Over the Christmas period, our family has gathered around to watch the test cricket. Watching the Boxing Day Test has become something of a ritual, more than a mere event. We support the Australian test team and like to see them do well. But unlike the one-eyed support seen in other codes, we do so in a fair-minded sort of way. We applaud a fine cover drive or a well-made half century, no matter which team the player happens to come from.
Within the Australian team, though, there is one player who does not seem to attract the same fair-minded respect as all the others. There is one man who seems to attract widespread condemnation from friends and family. David Warner is at the crease, and it seems, a significant chunk of Australian cricket fans are willing him to fail. “Warner’s batting? Hope he gets out for a duck” says one relative. “I want him to go out with a whimper. He doesn’t deserve a glorious retirement” rails another.
So why the disdain for Warner? Could it be that he offends the sensibilities of what we want and expect our national heroes to be? Is it wrong to invoke the “B” word – bogan – in connection to him? He doesn’t speak well. He never even played first class cricket before being selected in the Test side, he emerged out of T20.
Many critics of Warner will point to his involvement in the sandpaper scandal as the reason for their particular dislike of this player. There is no doubting he cheated in 2018. The details of the scandal reveal so much that is peculiar and brilliant about the game of cricket. Players are allowed to doctor the ball, using their own spit as polish, but not too much. There were plenty of precedents of players using items to rough up one side of the ball, from pants zippers to bottle caps. It was the conspiratorial nature of the scheme that was hatched on the 24th of March 2018 that seemed to particularly rankle people. The collusion, the secret meetings in the bowels of the stadium, the players so far from home and desperate to win the game.
Warner was rightly condemned for his greater role in hatching the scheme. But it was his actions when he arrived back in Australia that sealed his reputation. His seeming lack of genuine remorse confirmed, for many, their dislike.
For the sake of change, the sport and the culture around it have suffered a lot. But cricket still has gatekeepers who decide what is and is not acceptable behaviour. David Warner has had, on paper, a glittering career with the bat. There are many Australians for whom, perhaps, that is enough. But many more will never love him and may even welcome his leaving the national stage forever.