Dave Warner: Australia still divided over legacy

David Warner stands on field facing the crowd
Image caption,David Warner’s colourful Test career is at an end

By Phil Mercer

At the Sydney Cricket Ground

Combative, prolific, and polarising. David Warner is without doubt one of Australia’s most controversial and dogged cricketers, who is playing in his 112th and final Test against Pakistan in Sydney.

In 2018, he was suspended from international competition for a year by Cricket Australia, the governing body, over his involvement in the sandpapergate ball-tampering scandal in South Africa with teammates Steve Smith and Cameron Bancroft. Warner was stripped of the Test team’s vice-captaincy and banned from leadership roles for life.

It was a sporting wildfire that seared a nation.

Some Australian fans have never forgiven him, but others believe the aggressive left-handed batsman has served his time and has atoned.

“People get into him for cheating. The fact is that a lot of guys have done it. A ban to anyone in the prime of their career is massive and what he’s done since he’s been back is sensational,” former Australian bowler Merv Hughes told the BBC at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG).

“He’s a good fella. He has been very good for a very long time.”

Warner has always been in the headlines for both his triumphs and troubles. He made history on his international debut in 2009, becoming the first man to represent his country without playing a single match in the Sheffield Shield, the national state-based league. Four years later, he was sanctioned for punching England’s Joe Root in an altercation at a bar in Birmingham.

“The junkyard dog I used to call him,” said Hughes. “He’d sit behind the fence and bark a lot and if you jumped the fence he’d rip your leg off.”

His powerful batting has resembled that of a baseball slugger, allowing his career to flourish across three formats of the game. He plans to continue to play in global T20 competitions, but as he says goodbye to Test cricket and one-day internationals, Warner’s role in the ball tampering saga still lingers.

Bernadette Hicks
Image caption,Bernadette Hicks has mixed feelings

“My opinion of him did go down significantly during that time and I have to be honest and say it hasn’t come back to what it was,” explained Bernadette Hicks, who’d travelled from the Blue Mountains west of Sydney for Warner’s farewell Test.

“He is a very polarising character but regardless of what you think of him, his cricket is good. He’s had his ups and downs, but he’s always come back.”

Other fans told the BBC that they, too, can’t forgive or forget Warner’s involvement in the ball tampering affair at Newlands in Cape Town in March 2018.

“I didn’t watch [cricket] for two years. It was pretty painful at the time… but I came back to the fold after a little while,” said fan Terry Dumbleton from Sydney. “I’ve almost forgiven him. I don’t think he should have got back in the team but he is a great cricketer.”

Warner apologising in tears for his role in the 2018 ball-tampering scandal
Image caption,Warner apologising in tears for his role in the 2018 ball-tampering scandal

The 37-year-old was simply too good to cast aside when his ban ended though; at its best his batting was explosive, his slip-catching unwavering and his fielding flawless. He has no clear-cut successor, although Cameron Bancroft, another rehabilitated member of the Sandpaper Three, has been in good form.

“Cam’s done well. He’s a lovely guy, came to Durham for a couple of years. The way he’s been playing this year he probably deserves the chance,” said Sir Ian Botham, who is on commentating duties at the SCG.

The England legend told the BBC that David Warner, along with Bancroft and Steve Smith, who has reclaimed his place in the Test team, deserve second chances.

“At the end of the day, do the crime, (he) did the time and on you move. You’ve got to be pretty special to come back from that but then again, so is Steve Smith. They’ve done their time. Get on with it.”

Warner appears unapologetic for his part in a seismic event that rattled Australian cricket. He told ESPNcricinfo that: “reflecting back on that whole period, my whole career, I have got no regrets because you are going to have a lot of hurdles you are going to have to jump. But you have to move forward and I have done that with dignity…making sure that I gained the respect back but making sure I am putting Australian cricket first.”

Jack Sparrow
Image caption,Jack Sparrow says Warner’s absence will be felt

So, is there finally redemption for David Warner? Typically, opinion is split.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Jim Maxwell, the king of the cricket commentators, believes the batsman remains burdened by the scandal.

“I think it lives with him, unfortunately,” he told the BBC. “But hopefully [England fans] will remember him as a wonderful competitor, someone they love to hate. David Warner has always been a combative figure, somewhat controversial but perhaps a bit more maligned than he should be.”

But to his die-hard admirers, Warner’s sins of the past have been washed away.

“He’s Australia’s most prolific opener. http://horeoraduwe.com/ He’s aggressive, passionate, reformed and an icon,” said Jack Sparrow, a supporter who had travelled 2,000kms (1,243 miles) from Townsville in Queensland for the SCG Test. “He’s paid his dues and he’d bounced back well.”

“I think we’re really going to miss him.”

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