Usman Khawaja defends 'hero' David Warner after Mitchell Johnson blasts Australia send-off plan

Partnership: Usman Khawaja and David Warner (Getty Images)
Partnership: Usman Khawaja and David Warner (Getty Images)

The row in Australian cricket over David Warner’s planned farewell is rumbling on, with Usman Khawaja leaping to his opening partner’s defence after Mitchell Johnson claimed his former team-mate is not deserving of a “hero’s send-off”.

Warner announced earlier this year that he intends to retire from Test cricket following the upcoming series against Pakistan and has been named in a 14-man squad, with the New Year's Test at his home Sydney Cricket Ground earmarked for his final game.

However, the 37-year-old’s form in red-ball cricket has dropped off badly in recent years and many in Australia have questioned why the series is not being used to blood one of his potential successors.

Former fast-bowler Johnson went further in a scathing column last week, claiming Warner had “never really owned” his part in the 2018 ball-tampering scandal, for which he and Steve Smith served one-year bans.

“Davey Warner and Steve Smith are heroes in my mind," Khawaja said. "They missed a year of cricket through dark times in Australian cricket but they have paid their dues.

"No one is perfect. Mitchell Johnson isn't perfect. I am not perfect. Steve Smith is not perfect. David Warner isn't perfect. What they have done for the game and to grow the game far outweighs anything else they have done.

"So for [Johnson] to imply that Dave Warner or anyone else involved in [the] Sandpaper [incident] is not a hero, I strongly disagree with because I believe they have paid their dues.”

There was heavy scrutiny of Warner’s place at the top of the order heading into this summer’s Ashes series, during which he averaged only 28.5 in ten innings, comfortably the lowest of any opener on either side.

The veteran did enjoy a productive home summer 12 months ago, when he made a double-hundred against South Africa at the MCG, but, writing in The West Australian, Johnson insisted Australia ought to move on.

"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?

"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?”