David Warner trundles through Sydney Airport, wife Candice by his side, as camera flashes blind him. He smiles a touch. Australia has retained the Ashes. Despite being an unimaginable situation six months earlier, Warner endured the series from hell at the top of the order.
Warner’s 95 run return from ten innings was the worst ever return from an opener in Ashes history.
World sport moves faster than Usain Bolt in Beijing 2008, something Warner knows only too well as he went from icon to villain in 2018 thanks to some sandpaper, leaving him at a crossroads at the tail end of 2019.
Disclaimer: this is entirely a stab-in-the-dark, fictionalised, hypothetical analysis. The narratives in this piece are a work of fiction and should not be regarded as factual depictions of those involved.
Trajectory 1: Good
Tuesday 4 August 2020:
Warner is in a horrendous rut and he knows it.
He goes back to his tried and trusted methods; sprinting training for better movement on-field while Candice Warner, a renowned Ironwoman in her own right, oversees a torturous ‘mini-preseason’ ahead of the 2020 World T20 in Australia.
With the added benefits of meditation and embodying a monk and rather than David Boon on the sobriety scale, Australia’s renowned hothead – who once punched English captain Joe Root for impersonating South African Hashim Amla in a Birmingham bar – finds solace in refinement.
No longer cajoled into being the ‘pit-bull’ of the Australian team, Warner focuses on scoring runs. Which he does. Abundantly.
In the format where he made his name, Warner finds comfort in being able to hit a ball a really long way without restraint; he really likes hitting things and Justin Langer is just thankful that this time it’s a cricket ball.
Pakistan is first to endure Warner’s furore as he pummels Shaheen Afridi – Pakistan’s newest fast bowling sensation – into oblivion by taking 26 from an over, on his way to a brisk 59 off 38 balls. Win secured.
It doesn’t stop there. Instead, it only builds as Warner’s simplified mindset has him relaxed at the crease and the West Indies aren’t prepared.
He slashes and drives Oshane Thomas out of the attack after two overs before Rahkeem Cornwall’s ‘off-spin’ (see right-arm darts) are treated with similar distain as Warner nails 88 from 52 balls and Australia seals another win.
But it’s the final against India where Warner delivers his real masterpiece.
Jaspirt Bumrah who had troubled Warner throughout their time together opens the bowling with that unteachable, psychics-defying bended arm action.
It’s Warner’s kryptonite; a bowler able to move the ball off the seam or jag it back in, his movement is never quite there early-on.
Bumrah lands it on a dime, on a fourth stump-line with movement but Warner moves across to smother the movement and strokes it down the ground.
Four runs and Warner is away.
With the crowd on his side once again, he compiles his first international T20 hundred on the biggest stage to a standing ovation. Australia sets India 213 to chase thanks to Warner and an enthralling Glenn Maxwell cameo.
Mitchell Starc loves the occasion and produces three wickets in two overs, including sending Virat Kohli’s stumps cartwheeling.
Trophy secured and Warner is Player of the Tournament. It spurs a terrific two-year period without discretion for the left-hander capped off with another AB Medal as Australia’s finest male cricketer in 2021.
Upon retirement at 34, Warner is remembered as a pioneer for being the first player to make the leap from T20 cricket and assimilate into the Test arena with glowing success. Players who have made the subsequent leap successfully are known as doing a Warner.
Trajectory 2: Bad
Thursday 21 November 2019:
Following the Ashes, Warner is exposed against quality bowling attacks as Pakistan and New Zealand visit Australian shores for the summer.
Warner falls time and time again to a moving ball in and around his off-stump, with New Zealand’s Trent Boult and Tim Southee particularly skilled in extracting movement – even from the Australian pitches, likened to a cement highway.
Warner’s confidence is shot after Neil Wagner joins the party at the SCG for the New Year’s test; third ball in after Tim Paine chose to bat, Warner’s pinned on the crease to a curving Wagner yorker.
He looked to have the line covered but the ball moves late through the overcast conditions and Warner – mind already fried from an exhausting six months – fails to compensate or react, left to watch as his off-stump flies back towards BJ Watling.
The natives are restless. The booing – which has become custom for a Warner dismissal – rings around the SCG as he trudges back towards the pavilion.
Matthew Renshaw has been plundering Sheffield Shield attacks all summer with an array of big booming drives aided by a stout defence. It looks particularly palatable to Australian selectors, who have become dismayed at the chronic early dismissals.
After failing to average double digits in the Ashes – or against Pakistan or New Zealand for that matter – Warner is dropped for Renshaw, leaving him to contemplate a season of watching ‘Cardoons’ on his OLED TV.
With Renshaw and Joe Burns marooning the top order, Warner is showcased in the Big Bash for the Sydney Thunder.
The booing continues as he struggles to find form throughout the tournament.
There are glimpses of potential as Warner strokes 42 off 38 against Hobart but it remains his only double-digit score of the summer and is overshadowed by an extraordinary tirade against Jofra Archer.
Warner at the crease looks like yesterday’s man. As the pantomime villain from Cape Town, the public is distrustful and it shows as he never plays internationally again.
Trapped between his many identities that he’s held during a decade-long career at the top level, it’s like a cricket-version of Split.
No longer wanted as Australia’s attack-dog as Langer embraces a hippy approach to cricket, Warner tries to fashion himself as a peaceful operator but the public doesn’t embrace him the way it once did, unable to forget his antics in South Africa or the Root incident.
Warner retires, the final years of his career blemished by a strained relationship with the fans. A petition is put to Macquarie dictionary, that being a p***k is known as doing a Warner.
Trajectory 3: Likely
Friday 20 March 2020:
David Warner never truly recovers the old magic at test level. With his days numbered to make a living from the sport, he specialises in T20 cricket as Australia ushers in a new era headlined by Matthew Renshaw and Will Pucovski.
The extra time off allows Warner more of what he wants; time at home with his young family rather than living out of a suitcase for the entirety of a calendar year.
Warner’s renewed focus restores his form in the shorter forms of cricket as he stars as a T20 gun-for-hire, delighting fans from Hyderabad to Ottawa. In Hyderbad, Warner is like a dopamine-inducing substance the fans can’t get enough of. The adoration is immense.
Especially when he takes the coolly-named Kagiso Rabada and unimaginatively-named Delhi Capitals to task thanks to the postage-stamp boundaries at Arun Jaitley Stadium and racks up his fifth and final IPL hundred with 105 off 62 balls.
He gets his body right for a final crack in Australia colours at T20 for the 2021 T20 World Cup which replaces the Champions Trophy.
Australia crumbles in the semi-finals as Warner struggles with his footwork and records a series of low-scores.
However, Warner does moderately well in the Big Bash that summer, taking the Sydney Thunder to the final with some innovative captaincy. Always one for the big occasion, he splays the Sydney Sixers across the SCG with trademark power, racking up 72 off 54 balls to cap a great final.
Warner remains one of the first players to straddle the T20 to Test match divide successfully. Doing a Warner is hard to define as he remains cricket’s greatest enigma.
Image by Rachael Sharman