David Warner is a cross-format pioneer - England 'poke the bear' at their peril

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David Warner is a cross-format pioneer - England 'poke the bear' at their peril - PA
David Warner is a cross-format pioneer - England 'poke the bear' at their peril - PA

David Warner rarely does anything in half measures. The Australian opener is either belting the ball to all parts or succumbing to Stuart Broad within single figures. After a below-par Indian Premier League earlier this year, which saw him first dropped and then ultimately sacked as captain by the Sunrisers Hyderabad, question marks over Warner’s T20 World Cup spot started surfacing. Foolish, in hindsight. Beginning just days after the IPL had ended, not only did Australia win the thing for the first time but Warner’s wealth of runs at a strike rate just shy of 150 saw him crowned Player of the Tournament. The turnaround was both complete and extraordinarily fast.

“Sport is a great leveller,” Warner told India’s The Economic Times soon after. “And if you are true to the sport and keep working hard, you will always have a second chance.” Second chances, which Warner has seen apply beyond the playing field too.

Having once infamously punched Joe Root outside a nightclub in 2013, by the summer of 2017 Warner had developed into a mature, leading voice in the pay dispute between players and Australian cricket’s governing body. He emerged as a strong, considerate leader, unafraid to stick his head publicly above the parapet. Soon after Warner, who grew up on a housing estate, spoke of ambitions to enter politics once his on field career had ended. Less than a month later, however, and once again Warner had turned full circle, identified as the brains behind the sandpaper ball-tampering affair during Australia’s tour of South Africa.

As the various punishments were handed down, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Warner had been the captain in charge at the time, with his the most severe. While both Smith and Warner were banned from cricket for a year, Smith was able to return to a leadership position 12 months thereafter. Warner, by contrast, was not to be “considered for team leadership positions ever again.”

It’s an inconsistency which has reared its head recently with Smith having just been named Pat Cummins’ vice-captain. For Warner, there is no such hope, something which has drawn the ire of both Shane Warne and former Australia captain Ian Chappell. Both are aggrieved at how the man who was ultimately in charge should now be treated so differently, and preferably, to the man who wasn’t.

Australia batsman David Warner reacts as England bowler Stuart Broad celebrates his wicket - Getty Images
Australia batsman David Warner reacts as England bowler Stuart Broad celebrates his wicket - Getty Images

It suits England, however, rather well. Because Warner’s captaincy record, although limited to white-ball cricket, is a stellar one. Of the twelve matches he has captained Australia, his side lost just one. At Sunrisers Hyderabad he was a fan favourite and effective leader, guiding the franchise to their maiden title in 2016. Lucky for England then that the man who has “probably got the best cricket brain in the [Australian] team”, according to Warne, has no prospect of using it in a leadership role.

Nevertheless, Warner’s resilience remains. “Success and failure doesn’t change him,” one close friend said of Warner’s rollercoaster last few years. “For anyone else [the sandpaper affair, and his individual villainisation] would have broken them.”

So even though Stuart Broad may have dominated Warner in the 2019 Ashes, dismissing him seven times in 10 innings, the likelihood is it won’t be at the forefront of Warner’s mind as he walks to the middle of the Gabba later this week. This is a man who can weather it all, off the pitch or on it, and across all formats too. Warner made his T20I debut for Australia two months before his maiden First Class game for New South Wales. And while he was expected to become the archetypal early T20 cricketer, more brawn than brain, that resilience and adaptability allowed Warner to develop instead into one of the few cricketers where recent form in other formats might actually be reliably projected onto a Test series.

For Warner is arguably the cross-format pioneer. Most others' transferrable skills, by contrast, are either a wishful fantasy or have proven how hard the task actually is. Think of a Liam Livingstone, say, or a Jason Roy. Cross-format, cross-continents and cross colleagues – Warner is an easy pick for the pantomime villain, the man England loves to hate. Hate him, however, at your peril; as Australia’s T20I captain Aaron Finch said after their recent World Cup win, writing David Warner off is like "poking the bear". In essence, don’t.

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