David Warner looks set to be given the fairytale hometown Test send-off he craves, despite fierce criticism from former team-mate Mitchell Johnson for his part in the sandpaper scandal and for having a “tailender’s average” in recent years.
Warner has previously laid out plans to retire from Test cricket at his home ground, the Sydney Cricket Ground, in the third Test against Pakistan next month, despite averaging 26.7 in his past 36 Test innings.
On the back of a strong performance in their World Cup triumph, Warner has been named in Australia’s squad for the first Test of the series against Pakistan at the Gabba, and looks certain to play all three Tests, which could provide him with a Steve Waugh-style send-off at the SCG.
He has, however, been on the end of a vicious lashing from Johnson, a long-time team-mate, in a column in the West Australian.
“It’s been five years and David Warner has still never really owned the ball-tampering scandal,” Johnson wrote. “Now the way he is going out is underpinned by more of the same arrogance and disrespect to our country.
“As we prepare for David Warner’s farewell series, can somebody please tell me why?
“Why a struggling Test opener gets to nominate his own retirement date. And why a player at the centre of one of the biggest scandals in Australian cricket history warrants a hero’s send-off?
‘As if he was bigger than the game’
Johnson continued: “Warner certainly isn’t Australia’s Test captain and never deserved to be for that matter. In fact, he ends his career under a lifetime leadership ban.
“Yes, he has a decent overall record and some say is one of our greatest opening bats. But his past three years in Test cricket have been ordinary, with a batting average closer to what a tailender would be happy with.
“It’s the ball-tampering disgrace in South Africa that many will never forget. Although Warner wasn’t alone in ‘Sandpapergate’, he was at the time a senior member of the team and someone who liked to use his perceived power as a ‘leader’.
“Does this really warrant a swansong, a last hurrah against Pakistan that was forecast a year in advance as if he was bigger than the game and the Australian cricket team?
“Granted he made his double century against South Africa at the MCG last summer, but they were the only runs he had scored in years. Leading into this year’s Ashes series that was the only time he had reached 50 in his previous 17 Test innings.”
Bailey on Johnson: ‘I hope he’s ok’
Johnson also rounded on selector George Bailey, another former team-mate. All three men were part of the Australia side in an unforgettable Ashes whitewash a decade ago, and the World Cup in 2015.
“When then-captain Tim Paine’s career was ending over the sexting controversy, chairman of selectors George Bailey said he didn’t want to be part of deciding Paine’s fate because the pair were close friends,” Johnson wrote.
“Bailey said he would leave it to then coach Justin Langer and fellow selector Tony Dodemaide to work it out.
“The handling of Warner in recent years, who played with Bailey in all three forms, raises the question of whether Bailey was simply too quickly out of playing and into the job and too close to some of the players.
“I also wonder what the role of the head selector is these days. It seems to have moved to be a part of the inner sanctum rather than standing aside from it. There’s now throwdowns for the players, golfing together and celebrating wins to all hours.”
Johnson’s comments were put to Bailey, who said “I’ve been sent little snippets of it. I hope he’s okay”.
Bailey defended Warner’s place in the squad.
“Ultimately, we still think he’s in our best 11 players to win the first Test,” he said. “There’s [World Test Championship] points on the line for each and every game. So our focus is very much on picking the 11 that we think can do the job and obviously there’s roles within that for each individual and how that actually structures up the team as a whole and we think David is the right person for that for this Test.”