Qantas Tour of South Africa
Warner finds trouble, again
An incident from early 2015 wasn't the first item on David Warner's rap sheet, but it yielded a couple of telling responses
Of the items that punctuated David Warner's rap sheet before a lengthy pause was added today, it is perhaps an incident of more than three years ago that serves as the most instructive.
Warner, who has been served a 12-month ban by Cricket Australia and told he will never again hold a leadership role in the national team, had form prior to a blow-up with India's Rohit Sharma during an ODI at the MCG in early 2015.
When the Australia vice-captain, now suspended for his role in the ball tampering scandal that has also brought a temporary halt to the careers of his captain Steve Smith and Test opening partner Cameron Bancroft, demanded his India opponent "speak English".
Before that, there was the Matraville maverick's 2013 Twitter slanging match with two of the nation's most senior and respected cricket journalists – News Corp Australia's Robert Craddock and Malcolm Conn – for which Cricket Australia slapped Warner with a Code of Conduct breach and a $5,750 fine.
Two months later came his infamous tangle with now-England captain Joe Root in a Birmingham bar, an indiscretion that saw him dismissed from Australia's ODI touring party of the time to join the nation's 'A' team in South Africa, and miss the first two Tests of the subsequent Ashes series into the deal.
In retrospect, Warner claimed that he felt the penalty was harsh given the nature of the altercation, which he described as a 'glancing blow' to Root's chin but he also believed it provided the wake-up call needed to bring the necessary focus to his undeniable cricket talents.
But within a year, he was in strife again when he used his regular Sydney breakfast radio spot during Australia's 2014 Test tour to South Africa to air unproved allegations about the tactics the Proteas – and specifically their then-wicketkeeper, AB de Villiers – used to alter the ball in order to generate reverse swing.
"We were actually questioning whether or not AB de Villiers would get the ball in his hand and, with his glove, wipe the rough side every ball," Warner claimed after Australia had crashed to defeat in the second Test of that campaign at Port Elizabeth.
A claim that was later rebutted by members of his own team, and for which he was fined 15 per cent of his match fee by the ICC.
However, it was his spat with Rohit less than a year hence – his second of that Australia season, after a clash with Virat Kohli and Shikhar Dhawan sparked by the India pair during the summer's first Test – that yielded a couple of telling responses.
The first came from Cricket Australia's Chief Executive James Sutherland who foreshadowed that patience had worn thin with the explosive left-hander, who could swing matches just as readily as he could divide opinions.
"Quite simply, he needs to stop looking for trouble," Sutherland said, in also acknowledging that Warner had worked hard to change his behaviour but that such lapses only undermined his good intent.
Just as telling was Warner's response, once again via the breakfast radio show that aired next day.
"If people get on the wrong side of me, I'm not going to back down," he said, while admitting that he should not have "engaged" with Rohit who stole an overthrow from a Warner return that had deflected from the India batter's leg.
That was when a marked outward change came over Warner's on-field persona.
Prior to Australia's 2015 ultimately failed Ashes campaign in the UK, he revealed he had taken the cricket equivalent of a vow of silence during matches and now eschewed drinks at the pub in favour of green tea and early dinner with his wife, Candice, and their first-born daughter Ivy Mae.
That personality shift became even more stark a year later in Sri Lanka when, in the wake of Australia's 0-3 Test loss and an energy-sapping ODI and T20I schedule to follow, captain Steve Smith returned early to Australia to refresh his mind and body while Warner took charge of the limited-overs outfit.
Not only did he lead the team to wins in each of their last five fixtures of that tour, he exhibited such a countenance of Zen-like equanimity in his dealings with opposition players, media and fans that his teammates began openly referring to him as 'The Reverend'.
An epithet that Warner happily embraced, adding a flourish that resembled a revivalist preacher exhorting into a microphone to his trademark celebratory leap that he executed upon reaching a batting milestone.
But after a string of Test losses to South Africa (at home), India (away) and even defeat at the hands of Bangladesh in Dhaka that came after the at-times bitter pay dispute in which Warner was an outspoken advocate for the players, he signalled another character change ahead of this summer's Ashes series.
In equating the upcoming contest in the Test arena to "war", and revealing that once he took the field he would "look in the opposition's eye and try and work out "how can I dislike this player, how can I get on top of him?", it became clear the Warner of old was reborn.
So long Reverend, the Bull was back.
When the Warner of circa 2014-15 unleashed at South Africa's Aiden Markram following a run out during the first Test of the current series in Durban, and then had to be restrained from physically confronting Quinton de Kock in a stairwell, he was in uncomfortably familiar territory.
"It's always a worry in any situation when someone is so extreme in one direction or the other," ex-Test wicketkeeper Adam Gilchrist observed in the aftermath of the Durban fracas for which Warner was fined 75 per cent of his match fee and docked two demerit points.
"I think Davey's got to find somewhere in between that."
In a media interview days after that penalty was imposed, Warner revealed the extreme provocation that led to his outburst, explaining that de Kock had made "vile and disgusting" comments about his wife as players left the field for a tea break.
He also denied counter-claims from the South Africa camp that de Kock's taunt was the result of a sustained verbal barrage he had received from Warner in the hours preceding.
Warner refuted that allegation, and pointed to his demeanour stretching back to the Sri Lanka tour of 2016 that showed he was a reformed character.
"You guys (the media) have seen the past 18-24 months how I conduct myself on the field," he said.
"What happened the other day was not appropriate, and I responded a tad emotionally but I think I've been fantastic the last 18-24 months.
"I play with aggression on the field and I try not to cross that line and it has been in the past that I have sort of been fiery.
"But I don't think whatsoever there on the field that I have ever crossed that line.
"That's how I play my cricket.
"I live by the sword, and die by the sword."
The 31-year-old felt that first nick of the blade earlier today when it was confirmed the current controversy led him to stand down as captain of the IPL franchise Sunrisers Hyderabad, a position he had held for the past two years.
Then, hours before he boarded a flight from Johannesburg where the final Test of this rancorous series against South Africa begins on Friday, he was told he would not represent Australia for a year and that aspirations of again leading his country were vanquished. The tearing up his A$2.4 million IPL contract for the 2018 season swiftly followed.
Whether the latest punctuation on his international charge sheet serves as a full stop, only the future will reveal.
Qantas tour of South Africa
South Africa squad: Faf du Plessis (c), Hashim Amla, Temba Bavuma, Theunis de Bruyn, Dean Elgar, Heinrich Klaasen, Quinton de Kock, Keshav Maharaj, Aiden Markram, Morne Morkel, Chris Morris, Wiaan Mulder, Lungi Ngidi, Duanne Olivier, Vernon Philander, Kagiso Rabada, AB de Villiers.
Australia squad: Joe Burns, Pat Cummins, Peter Handscomb, Josh Hazlewood, Jon Holland, Usman Khawaja, Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Marsh, Shaun Marsh, Glenn Maxwell, Tim Paine, Matt Renshaw, Jhye Richardson, Chadd Sayers, Mitchell Starc.
Warm-up match: Australia beat South Africa A by five wickets. Report, highlights
First Test Australia won by 118 runs. Scorecard
Second Test South Africa won by six wickets. Scorecard
Third Test South Africa won by 322 runs. Scorecard
Fourth Test Wanderers, Johannesburg, March 30-April 3. Live coverage