When he first emerged, David Warner was meant to be nothing more than a T20 slogger. Six years on he is changing the rules of modern batting
On January 12, 2009 I was driving on Anzac Parade, a long road running south out of Sydney's CBD. The SCG passed by on the left and the wealthy seaside dwellings of the Eastern Suburbs were skirted at a safe distance as the car arrived in the working-class enclave of Matraville. It's hardscrabble there. To the east is Maroubra beach. Outsiders surf the waves at their own peril for the Bra Boys are territorial and violent. Graffiti on an outflow pipe and the cliffs announces this area is for "locals only". To the west are the industrial container terminals of Botany Bay and low-flying planes landing at Mascot airport.
Matraville is an odd space, caught in the middle, a former soldier settlement that's too far from the beach, too far from town and too down at the heel to have been caught up by the gentrification along the rest of the Eastern Suburbs. This pocket between the jail, the rifle ranges, the beach and the docks remains flint-eyed, wary and waiting for something better to happen.
The day previous stirred strange. Australia, in the grip of summer, headed to the beaches in search of relief but the sea was not in the mood for entertaining. Surf lifesavers on the Gold and Sunshine Coasts dragged 43 struggling people from rips. On an isolated beach in New South Wales (NSW), a man had been knocked off his motorbike and sucked out to sea. Down in Tasmania a five-metre white pointer shark attacked a young girl. At the Melbourne Cricket Ground a similar fury was about to unleash itself.
On the evening of January 11, weary Australians had retreated from the heat and sprawled in their lounges. There was a T20 on and a rising sense that this new format has something to offer in the dimming space between afternoon and bed, a zephyr of distraction from the long days of Tests and 50-over cricket. The Australian team was in an interesting space itself, as big names had left in recent summers and others struggled to replace them. Matthew Hayden had battled through the summer and would retire in days. Only Ricky Ponting, the hairy-armed Tasmanian, remained, a gently fading reminder of better times.
Private schoolboys have rarely done well in Australian cricket, but the narrative of a Sydney poor boy blasting his way onto the national stage was a neat fit for the news cycles
Selectors had taken a punt and looked to a 22-year-old New South Welshman to have a crack at opening in the T20. David Warner was the first Australian in 132 years to debut in the national side without playing a first-class game. He was the first to leapfrog traditional pathways and drop straight into this newfangled format. For that alone he was a curiosity.
Warner had been prominent as a young cricketer, competing for places in age sides with the likes of Usman Khawaja, Phillip Hughes, Steven Smith and Sam Robson. Warner played Under-19s for Australia, but if you suggested to anybody at that point he was the man to fill Hayden's enormous shoes they would have suggested you had been in the sun too long. NSW didn't consider him good enough to include in their Sheffield Shield team.
Warner changed everything that night at the MCG. In the space of 43 balls he became the poster boy for cricket's next generation, and that's why I joined a procession of news crews headed for Matraville. A star was born that night and his origins needed establishing. We were the not-so-wise men searching for a stable and manger - an apartment and a manager. The car eventually pulled up outside a commission estate built by the government for low-income workers in recent decades. It's clean, modest and unthreatening mid-density public housing. Inside one of the apartments Warner's parents, his brother and a girlfriend were offering hospitality and biographical details about young David, who, at that stage, still lived at home. Private schoolboys have rarely done well in Australian cricket, but the narrative of a Sydney poor boy blasting his way onto the national stage was a neat fit for the news cycles.
Born of the short game: Warner was discovered via T20 and the IPL but those who knew him well were certain he would be explosive in the long form as well
Born of the short game: Warner was discovered via T20 and the IPL but those who knew him well were certain he would be explosive in the long form as well © AFP
Nearly 40 years ago a band called Dave Warner's From the Suburbs had done the rounds. A wisecracking musician, that Dave Warner had a song called "Suburban Boy" that went:
I'm just a Suburban Boy, just a Suburban Boy
And I know what it's like
To be rejected every night
At times, Dave Warner from the suburb of Matraville had reason to sing the same song. Howard and Lorraine ̶ dad and mum ̶ nursed a framed photo of a young Warner for photographers, the television on in the background replaying the innings, their pride obvious and enormous, but their expectations modest. "I think he'll wear the baggy green within two to three years ̶ although I told him he wouldn't play for Australia for another four years, so he might prove me wrong again," Howard said, a plain-talking, no-nonsense Australian swollen with pride for his son.
When it was pointed out he was yet to play first-class cricket for NSW there was some uncomfortable shifting in their chairs. Resentful sentences were started but not finished for it wasn't the right time and it was important to not lose sight of the fact that at that moment in 2009 everyone was hungry for the romance.
He was the first to leapfrog traditional pathways and drop straight into this newfangled format. For that alone he was a curiosity
"I wouldn't say we were poor, we grew up in government housing where people can have something like a 99-year lease at an affordable rent, I think because their income was low enough to qualify for that," Warner tells me when we speak soon after the Australia-India summer series. "The rent wasn't a lot but basically Dad's work paid the rent and Mum's fortnightly pay covered groceries, school fees, books and the other things. We didn't have a lot of spare money for family holidays and that stuff, but we lived a good life. To be honest we didn't miss out on anything, we had a lot of friends in the area, there were always kids around to play cricket and football with. It was a good upbringing."
Warner didn't qualify for membership of the Bra Boys and managed to stay out of trouble by concentrating on sport.
"There was violence here and there," he recalls. "One day in the '90s a guy got murdered out the front of our house. We didn't hear it but we saw the body lying there and the police came round."
Australia's the sort of country where all but the totally dispossessed live in relative comfort. Warner didn't have the best equipment, but he got by. An uncle helped out and when older brother Steve won a bat it did the younger sibling for a few seasons.
"I really knew how to look after a bat in those days," Warner says. "Things are different these days. I carry a heap of them around."
With mum Lorraine at the SCG after the Ashes whitewash in 2014
© Getty Images
With mum Lorraine at the SCG after the Ashes whitewash in 2014 © Getty Images
There were no luxuries like pocket money, so Warner got a job packing boxes at the local supermarket as a teenager.
Warner doesn't live at home anymore. He recently bought a multimillion-dollar coastal home that was once rented to Kylie Minogue and even used as the setting for the popular reality show Geordie Shore Down Under. It's a million miles from the Matraville housing estate but not that far on the map, a suburb or three at best. His parents have moved into a luxury apartment bought for them by their son.
None of them, however, have moved far from that small apartment. That night at the MCG changed everything and nothing for David Warner. The Matraville boy is not keen on compromise: if the ball is there to be hit he hits it, the same when it comes to an Englishman's chin.
He is wired different, Greg Chappell says. It is what makes him great and grating. He retaliates first. It's what allows him to take games away in the opening half-hour and it's what sees him get into trouble.
The night that changed it all
Over 60,000 showed up to see Australia take on South Africa on the night Warner made his debut. Not many in Victoria had heard of him and down there they just rolled their resentful eyes at the thought of another New South Welshman given a chance in the national team. They say there that when you debut for NSW you get your blue state cap and a baggy green at the same time. The irony was that Warner couldn't get to the blue. This probably infuriated Victorians even more.
Australia's the sort of country where all but the totally dispossessed live in relative comfort. Warner didn't have the best equipment, but he got by
Warner, Smith, Hughes and Khawaja were granted rookie contracts that summer by the proud cricket state. The NSW squad was frighteningly formidable: Doug Bollinger, Nathan Bracken, Michael Clarke, Stuart Clark, Brad Haddin, Nathan Hauritz, Simon Katich, Brett Lee, Phil Jaques and Stuart MacGill were all on the list and had played or were playing Test cricket. Ed Cowan and Moises Henriques, like the four rookies, would have to wait a few years yet. You can see why Victorians get so annoyed.
For some reason there was a lot of resistance to Warner at NSW. He was given the odd 50-over match as a middle-order batsman, but he felt overlooked by the state hierarchy. Even getting him to the top of the order in one-day matches in 2009 proved a battle for captain Dominic Thornely.
"They told us he was a middle-order batsman, but I had been around NSW for a while and was keen on keeping the success we had in the past with people like Phil Jaques and Simon Katich," Thornely recalls. "Phil Hughes was around, but he was almost like your banker. He was going to get you plenty of runs but he probably wasn't going to get them at a rapid rate.
"Every time this young bloke Dave came up against the quicks in the nets he had an ability to pick up the length early and whack the ball in different spots. He wasn't huge on footwork, but at his height [5ft 6in] he didn't have to be, and he didn't play spin anywhere near as well as fast bowling. I needed someone who could play a few shots against the quicks at the start and I said to the selectors, 'If you are going to pick Warner I am going to open with him'. They were against that, they said they wanted him at six or seven."
First-class Ltd: Warner's approach to batting remains the same regardless of the format, but over the years he has come to realise the difference between good hitting and good batting
© Getty Images
First-class Ltd: Warner's approach to batting remains the same regardless of the format, but over the years he has come to realise the difference between good hitting and good batting © Getty Images
Captain and selectors didn't agree but when they picked Warner, Thornely put him in to open. The new kid neither succeeded nor failed at first attempt, but in the following game, at Sydney's Hurstville Oval, Thornely's hunch paid off. Big time. Tasmania made 246 batting first. Warner and Hughes walked to the middle and tore the bowling apart, hitting 152 in under 22 overs before Hughes was removed. Warner kept going and was unbeaten on 165 from 112 balls. He'd hit nine sixes and 19 fours against a bowling attack featuring Ben Hilfenhaus, Xavier Doherty and Brett Geeves. Warner's six to seal the win broke Rick McCosker's NSW-record high of 164 set in 1981-82. The Blues chased down the total in 34.4 overs (the game was reduced to 45 overs).
NSW played Tasmania again the week after that chase and Warner made 97 before falling leg before to Doherty in the 17th over. "I wasn't out," he says. Like all good batsmen he bears a grudge against a poor decision for a long time. But there is more than just that with Warner. He has an unshakeable faith in himself, at times admirable, but which at others makes him seem surly and immature like a teenager. He is, as anyone who has argued with him will discover, never wrong. If forced to a public act of contrition he will whisper moral relativisms and resentments in private. At the crease this creates a confidence that means he is unflappable, no matter how bad the previous shot or how ordinary his last innings. He knows he is good. In fact, he is fairly sure he is better than anything the game can confront him with. It's a handy mindset for an athlete.
The Matraville boy is not keen on compromise: if the ball is there to be hit he hits it, the same when it comes to an Englishman's chin
NSW played South Australia in the T20 Big Bash at Adelaide Oval a month after that. Shaun Tait opened the bowling, but the fastest man on the planet held little fear for Warner, who hit the third ball he faced from him onto the roof of the grandstand, behind midwicket. The cricket gods were with Warner. Two balls later Tait bowled him but was ruled to have overstepped. Warner shrugged and hit him for another boundary. His 35-ball 65 was enough to convince the national selectors he was worth a try against South Africa at the MCG five days later.
"I got a phone call during the Sydney Test," Warner recalls. "I was out in the backyard playing cricket with the family, running up and down and having some fun. I missed the call but it was some bloke called Michael Brown who left a message saying he had some good news and I needed to call him back. I had no idea who he was."
Michael Brown was the general manager of cricket operations at Cricket Australia, second to chief executive James Sutherland.
"I rang him back and he explained who he was and that they wanted me to play in Melbourne and that was that," Warner says.
The cacophony raised by the crowd at the MCG that night was matched only by the voices in the Channel Nine commentary box. Tubby, Slats, Warnie and James Brayshaw made like a row of excited girls at a Beatles concert. "Wow," they screamed collectively as Warner hit Makhaya Ntini over long-on for an enormous six in the third over. "Where's he been?" Taylor asked. "You've been warned," Brayshaw observed, then quipped: "you've been Warnered". Slater dubbed him a "born entertainer". It's fair to say the excitement was not confected.
In pursuit of the baggy green: despite the fame and fortune he earned from the IPL, Warner was always clear that Test cricket was a priority
© Getty Images
In pursuit of the baggy green: despite the fame and fortune he earned from the IPL, Warner was always clear that Test cricket was a priority © Getty Images
Warner hit over midwicket and long-on at will. The ropes were in but he cleared the fences with ease. One flick backward for six had a baffled Taylor examining the replays to discover exactly how a batsman could do that. At first he thought it was a top edge but it turned out it wasn't. Warner had coordinated eyes, wrists and the bat's sweet spot to produce a genuine shot. Taylor had never conceived of such an invention. Cricket was changing fast and Warner was a prophet of the new ways.
"It was an adrenaline thing," Warner says. "I just went out there, it was bizarre, it was loud and as I know now you bat best when you have a clear mind. There were no expectations, there was no pressure, it was my first game, nobody knew who I was and so I went out there and backed myself."
The innings lasted 43 balls, and for the watching public it was an introduction to the genuine possibilities of T20. Warner appeared readymade for the form. Short, a good eye, strong wrists and nerves of steel, it was easy to pigeonhole him. Here was the T20 specialist who would not worry about longer forms. The purists wrung their hands, worried that if this was the template for the future, Test cricket really was in terminal decline.
Warner was made for the emerging Indian Premier League. Indeed he'd been picked up by Delhi Daredevils less than a month before his T20 debut for Australia, around the time Thornely's hunch was proving right. The former India fast bowler and now Daredevils manager TA Sekhar had been in Australia scouting for players. He'd missed out on Moises Henriques, but Peter Lovitt, Henriques' manager, told him not to worry. He had a better one for him. Sekhar travelled to the CA coaching academy in Brisbane to watch Warner bat. He saw him at the Emerging Players tournament as well as the Ford Ranger (50-over) Cup and pounced, signing him for two years. With NSW not keen on his first-class credentials a lot of people wondered why he'd bother serving a Test apprenticeship in the Shield when he was not wanted and the pay was so poor by comparison.
Warner has an unshakeable faith in himself, at times admirable, but which at others makes him seem surly and immature like a teenager
But if you watched Warner's 89 closely you may have noticed him occasionally rehearsing a leave or a defence between balls, almost as if he was sending out a message that there is more to him than this. Microphones were shoved under Warner's nose at every turn after the game and every time he said the same thing. He wanted to play Test cricket. He would play these games and then go back to NSW to earn a place in the Shield side. Most who heard it figured he was mouthing the platitudes expected of every young cricketer, words as hollow as the "primacy of Test cricket" that administrators were so fond of.
If Thornely was Warner's first sponsor, his second was Greg Chappell. Recently returned from a controversial period coaching India, he recognised Warner as a batsman capable of doing in a Test match what he had done at the MCG. In Australia, Chappell moved into a job at the academy as a National Talent Manager and watched Warner closely on his occasional visits. He had missed the innings at the MCG but his wife was one of many glued to their sets that night.
"I was flying to Perth that day and I remember getting off the plane and saw a text message from Judy which said, 'Did you see that?' I didn't see it live, but wasn't surprised by what he was capable of."
Chappell began pushing NSW to give Warner a chance in the Shield but the best minds at the state were convinced he was a short-form slugger.
Davey and Viru: peas in a pod
© Getty Images
Davey and Viru: peas in a pod © Getty Images
"During my first year as head coach of the Centre of Excellence he came up in the winter and I got to see there was something quite extraordinary and needed to be encouraged," Chappell says. "He just needed to have a penny drop about the difference between how you practise to be a good hitter and how you practise to be a good batsman."
In the dying days of the 2008-09 Shield season NSW relented and gave him a game, but had not changed their opinion. The following season he was given just three starts and the same again the next summer.
"I was close to leaving," Warner says. "We speak about how many players who are playing for Australia now started in NSW and moved elsewhere to get a chance. The opportunity you get from moving is fantastic and it is great to see other states backing these players' potential.
"I played about seven or eight one-day games but they wouldn't consider me for the Shield team. They said, 'Score more runs.' I scored something like seven hundreds and a double-hundred in grade cricket and 2nd XI, but I don't know, I just didn't see eye to eye with the coach, I felt like I was an outcast in a way. I found it hard to get along with him."
Warner only stayed when a group, including Khawaja, Hughes and Cowan, left the state and created a space in the side for him.
It's hard to put your finger on exactly what it was that NSW did not like about Warner, and it's hard to shake the idea that they just didn't like the way he went about it. Confident to the point of cocky, he was reverse-engineering cricket: had an IPL contract before he'd played T20 for his country, played T20 for his country before he'd played first-class for his state, belted the ball before he'd block it. The last was something that stuck in many throats and almost tripped up his Test career.
If you watched Warner's 89 closely you may have noticed him occasionally rehearsing a leave or a defence, almost as if he was sending out a message
Behind the scenes there were reservations about the suburban boy and his attitude. Warner should have recognised Michael Brown's name when he called because the year before, the same man had seen him, Mark Cosgrove and Aaron Finch sent home from Australia's cricket academy for repeatedly ignoring warnings to keep their rooms tidy. It was a junior school version of Homeworkgate and cost the trio a chance to play on a tour of India the following month.
But you couldn't change Warner. What you saw was what you got. You could mould the talent and it would be people like Chappell and batting coach Trent Woodhill who understood that, but not everyone else did. Former junior team-mate Max Abbott remembers when a coach thought the batsman hit the ball in the air too often. "He made him bat right-handed for almost a season," he recalls. Sense eventually prevailed, but perhaps the lesson wasn't a complete waste. These days Warner has one of the better switch hits in cricket.
Rejected at home, Warner found believers in the unlikeliest of places. In Delhi during his first IPL season Virender Sehwag offered words of encouragement.
"Sehwag said to me, 'You'll be a better Test player than you are a T20 player' and even I thought that was going a bit far," Warner recalls. "I told him I hadn't played a first-class game but he said to me it didn't matter. He said the way I hit the ball I would score a lot of runs in Test cricket because the fields are up and if the ball is there you just hit it past them or over them. Once you start hitting the ball you have the edge over them."
Dr Jekyll: Warner showed in his Hobart innings against New Zealand that he could also bat circumspectly
© Getty Images
Dr Jekyll: Warner showed in his Hobart innings against New Zealand that he could also bat circumspectly © Getty Images
Chappell, who had observed Sehwag's methods closely during his time as India coach, was of a similar mind. But he became so frustrated with NSW's reluctance, he had Warner picked for an Australia A tour of Zimbabwe to give him some exposure by bypassing the state system.
"He was a project player and one we wanted to fire up if we could, so we spent quite a bit of time with him to get him to understand [the difference between good hitting and good batting]," Chappell says. "So much so that we kicked him out of the nets twice in Zimbabwe."
Warner would have a 20-minute slog at practice out of habit. Used to limited time at club and state practice, he got his eye in and then went for it, slogging everything. Chappell and the Australia A coach Troy Cooley took him aside and told him to use his time better.
"He said, 'Yeah, yeah, yeah', and he went back in the next day and started slogging every ball," Chappell remembers. "I said, 'Righto Dave, that's the end', and he said, 'I have just started', and I said that's the point. 'You haven't started and if you won't do it properly you won't bat at all.' And so he sulked and the next day he went back and did the same thing, so we called him out again and said, 'Mate, you won't get a hit until you start doing it properly.' He started doing it properly and was allowed to finish his training sessions. I think that helped get the message across that if he wanted to be considered for long-form cricket he had to start practising for it and take his talent seriously."
"He cannot be a conventional batsman. If you try and change that you will destroy him"
When Warner wants to, he learns fast and he proved it by making 211 against a Zimbabwe XI in an innings that took nearly eight hours. Chappell recognises that ordinary people are rarely extraordinary.
"I have always found David really good, albeit headstrong, but that's part of his attraction. He's a risk-taker. He doesn't look at the world in the same way we do. He doesn't look at batting the same way we look at it, and that's why he is what he is."
Warner eventually got a chance in the Australian Test side in 2011 as the selectors cast about for openers to fill the void left after the retirements of Hayden and Langer and the axing of Katich. In his second Test he scored a sedate 170-ball century, though Australia lost a thriller to New Zealand. But he revealed the true nature of the beast three games later in belting 180 from just 159 balls against India.
In the following years, he lost his rhythm. He scored a century in the second Test of the 2012-13 home series against South Africa but Chappell believes he started to move away from his natural game after being encouraged to work on his defence.
All up in your grill: Warner is happy to get into confrontations and has his team's backing when he does
© Getty Images
All up in your grill: Warner is happy to get into confrontations and has his team's backing when he does © Getty Images
"He cannot be a conventional batsman. If you try and change that you will destroy him. You have to get him to become a better decision-maker." Warner failed to reach triple figures in his next 23 Test innings, and like the rest of the team he hit his lowest point in India early in 2013. Woodhill was watching from the sidelines with concern. Woodhill was part-time at NSW when Warner began and had made him a personal project. He has stayed in the background as a sounding board ever since. They met at the start of the 2013-14 season at a café in Sydney and got back to their core philosophy: attack balls that are there to be hit and defence will look after itself.
The chat worked. Warner hit three centuries in four 50-over domestic games, including 197 against Victoria, which would be the closest to a List A double-hundred in Australia until July 2014. He began the Ashes with 124 in Brisbane, hit an unbeaten 83 in Adelaide and 112 in Perth. In the following series, against South Africa, he scored 12, 115, 70, 66, 135 and 145. Last summer he wiped the tears from his eyes to open the batting against India in Adelaide. Days earlier he'd been unable to bat in the nets, but in the middle he struck out in grief at the death of his friend Hughes, clubbing the first, fourth and sixth deliveries he faced to the boundary. At the end of the fourth over he was 35, at the end of the 37th he was 100 and India were chasing the match and the series.
Ahead of the 2015 World Cup, the ICC chief executive David Richardson adopted his sternest tone and drew a line in the sand on bad behaviour. "There are a few serial offenders," he said. "You know the names better than I do. And for that kind of behaviour, the message is going out loud and clear that it's not acceptable."
Confident to the point of cocky, Warner was reverse-engineering cricket
Richardson couldn't have been more headmasterly if he had said, "You know who you are" and couldn't have been clearer who he meant if he had held up a picture of Warner. A serial minor offender, Warner is Australia's pit bull, licensed to sledge and intimidate opposition batsmen and bowlers. His aggressive, confrontational behaviour is uncomfortable for many, but is clearly sanctioned by the team hierarchy, who forever go on about knowing where lines are and accepting punishments when they are crossed. For those wondering where the line is, take a look at Warner: he is almost always on it or has just crossed it. England and India have their Warners, but there is something about his pugnacious approach that draws the particular ire of purists.
Abbott, his former junior team-mate, recalls that even as a young player Warner had edginess. "He was always the one to get stuck into the opposition. He did it with the bat, belting them to all parts, and he was like that fielding too. It is the way he is as a person. He feels confident in most situations, he won't back down when attacked, and sometimes it gets him into a bit of trouble, but nothing serious."
Sometimes he can't help himself. His infamous observation during the 2013-14 Ashes about Jonathan Trott looking afraid at the crease was poorly timed but classic Warner. He is no flat-bat diplomat and he proved it again by suggesting that the South Africans had overstepped the line with their ball management in Port Elizabeth. Warner wasn't raised in an environment where you politely ignore an opponent's flaws or failings, and petty fines from officials are not going to stop him.
Warner got into a fracas with Joe Root during Mickey Arthur's tenure as Australia coach: "I think what happened was the last straw for [Arthur] and they used it as a reason to get rid of him"
© Getty Images
Warner got into a fracas with Joe Root during Mickey Arthur's tenure as Australia coach: "I think what happened was the last straw for [Arthur] and they used it as a reason to get rid of him" © Getty Images
Warner took a long time to realise that playing hard on the field was not commensurate with playing hard off it. Single, wealthy and restless, long tours and tournaments drove him to distraction. He was always looking for a way to fill in evenings, pacing corridors, seeking company in hotel bars and enjoying the privileges of being an elite sportsman.
Being sent down from the Institute of Sport was his first clash with cricket authority but far from his last. In early 2013 his career had hit a difficult patch. Runs weren't coming and he'd got away from what made him a good player. Coaches were into his ear about working on defence, but it was a mindset that tripped him up. It was off-field troubles, though, that eventually cost Warner a place in the Test team. It was a bad period for Australian cricket. The side lost 4-0 in India and had been rocked by Homeworkgate, which Warner had managed to sidestep. But he was getting worn down. The side had travelled to India at the end of the home summer; he had stayed on for the IPL and was starting to go stir-crazy.
In the middle of the IPL, Warner launched into an attack that wouldn't be unfamiliar to opposition batsmen. Unfortunately, this time he chose to do it via social media against a pair of Australia's most respected cricket reporters.
"Sehwag said to me, 'You'll be a better Test player than you are a T20 player' and even I thought that was going a bit far"
"It was about 3am and the papers had just come out in Australia and a mate sent me a link to the story about fixing with a picture of me, but nothing about me in the story," he recalls. "You can't do that. People who read a paper look at the headline and the picture and make a link and that really upset me. I admit I had a bit of booze in me, but I was so frustrated. The story was about Sreesanth and his mates fixing, but it looked like it was about me. If I hadn't called that journo an 'old fart' or whatever, I wouldn't have got in trouble."
Warner's heated middle-of-the-night exchange earned him a fine from CA but sent a shiver through the organisation. They were wary of his headstrong ways and worried that one day it could land everybody in serious trouble. A storm was brewing. Things got worse when the caravan moved to England for the Champions Trophy in June and Warner headed out to a famous Australian theme pub in Birmingham with some team-mates after their defeat to England. The opposition were in the same bar and at 1.30am Warner got involved in a scuffle with Joe Root and threw a punch. The matter was kept secret by those involved, but when coach Mickey Arthur found out he placed the batsman on an "amber alert". When Sutherland heard he reacted angrily and demanded Warner be kept out of the next Champions Trophy match and ordered a disciplinary hearing.
"I was in a bad place," Warner says. "I had been in India for 14 weeks and hadn't seen my family and there was a lot of personal stuff going on at home that was causing me a lot of stress and pain. I can't use that as an excuse. That would be a cop-out. That is my stuff to deal with and no excuse for what I did. I was drunk, I didn't like the guy and I might have done what I did anyway. I did the right thing by ringing him, and when we left it everything was fine but someone else got a hold of it and wanted to make some mileage out of it, and you know English journalism."
With partner Candice Falzon and daughter Ivy at Mt Eden, Auckland, during the 2015 World Cup
© Getty Images
With partner Candice Falzon and daughter Ivy at Mt Eden, Auckland, during the 2015 World Cup © Getty Images
Some in the media and the public called for him to be sent home. Instead Warner was suspended until the start of the Ashes, a penalty that meant he missed the tour games and could not be chosen for the first Test. He missed the first two Tests and it was at this stage that people began to ask whether the Matraville boy was too much of a problem child. He had shown hints of brilliance, but not enough consistency. The fallout was greater than anybody suspected. It led directly to Arthur, a great fan of Warner, losing his job as coach.
"I feel bad because it was all around the same time and I think what happened was the last straw for him and they used it as a reason to get rid of him," Warner says. "Obviously there was other stuff they weren't happy about. I have spoken to him and he was understanding. He is a gentleman and says, 'Don't be silly, it has nothing to do with you', but credit to the guy. He is a very, very, very nice man. I owe him a lot."
Warner concedes he was running off the rails in this period, but it is also around this time that he met triathlete Candice Falzon, a down-to-earth girl from Maroubra beach. They fell in love, and her influence has been profound. The disciplines of her sport are far greater than cricket's, or at least cricket the way Warner approached it. She urged him to begin early-morning training sessions with her and change his ways. Her presence curtailed his bar-crawling and come the Australian summer he was as fit and focused as he had ever been. He began the 2013-14 season with a string of domestic one-day failures and quickly began to despair. His mates were telling him to come out, that he always scored runs when balancing a healthy social life with his sport. He was ready to give it up but Falzon begged him to give their new routine one more chance. He scored a hundred next game. And then another and another.
A serial minor offender, Warner is the team's pit bull, licensed to sledge and intimidate opposition batsmen and bowlers
Warner, however, has hardly retreated to a life of modesty and good manners. The various code-of-conduct breaches continue, meaning that he entered the World Cup on threat of another suspension. But you take what you get with Warner, says coach Woodhill.
"It is great to see a young cricketer who doesn't give the press cliché after cliché, one who doesn't leave you to write, 'Another polished innings from David Warner' and 'He is taking it one innings at a time'. It is good to see he has a bit of personality about him and he is an entertainer. You pay money to see these guys play but you want to be entertained."
Blue sky mining
I've spent plenty of years on Warner's trail since that drive to Matraville in 2009 and can vouch that he is not wired like anyone else. Two exchanges in the intervening years stick with me. The first was in South Africa in 2011, when he'd flown to Johannesburg as cover for an injured batsman in the last Test. He was not needed in the match and we spent a few evenings in the bar in reasonable proximity. One evening before the Test ended I spied him carting his gear across the foyer.
"Where you going?" I asked.
"Home, to make some runs," he said.
"See you soon," I replied.
"The next time you see me, mate, I promise you I will be in that Test team," he said.
Not factory-made: Warner did the academy, U-19, A team route, but he was always far too special a player to be held back by selectorial biases
© Getty Images
Not factory-made: Warner did the academy, U-19, A team route, but he was always far too special a player to be held back by selectorial biases © Getty Images
Sure enough he was. We spoke in South Africa again ahead of the 2014 tour and he informed me I better watch him because he was going to score big runs. Turned out he was right again. Later when I noted he had lived up to his word, he said: "You haven't seen anything yet. I got some really big ones coming."
Chappell thinks Warner might be right.
"We have seen his best, but he can show us more of it more often. He will take another step at some stage and I don't think it's far away. He will become more ruthless, he will get some big scores. That will be the difference in the next phase - his brilliant hundreds will become big hundreds and double-hundreds, maybe more."
Whatever comes, Warner, the suburban boy with the big bat and the bigger chip on his shoulder, won't change. He will hit first and ask questions later. Take it but don't leave it. Very few batsmen, especially openers, win games in a session. Warner is one. Sehwag knew that earlier than most. Warner may well become the ICC's poster boy for bad behaviour. He could well be Australia's counterpoint to Virat Kohli. But like Kohli, he too will make Test cricket compelling for a generation wired differently.
Peter Lalor is the chief cricket writer for the Australian @plalor
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