South Africa v Australia ODIs
The re re-making of David Warner
A transformation has taken place in Australia's ranks and it doesn't look like changing back anytime soon
Andrew Ramsey Port Elizabeth
9 October 2016, 11:29 AM AEST
A remarkable change has taken place within the Australia ODI team during its current Qantas Tour of South Africa.
Not so much the fact that the world champions arrived in the windswept Eastern Cape coastal centre of Port Elizabeth last Thursday afternoon staring at a fourth consecutive limited-overs loss to their fierce sporting rivals.
A run of defeats in the coloured clothing format unmatched for almost 20 years, since the days when Australian cricket was forced to accept that their best 50-over team could no longer be their Test XI simply clad in a different uniform.
While this contemporary shift might not carry that same historic legacy, it is no less revolutionary particularly in the eyes of the 14-man Australia touring party who have watched it unfold with incredulity, suspicion and ultimately heartfelt acceptance.
For the manifest switch is but the latest transformation to have been undergone by Australia’s repeatedly re-born vice-captain, David Warner.
Not that profound change isn’t something of a constant for the 29-year-old.
He’s the one-time larrikin who so wholeheartedly embraced a new life as a doting dad he was named Australia’s Sporting Father of the Year just last month.
He’s the formerly erratic character who has eschewed the fraught nightlife after a couple of untidy scrapes and instead embraced quiet dinners and green tea.
And he’s the latent firecracker who has most recently silenced those who queried his elevation to national vice-captain with an exemplary return in (demeanour and results) when installed as interim skipper after Steve Smith’s early departure from a draining tour of Sri Lanka.
In the process, enhancing his reputation as a national skipper-in-waiting should circumstances ever dictate a more prolonged absence from the incumbent.
But the Warner of the ongoing five-match ODI tour of Sri Lanka has become even further removed from the circa 2013 model when he was suspended from the national team for a late night misdemeanour in Birmingham.
Or even from last year when he was publicly counselled by Cricket Australia Chief Executive James Sutherland to "stop looking for trouble" after a heated on-field clash with India’s Rohit Sharma, where Warner lived his then stereotypical role as Australia’s on-field verbal attack dog.
In the wake of his maiden appearances as Australia captain that netted three consecutive ODI wins to secure a series win over Sri Lanka, followed by a pair of equally meritorious T20 International triumphs, Warner has wholly embraced the power of positivity.
Not so much in his stroke play, which has rarely betrayed a whiff of caution or self-doubt.
Or his approach to the game, which has always been devoutly team first and unashamedly designed to propagate results.
The change has been far more evangelical, the sort of recalibrated outlook on work, life and the universe that can usually be attributed directly to the mantra of self-help books, life coaches or indoctrinating religious cults.
Where once Warner would meet setbacks and injustices with a combative crack or aggressive posturing, he now shrugs his shoulders and recommends those around him simply search for the good news angle.
"It is what it is" has become a go-to catch phrase.
"Just enjoy the moment and play with a smile on your face" goes another.
It is now seemingly impossible to successfully wave a red rag at the ‘Bull’.
His teammates have taken to whispering conspiratorially about the seismic shift they have, pretty much to a man, warmly welcomed.
"Have you met the new Davey Warner?" one asked aloud after Warner had breezed past dispensing felicitations to everyone in his orbit, as if enveloped in a perfumed cloud.
Others have taken to calling him ‘The Reverend’, such has been the gusto with which he’s embraced the gospel of good news.
An epithet Warner has clearly embraced, as shown by the additional flourish he appended to his trademark ‘Toyota’ jump upon reaching a century at Kingsmead last week.
Arms outstretched and head cocked skywards, in the exaggerated pose of a born-again preacher in full flight.
"A pleasure – you take care and enjoy your day," Warner cheerily told a clearly bemused parent after she had hesitantly asked for an autograph for her son at the end of a recent Australia training session, one of many that the vice-captain patiently penned that afternoon.
In the aftermath of his team’s second consecutive loss to South Africa at Wanderers in Johannesburg last Sunday, on a playing surface both battle scarred and gravel strewn, Warner was quizzed in a private aside how he found fielding amid such unsafe playing conditions.
"Beyond our control," he beamed without missing a beat.
"We just turn up and play to the best of our abilities."
It prompted one of his teammates to note, upon arriving in Durban last Monday with the ODI series up for grabs, "I don’t know where they’ve taken the old Davey Warner, but I quite like this new version".
While some have suggested Warner might have fallen under the spell of some new-age mood shaper who has convinced him chakras are integral to shot making, Warner’s ODI opening partner Aaron Finch attributes the switch to much less metaphysical forces.
"After Sri Lanka, Davey was obviously pretty down and I think throughout that whole Test series everyone was a bit flat," said Finch who arrived on that tour as Australia was stumbling to a third consecutive Test defeat against their unfancied opponents.
"Sri Lanka played a brilliant series and now he’s turned the tables and gone ultra-positive.
"It’s something that is actually rubbing off on the boys.
"We didn’t know at the start whether it was legitimate or whether he was taking the mickey.
"But he’s just been ultra-positive around the group and he finds a positive in every scenario.
"Regardless of what’s happening anywhere around the team, or anywhere in your life he’s always finding a positive to come out of it.
"So we’ll see how long it lasts, but it’s been something that’s been excellent around the boys.
"Particularly on a tough tour like this where we’ve beaten so far, it’s always nice for the guys to stay up and about."
Certainly it has brought no visibly deleterious effect to Warner’s cricket.
Australia’s leading scorer across the first three games of the series, and the only player in his team to have reached 40 in all three innings that coincided with a hat-trick of losses.
Currently in the midst of the most productive ODI year of his prolific limited-overs career, his 910 runs from 18 matches in 2016 to date (with a handful more matches to come) comfortably surpassing his 2012 output of 840 from 24 innings.
And last Wednesday’s 117 from 107 balls – the world champions’ first century of the South Africa tour albeit in another losing cause – was a study in measured aggression and relentless intent from the time he helped himself to 17 from Proteas’ spearhead Dale Steyn’s second over.
Then crowned it with a dramatic gesture from the pulpit, a celebration of the power of positivity.
As such, and despite a lean Test series in Sri Lanka and an equally unproductive tour to New Zealand last February where he averaged just 22 across both series, Warner enters the coming home Test summer against South Africa and Pakistan full of confidence.
Not that state of mind was ever going to be an issue for the newest incarnation of the (very) Reverend David Warner.