David Warner’s Blitzy Comeback Gives Road to Redemption Big Boost
David Warner smashed Andre Russell to cover, and as Robin Uthappa held onto a fine catch, his head dropped backwards in disgust. Those who had switched on the television just then might well have been forgiven if they thought Warner was out for a duck. He had actually made a smashing 85 in 53 balls with nine fours and three maximums on his IPL comeback on Sunday night, 24 March, against Kolkata Knight Riders, returning in style for Sunrisers Hyderabad after a year in exile.
David Warner is a grumpy king. He hates losing and though it transpired in him going against the spirit of the game at Newlands exactly a year ago, it is his strength as a cricketer. At Sunrisers Hyderabad, a bowling-heavy unit who have decoded the success formula for T20 cricket, Warner reigns supreme in the batting department. He is an unassailable champion who knows what he has to do – bat them to a total the immaculate bowling attack can defend.
True, Warner had played in the Caribbean Premier League and Bangladesh Premier League in the interim, but this was an acid test for the Australian after an elbow injury cut short his BPL stint.
His first appearance in competitive cricket following the ban came in the CPL for St Lucia Stars but aside from an unbeaten 72, he barely appeared the force he has proven to be in the IPL. Warner was even taunted by leg-spin with four of his seven dismissals in the tournament coming off leg-spinners. BPL came with more luck and for Sylhet Sixers as skipper, Warner stroked three half-centuries but the issues against spin persisted. Half of his dismissals in the league came against spin but the bigger blow came when he was ruled out of the season with an elbow injury that threatened his World Cup participation.
Australian coach Justin Langer put down the selection of Warner and his former skipper, Steven Smith, to how they fare in the IPL and they were left out of the ODI squad for the series against Pakistan in UAE.
“We can't plan for them (Smith and Warner) to be here because they're not here,” Langer’s words ahead of the Pakistan ODIs gives away the inkling that the duo are no certainties to walk into the XI for the World Cup.
For Warner, in particular, the time off gave a chance to redeem his reputation. From punching Joe Root in a bar to taunting Quinton de Kock in the Test series against Proteas last year, to the ball-tampering incident, Warner’s reputation had been on the decline.
But Warner seemed to have underwent a change in mindset going by his words before the BPL – “It is about getting the best out of myself and growing as a human being”
Cricket Australia were clear, despite the ruckus surrounding the infamous incident, that doors to the national team weren’t closed for the belligerent southpaw. But Warner had to prove he had it in him still after a year away from the game. The elbow injury was a deadly blow but Sunrisers welcoming him back to the setup with open arms wasn’t. The Australian selector, Trevor Hohns, was pretty transparent when he said that the duo had to prove match fitness after injury and that the IPL was the best place to do so.
“While their bans will be finished on 28 March, Steve [Smith] and David [Warner] have been working through rehabilitation from elbow surgery and it has been agreed the best pathway for them to return to play is in the Indian Premier League. David [Warner] will play with Sunrisers Hyderabad and Steve [Smith] with Rajasthan Royals," Hohns had said.
The pressure to perform was nigh high as Warner walked out at Eden, a ground where he has traditionally struggled – 73 runs in 6 matches at 12.17. Labelled as a “bully” by Quinton de Kock in an interview earlier this week, Warner had to show he had turned over a new leaf while remaining as bullish with the bat. Overcoming odds would have topped his to-do list a month before the actual comeback and at Eden he did just that, smashing the Kolkata bowlers around mercilessly.
His 53-ball 85 is a blow to the glass doors that Australia’s top-order is right now. Usman Khawaja in the Indian series, Aaron Finch with his ton in the first ODI against Pakistan, Shaun Marsh with his performances in Warner’s and Smith’s absence and Peter Handscomb with his multi-utility had underlined Australia’s progress close to the World Cup. But given Warner’s flamboyance and sheer determination to come back strong, the top-order might have to be broken to accommodate the tainted-cricketer-turned-taunting-batsman.
The road to his redemption is long and strewn with thorns but if it needed a nitrogen boost early, this was it. The impression he left on Sunday night of never having left the game at all might just be the password to booking his World Cup ticket.
(Rohit Sankar is a freelance cricket writer. He can be reached at @imRohit_SN)