About fifteen years ago, I went to the Antarctic. I met a bloke from Sydney who was one of the most decent guys and the best all-round sportsmen I have met. About ten years ago, we both said – with the confidence of age and an assumed respectability – that David Warner might be good at the funny stuff, but that he would not make it in test cricket. That was a judgment of character as much as technique.
We were both dead wrong. Warner is as good an opening test batsman as this country has produced. It is not so much the average. It is the force he applies to the other side. As I follow it, he has the best strike rate of any of our major batsmen ever – including you know who.
People overlook just how important that is in getting ahead of the other side – and bringing confidence to your own side – in test cricket. And Warner has done this against bowling that can kill you. If you think that’s over the top, I can direct you to a family in New South Wales who can correct you.
That sort of confidence and strength in a sporting team can lead to arrogance – and it too often has with us. But in a national side that is well run – like the All Blacks – that problem can be dealt with.
Warner is by nature and background a fierce fighter and competitor. That’s what I expect from someone wearing my colours – not least in a part of life the principal object of which is to enable us to beat the English.
About four years ago, Warner and others were involved in a scandal in South Africa involving tampering with the ball. If you do things to a cricket ball, you can make it swing more. You are allowed to polish the ball just with your clothing. But doing the reverse, to get reverse swing, is a breach of the rules. The penalty for such a breach of the rules is five runs to the batting side.
I stopped playing cricket fifty years ago. Everyone tampered with the ball in one way or another, and they still do. But in an international match before so many TV cameras, you may get caught.
Australians got caught in South Africa. It was blatant, childish and foolish – and therefore very embarrassing to management and the nation. Scalps had to be taken and big prices paid – although the lapse in tone of the national side had been obvious, and management had been silent.
The then captain was sacked, and suspensions were handed out – and Warner got a life ban on being appointed captain.
That decision was in my view unduly harsh at the time, not least because an underlying fault had been with management in allowing the standards of our team to go down.
But the players took their hit and did their time, and this may be one of the few occasions in our jurisprudence where deterrence looks to have worked. None of the players is any kind risk for the future, and the captain is free to captain again.
No one has explained to me the medieval metaphysics which produces the result that we can trust Warner to represent Australia by wearing its colours in the national team – but not to be its captain. If that result is said to be a necessary part of the punishment of David Warner, then in my view it has no decent basis.
Punishment is left to God and the judges. We are speaking of disciplinary proceedings which are there to protect the game and the interests of the public in following it. It’s like conduct unbecoming, or contrary to the interests of the regiment. The players will have clauses to that effect in their contracts. But no one has power to inflict loss or damage on a person to vindicate some notion of moral duty or national honour.
History tells us that there is a useful rule of thumb in disputes in Australian sport. If it is a fight between the players and management, it is usually management that is in the wrong.
As it happens, the pursuit of Warner reached a new low at the same time that the press reported that the eminence grise of Australian cricket had been wont to advise his Prime Minister on how to deal with ‘socialism’. Sir Donald’s political aversions may have come from the amount of money he made from the game – to the disgust of then and later players – but that ideology about government control did not stop Sir Donald from heading a hierarchy so outmoded that it treated players like medieval serfs so badly that they rejected and abandoned the whole cricket establishment and sold themselves to the most unattractive capitalist that the nation had seen.
There was a perfect snapshot of our sports administrators at work.
And so it was again here. When Warner asked management to lift the life ban on captaincy – a decision which would pose zero threat to anyone – management outsourced the decision. That’s to say, they delegated their duty. To a horde of consultants. And a group of outsiders came up with the amazing and ghoulish suggestion that the issue should be determined in public hearings. Did they see themselves in the outfits of Dominican Friars with their targets under pointed dunces’ hats – and a TV shot of fire at the stake in the background?
Some letters to the press dripped with venom toward Warner. It is that dreadful mean streak we have had since the convicts hit the ground here and then the English unloaded their sluts. Mediocre Australians get uneasy and unpleasant when confronted with excellence.
I doubt whether any of these gnats training at a camel have played cricket at any level, or have faced any of the stress they have helped to pile on David Warner. They are like bleak crows on a barbed wire fencing croaking loudly at what they could never have.
They are fond of using the word ‘cheat’. Its primary meaning is ‘swindle’. (That’s the business of the major sponsor of professional sport.) Its other meaning is to seek to obtain an advantage by doing something against the rules or that is unfair.
Almost everyone involved in any professional sport is engaged in seeing just how far they can go to get an advantage without attracting a penalty for breaching the rules. Its rather like business avoiding paying tax – without being sent to jail.
F1 is game of cat and mouse between engineers and rule makers. In golf, the players behave impeccably. Hardly any tennis player would last a day on a golf course. But the flirting with the rules comes with the design and manufacture of the equipment – to the extent that amateur old-timers like me regard those like Bryson DeChambeau with revulsion, and we long for the days of Peter Thompson.
If you asked me for the three rankest acts ever on the cricket ground, I would probably start with Bodyline, underarm bowling, and Mankad. Each of those was within the rules – and that’s precisely what made each so bad for the game.
And each was in my view far worse than anything Warner did. His conduct was a breach of the rules, but he got whacked because he was a bloody idiot who got caught and made us and his national management look like bloody idiots.
Those who still pursue David Warner for more blood should be deeply ashamed of themselves. Whatever other charge can be levelled at these malcontents, they could not be accused of following the faith of the son of a carpenter who passed that testing remark about the first stone.
Well, Warner has now given his complete answer where it counts, and in a way that is beyond the understanding of his vigilantes in posse.
So – I will leave the final say to his Mum, Lorraine.
He told me when he was 14 that one day he will play for Australia and buy us a unit, to get us out of the Housing Commission. And he did.
Mac and Norma would not have said truly that I got them out of our former housing commission house – which cost them I think £440 – but I have no doubt that they would stand by every word here said. I so well recall their views on the Panama Hat Brigade, and I thank God that Mac did not live to see Kevin Gosper desecrate posterity and present the gold medal to Kathy Freeman.
Cricket Australia – ball tampering – sports administrators – pure bullshit.