David Warner knows the national vice-captaincy carries with it significant responsibility and expectation, but has revealed that it came today with no explicit instructions from above.
Warner was confirmed as Steve Smith’s deputy in both Test matches and ODI cricket as Australia enters its new era without Michael Clarke, who has been a fixture in the international game for more than a decade.
While the 28-year-old was seen as the most likely candidate for the vice-captain’s job, as one of the most experienced members of a reshaped XI and one who is expected to maintain his place in the team for the medium-term, his appointment was not the certainty that Smith’s proved to be.
A track record of on-field confrontations, his tangle with England’s Joe Root on the previous Ashes tour to the UK two years ago, and some public comments that served to inflame rather than douse issues to which he was central meant the thought of him filling a job that’s as much statesman as sportsman left some a little nervous.
But the change in character that has accompanied Warner’s recent form with the bat – prior to this Ashes campaign, which has seen many of his teammates come up short – and reflects a more settled off-field life has won him boardroom support as well as some new fans.
WATCH (from Tuesday): Warner eyes vice-captaincy
And when news was relayed to him via chairman of selectors Rod Marsh and coach Darren Lehmann at the team’s hotel at Northampton this morning – where the first day of the scheduled tour match was hampered by rain – it came with no caveats or conditions.
“I think you know as a person what you have to do,” Warner said, in confirming news of his promotion was delivered sans riding instructions.
“I see my job and responsibilities are to take a lot of it (responsibility) off Steve (Smith) because I know what comes with being a captain, we've seen it in the past under our previous leaders.
“How much time it does take out of your day, and when you're on tours, especially like this one (to the West Indies and the UK spanning four months), you're going to have a lot of media, a lot of questions to answer.
“So for me it's about helping Steve to lead this team from the front and take some of those responsibilities off him.
“I think a lot of that will probably be done at training and off the field, so he can control what's going on on-field.”
Warner also confirmed that Cricket Australia Chief Executive James Sutherland, who indicated last week that Warner’s installation as vice-captain was far from a formality, has not spoken with him since the nine-person CA Board ratified his appointment today based on the selectors’ recommendation.
The opener claimed he had no issue with the reservations that Sutherland might have expressed publicly or privately in the past about the new vice-captain’s behaviour, but that he expected the pair would have a conversation at some point in the near future.
Marsh aims to lead new wave
But he made it clear that even though he has toned down his combative approach to opponents on the field, he will remain a vocal presence within his own team where he is renowned as a constant source of energy, both physical and verbal.
“I'll still give the banter (around the squad),” Warner said today, as he loitered in the lobby of the team’s country club hotel awaiting a decision on whether the first of the three scheduled days of the tour game against Northamptonshire would be called off due to light but persistent rain.
“Obviously in our team, sometimes we are serious and sometimes we do joke around a lot.
“Each team needs a few characters and I see myself as being that character sometimes, and I will probably try and continue to be that funny person.
“It's not about sledging.
“It's about encouraging your bowlers and getting into the mind of the batters.
“We just have to be smart when we're out there and to concentrate on what's ahead, and that's the game. That's the most important thing."
Warner describes his appointment, which comes into effect from the start of the limited-overs series against England that follows immediately after the final Ashes Test at The Oval next week, as a “massive honour” and a huge thrill for himself and his family.
But he also revealed that while the knowledge he is but a bout of illness or a sudden injury away from becoming Australia’s Test or ODI captain – as Smith did with such aplomb during the most recent Australia summer – was the realisation of a boyhood dream, captaincy had never been a consuming passion.
As a cricketer who charted an unconventional path to the Test game via the T20 format and then one-day representation, Warner claimed he was always simply happy to find his name on the team sheet rather than be driven by an ambition to hold a titled role as well.
“Growing up, it’s just something you always want to do is play the game,” he said.
“I don’t know if it’s luck or something you just get called upon to do as a young kid when you’re selected to just be the captain running out – whether it’s the football field or cricket field.
“It (captaincy) is not something you wish for, you just wish to be in that starting line-up (but) having that extra responsibility, it does feel good.
And while today’s appointments formally mark the start of a fresh epoch for Australian cricket, one in which the final links to the golden era that spanned the mid-1990s through until the early years of the next century, Warner is not looking quite that far ahead.
Not just yet anyway.
"We have had a long tour, we went to the West Indies and we won there (two-nil in the Test series) and we've come here and we've been disappointing,” he said.
“But . . . we're giving 100 per cent every time we walk out there.
“Every time we go to training our preparation is outstanding.
“You can't fault anyone for their preparation . . . we've been beaten by a better team at the moment.
"But we've got one Test to go (in the Ashes series) and we're going out there trying to prove what we're actually capable of.”