Cricket can be a greatly unforgiving game. But it also gives opportunities to stand back up after pushing one down.
In March 2018, David Warner was perhaps the most mocked cricketer on social media. The Australian opener’s involvement in the ball-tampering scandal in South Africa and his naming as the ringleader of the whole plot had not gone down well with the cricket fraternity. His apologies were scoffed at. His tears were ridiculed.
His punishment – a one-year ban from international cricket – was seen is being too mild. He deserved to be banned from the game, they said.
Warner hung his head in shame, accepted his punishment and stayed away from the scene. A mistake had been made. It was time for quiet repentance.
Then, from late last year, we began hearing snippets of Warner’s performances in club-level cricket. He was doing good, apparently. But most fans weren’t ready to welcome him back yet.
Warner slogged on.
In the Indian Premier League (IPL) 2019, David Warner was brought back to his franchise, the Sunrisers Hyderabad, after a gap of one season.
And it was like he never left.
Warner turned out to be the season’s highest scorer with 692 runs in 12 matches at an average of 69.20 with 1 hundred and 8 fifties. The runs were flowing smoothly from the left-hander’s bat. And he soaked in all the adulation the Indian fans showered on him.
The ICC World Cup 2019 in England was Warner’s much-talked-about return to international cricket. While his form in the IPL was scintillating, performing at the biggest stage of the World Cup was not to be an easy endeavor.
It didn’t help that the venue was England – where crowds love to hate Warner.
He has been greeted with vociferous boos by the English crowds wherever he has gone. But Warner has dug in and let his bat do the talking. It hasn’t been easy, mind you. He has been scratchy initially and struggled whenever there has been seam movement or when balls have been bowled at his body. But scores of 89*, 56, 107 and 166 have shown that Warner is getting there.
The unbeaten 89 he scored was against Afghanistan – it was a tentative and tepid knock but it got the job done as he helped his team chase down a target of 207 with ease. He fell for just 3 against the West Indies, slamming it straight to backward point. Warner’s next was a scratchy 56 off 84 balls against India at The Oval. He struggled for large parts of the innings with timing and placement as the Indian bowlers bowled straight to him. But he still hit some decent shots in that knock which would have kept his confidence intact.
It was his 107 against Pakistan at Taunton, though, which will give Warner the biggest high – much higher than the jump he made after reaching his hundred. It was his 15th ODI century and undoubtedly one of the most significant ones of Warner’s career.
“[The hundred] obviously was a long time coming,” Warner said at the post-match presentation where he was adjudged the Man-of-the-Match. “Against Afghanistan, I felt like I had no rhythm.
In the next game [West Indies], obviously, got one that sort of kicked off a wicket, but I was a bit lazy.
And in the last game [India] they bowled really straight to me. But to come out here and play the way that I know I can play was awesome.”
David Warner followed that hundred with a spectacular 166 off 147 balls against Bangladesh at Nottingham. It was another unusual Warner knock – he started off slow, looked frustrated at times in the middle and then, after reaching his hundred, unleashed the beast mode in him finally.
This performance will give David Warner immense satisfaction, albeit it came on a belter of a track and against a mediocre bowling lineup. He made his effort and struggle in the middle count and converted his hundred into a big one.
On the back of these quality efforts, Warner is now the leading run-scorer of World Cup 2019 with 447 runs in 6 matches at an average of 89.4.
So will David Warner be back to his best now?
Not yet, one would think. He is still some distance from attaining the form he had at his best and being accepted by the cricketing community. But little, yet significant steps have been taken towards that goal. The knock at Taunton, where he drove freely and smashed the short balls, would keep him in good stead. That the Pakistani contingent of the crowd welcomed and cheered him at the boundary would have helped immensely too.
The knock against Bangladesh allowed him to be free and aggressive towards the end, giving us a glimpse of the old Warner.
Steve Smith, the other Australian who was caught and punished with Warner in the ball tampering scandal, would perhaps be a little relieved now. Both of the players were served equal punishments, but it was Warner who was rebuked and mocked much more; perhaps as a result of his on-field persona which at times is taken as boorish.
But with Warner slowly making his way back, much as Smith has in the World Cup, things should get better for the duo if they quietly go about scoring runs and stay away from anything untoward. Because come the Ashes in England later this year, they would have to face much worse.
For David Warner, there is a lot to prove still. There are plenty of games remaining in the World Cup and he has to help his team in defending their crown. You can almost sense the quiet and steely resolve in his eyes.
He isn’t the Warner of the old. He is a changed man.
Determined, but a little staid. And out for redemption.
And that is perhaps what makes him dangerous. Very dangerous.