SPORTING DECLARATION: Turning the Warner

DAVID WARNER IT’S a bit of a worry, but for perhaps the first time I find myself in agreement with my dreaded nemesis, the Maitland Maniac.
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With his trademark, abusive, hand-written letters, the Maniac has been hammering Sporting Declaration for the best part of 18 months, insisting that Australian opening batsman David Warner is an out-and-out champion.

After Warner’s century last week in the first Test against Pakistan, I begrudgingly find myself admitting that for once the Maniac may be right.

We certainly haven’t always seen eye to eye on this particular topic, or any other subject for that matter.

When Warner confessed to punching England batsman Joe Root in an after-hours incident on last year’s Ashes tour of England, incurring a fine and a three-Test suspension, yours truly declared: ‘‘Somehow Warner avoided being sent home in disgrace, a fate he undoubtedly deserved.’’

When he subsequently reaffirmed his loose cannon reputation by opting for a fitness session and hit in the nets rather than fielding for his grade side, Randwick-Petersham, in their loss to Northern Districts early last season, I wrote: ‘‘For more than 100 years, Test players have been happy to put something back into the game by playing club cricket if they were fit and available.

‘‘For grade cricketers, the chance to play with or against someone of international standard can be a career highlight.

‘‘Yet Warner not only couldn’t be bothered, he left his team a man short. Un-Australian is the best way to describe his attitude.’’

This blasphemy left the Maniac livid and he let me know with his usual barrage of amusing correspondence.

It has taken the best part of 12 months, but Warner has finally won me over.

While he still doesn’t strike me as the sharpest tool in the shed, at least he appears to have made a conscious effort to keep a low profile off the field.

And it is hard to argue with his performances on the pitch.

In Australia’s past nine Tests, incorporating the 5-0 Ashes whitewash, the series win in South Africa and last week’s loss in Dubai, Warner’s scores have been 49 and 124, 29 and 83 not out, 60 and 112, 9 and 25, 16 and 16, 12 and 115, 70 and 66, 135 and 145, and 133 and 29.

That is a purple patch that has yielded 1228 runs at an average of 72.2, lifting Warner’s overall average from 31 Tests to 47.80.

Perhaps the highest praise I can pin on Warner is that he reminds me of a mini-Matthew Hayden.

Just as fast bowlers like Mitchell Johnson can terrorise their rivals, so too can some batsmen intimidate the opposition.

Hayden was a vast physical presence and, during his peak years, would often exert his authority with a flurry of boundaries in the opening overs of any Test.

Warner can be just as devastating and is one of those rare batsmen capable of deciding the outcome of a Test inside the first session of day one.

He has shown he can succeed against pace and spin in a variety of conditions.

Not only does Warner hit the ball with remarkable power for a man of his size, he also clearly has a technique that stands up under extreme scrutiny.

Before the second Test against Pakistan started in Abu Dhabi, Warner had only nine Test centuries to his name and will need to at least double that to be considered one of the truly great players.

But, at the age of 28, he would appear to have time on his side.

While purists will judge Warner on his Test record, he is also equally effective in short-form cricket, as five centuries in the T20 franchise arena would indicate.

On his form over the past 12 months, Warner has overtaken injury-plagued Michael Clarke as Australia’s best batsman.

Is he the best in the world?

That would be a big call, given the credentials of South Africans Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers, Sri Lanka’s Kumar Sangakkara and Pakistan’s masterful Younis Khan.

Perhaps he does not yet measure up alongside their longevity and career statistics, but Warner plays innings that mere mortals can only dream of emulating. He has the rare ability to score whirlwind T20 centuries or patient Test tons.

If he keeps his eye on the ball, anything would appear possible.


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