History will judge David Warner more kindly

For someone who came into the spotlight as a T20 specialist, the diminutive southpaw showed remarkable adaptability to become a true great in all formats.
Last Updated : 26 June 2024, 21:12 IST

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Bengaluru: For a career that was defined as much by controversies as superlative batting exploits, it was quite an uneventful conclusion. David Warner, having already retired from Tests and ODIs last year, appeared for Australia for one last time on Sunday against Afghanistan in a Super Eights match of the T20 World Cup.

He was dismissed for an eight-ball three by Mohammad Nabi in a match where Australia botched up the chase and were sensationally dumped out of the tournament. It wasn't the finish Warner would have desired nor was it the ending he deserved. But then there are no fairy-tale endings in sport, only fairy-tale moments. And the southpaw had plenty of them.

Warner, a divisive character, was liked and loathed in equal measure. Not unlike his batting that didn't conform to text-book definition of the craft, he was a rebel who often crossed the line in the sand. Whether it was a drunken brawl with England's Joe Root at a downtown pub in Birmingham or the Sandpaper-gate in South Africa or the numerous other ugly exchanges with rivals, Warner was never too far away from a scrap. While it's unfortunate that Warner's career will remain blemished by such events, he was much more than controversies' favourite child.

For someone who came into the spotlight as a T20 specialist, the diminutive southpaw showed remarkable adaptability to become a true great in all formats. That Virender Sehwag saw a better red-ball batter when Warner hadn't even played a first-class game was prescient but hardly surprising for the Indian opener himself had defied all predictions to succeed in the longest format. So, when Warner finished his Test career last summer with 8786 runs in 112 Tests at a healthy average of nearly 45 (26 hundreds and 37 fifties), Sehwag could have afforded a smile that said, "I told you so."

Warner's nearly 7000 runs in ODIs and 3000-plus more in T20Is are great too but not quite unexpected for he grew up wanting to make a life out of beating the hell out of the white leather. His greatest contribution to the game, however, came as one of Test cricket's finest servants. A posterboy for T20 cricket making it big in Tests carried a significant import for a generation that was fed on a steady diet of the shortest format. T20 cricket's ever growing popularity and instant gratification may still be weaning away the younger lot from red-ball cricket but players like Warner did, and are doing, a lot in slowing that process.    

Warner embodied fortitude like few could -- be it at the batting crease or off it. And fewer would have come back and continued to have the same impact on the game as he did after a morale-shattering Sandpaper-gate. While his culpability in the scandal was obvious, he was made the fall guy. He was more sinned against than sinning. While then skipper Steve Smith and Cameron Bencraft, the co-conspirators, were also handed a year's ban like Warner, the latter was also banned permanently from captaining the National side. Warner wouldn't have minded overlooked for captaincy but the pronouncement had a debilitating effect even on the tough-as-nails indvidual. He had had enough of this "scape-goating." 

"Coming back since 2018 (from the ban) I have probably ... been the only one that's ever copped a lot of flak," Warner said during the course of Australia's T20 WC campaign.

"I've always been that person who has copped it. I always feel like I've taken a lot of pressure off a lot of guys as well and I think understandably, I've been that person to be able to absorb that. But one can only absorb (so much). For me it's great to go out knowing I'm not going to cop it anymore."

Warner also knows the inevitability of Sandpaper-gate being brought up whenever his name crops up for discussion down the years, but he is also at peace with himself in the knowledge that he did something to change Test cricket and that would, hopefully, be acknowledged. 

"For me, if they're real cricket tragics and they love cricket, (as well as) my closest supporters, they will always see me as that cricketer - someone who tried to change the game. Someone who tried to follow in the footsteps of the openers before me and try and score runs at a great tempo and change Test cricket in a way."

Cricket has welcomed back and rehabilitated players who have been punished for corrupt practices. History, therefore, would/should certainly judge Warner more kindly.

Published 26 June 2024, 21:12 IST

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