-time great players and it is not about to abate any time soon.
He is the best all-format batter Australia’s ever had, the starry-eyed fans say. Yeah, but unpack his red-ball career in detail and you will find some lopsided numbers, the geeky cricket nerds say.
He has 26 Test match hundreds and is only second to Ricky Ponting for most international career runs across all formats, the fans retort.
Okay, but a whopping 20 of them were scored on home soil on placid pitches against timid opponents, and he has never made a Test ton in England, India, New Zealand, Sri Lanka and the West Indies.
Quality over quantity is what determines a great, the smug critics reply.
Fine, but you cannot deny that he was amazing to watch when in full flow, he has scored a hundred in a session – and what about that triple ton and double ton in sweltering heat in the Boxing Day Test?
They must count for something? He cannot be an average cricketer when he has achieved incredible feats like that.
He deserved a proper send-off, the fans claim. Um, ball-tampering scandal anyone? It is here where the critics often have the last laugh.
On and on it goes. However, when this elephant in the room is mentioned – Warner’s conduct as a bloke which culminated from that tumultuous chapter in his career – suddenly the fans look to the floor and sheepishly grimace at the uncomfortable memory of that dark time in Australian cricket. Still, they do not give up.
Everyone makes mistakes, they say. Warner is not the first Australian or international cricketer to cheat or bring the game into disrepute.
What about Trevor Chappell, Mark Waugh, Hansie Cronje, Shahid Afridi and Imran Khan? They have all done dodgy things too and were still hailed as greats.
Imran Khan used to wear his wedding ring during play and subtly rotated the small protruding diamond piece on it inwards to his palm so that he could scuff the ball innocuously to avoid the umpire’s watchful eye.
The Pakistani legend went on to become a prime minister for his country too. So really, what is all the fuss – ball tampering is not the worst crime a cricketer can commit, so surely we can forgive him?
We can, the haters say, however, most cricketers who have made ill-advised decisions that go against the game’s sacred values and spirit often later admit their faults and atone for them.
They own up and tell their fans that they a made an honest mistake and vow to be better. Steve Smith did that. Hansie Cronje did too. The late great Shane Warne was probably the best at it, and he has been caught doing plenty of silly things throughout his career.
Yet an omnipresent ambiguity and uneasy silence surrounds Warner’s inability to elaborate more about what really happened during ‘Sandpapergate’, as though he is doing his best to sweep it all under the rug.
Look, just focus on my cricket, Warner remarks. We are and we want to, however, his off-field drama continues to be as loud as his roar upon celebrating yet another swashbuckling, high-octane hundred. Just read or listen to what Mitchell Johnson has to say.
As he exits the Test match arena for the final time, purists and genuine lovers of the red-ball game truly do wonder how they will remember this entertaining yet divisive and antagonistic cricketer.
The David Warner we see now at the end of his 112 Test caps is a far cry from the aggressive, angry young man who was coined as the ‘attack dog’ of his team for so long, sledging and fighting his opponents with such fervour that he earned his nickname as the ‘Bull.’
He is now a mellowed-out, smiling and relaxed father of three who enjoys making dance videos on TikTok and Instagram to entertain his vast swathe of Indian fans.
You almost wonder how you could even dislike this bloke in the first place.
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Legend or not, David Warner was a cricketer who constantly made headlines wherever he went. Be it on the field or off it, you had to admire his raw hitting ability and penchant for rapid run-scoring.
Every fielding side would breathe a huge sigh of relief if he was dismissed early, and that is how you knew he was respected for his talents with the willow.