David Warner’s place in history the focus, as his home record becomes more and more impressive


Posted

December 02, 2019 05:43:53

Imagine being accepted by a leading Australian medical school, but your ashen-faced family can’t disguise their disappointment that you didn’t get a place at Oxford or Harvard.

Imagine dominating the Australian music scene with a string of hits, packing big local venues, but all the critics can say is that you never broke in the US or England.

This is how David Warner must feel as he reaches that stage where his place in Test cricket history is being closely considered and he works indefatigably to make a case for greatness.

Upon his return from a lamentable Ashes series in England, Warner’s excellence in home conditions — just pure excellence, really — was writ large with 154 in Brisbane, and writ bloody enormous with a monumental 335 not out in Adelaide.

As Warner celebrated each milestone with increased exuberance, it seemed a fitting moment to consider the career of a player who overcame the ‘limited-overs specialist’ stereotype to become one of the most prolific Test batsmen of his generation.

Certainly there is room in this argument to contemplate the statistical imbalance between his performance on bouncing pitches in Australia and South Africa particularly, where he has scored 21 of his 23 Test centuries and averages more than 60.

When balanced against his struggles in England, particularly, it is quite justifiable to opine that Warner’s relative failure against the swinging and sometimes the turning ball leaves him on cricket’s Cloud Eight looking up at the game’s true batting immortals.

But nor does this disparity in performance in varying conditions justify the kind of invective Warner’s batting continues to incite.

Not unless you can mount a case that the runs Warner has scored at far greater rates than almost any contemporary on home soil are somehow illegitimate because when batting in Brisbane he wasn’t in Kolkata, or when batting in Adelaide he wasn’t in Leeds.

Yet in Adelaide, as a century became a double century became a triple, assessments of Warner’s accomplishment lurched reflexively from the purely analytical to the downright pejorative.

“Flat-track bully” is one term commonly employed to diminish Warner’s incredible, and now historic, feats of technical excellence, controlled aggression, physical stamina and, in the latter stages of his career particularly, superior concentration.

Indeed the more runs Warner scores this summer, the more some seem obsessed by his inability to score them elsewhere.

So much so you can’t wonder if there is a hidden subtext to some analysis of Warner’s performances at the crease, a reason why he was jeered for eclipsing Don Bradman’s best Test innings rather than applauded for accomplishing such a monumental feat.

Let’s be honest. Warner could score a double century on a swinging deck at Old Trafford using a swizzle stick as a bat and with Stuart Broad bowling from both ends and those who have not forgiven him for his role in the Sandpapergate scandal would find a way to demean his effort.

Never mind Warner served a ban that was incredibly harsh by official ICC standards, although justifiable given the reputational damage he and his co-conspirators inflicted on the game.

As is their right, some will simply never forgive Warner for his ring-leading role, and this moral judgement will forever cloud their opinion of what he does with the bat.

This same life sentence has not been applied to Steve Smith, whose public popularity was restored during his Bradman-esque Ashes tour; perhaps even enhanced by the romantic tale of redemption and the cherubic Smith’s endearing dedication to the art of batting.

Warner’s more pugnacious personality, and the sense that his redemption story has been manufactured with the help of public relations consultants, seems to irk those still unwilling to separate his batting feats from their ongoing character judgement.

Again, never mind Warner apologised, held his tongue and returned to the fold when some suspected he might instead become a Chris Gayle style batter-of-fortune on the lucrative T20 circuit.

Warner is unfortunate to have committed his grave misjudgement in Cape Town in an era when many observers don’t merely appreciate the performance of an athlete but also feel they must “like” them — quite literally in the case of Instagram posts.

Thus the cyber-chorus of condemnation upon Warner’s various milestones this season from those who can’t conceal their disdain: ‘Yeah, pretty good innings at home, as usual, but I still don’t like him.’

In the vast majority of cases what they don’t like is not the man but their perception of him, which is in one sense justifiable.

Warner’s various on-field personas ranging from the vicious attack dog to smiling choirboy have never been everyone’s cup of isotonic energy drink, which is all part of the game. Sport continues to thrive on the presence of anti-heroes and pantomime villains.

Yet the conflation of image with actual personality — the mistaken belief we really know Warner or others — is both inevitable and misleading in a world when media “access” and social media make us feel we are much closer to athletes than we really are.

That said, I have more respect for those honest enough to declare their contempt for Warner based on his past misdemeanours rather than pretend they are objectively assessing his batting when they belittle his vast accomplishments in Australia.

But surely you don’t need to forgive Warner or believe he is a reformed character to appreciate his incredible pile of Test runs.

Sure, quibble about where that pile was built, but ask yourself how many batsmen in any era have built such a pile anywhere.

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