LONDON: James Sutherland, Cricket Australia’s boss, did not mince words when asked about David Warner.
“He is making some pretty ordinary decisions and getting himself into trouble, and he is bringing the game, his teammates and the team down. That is not going to be tolerated any longer,” Sutherland said.
Those words were not spoken after the ball-tampering episode in Cape Town. They were said after Warner threw a punch at Joe Root in Birmingham almost five years ago. But if the expectation was that Cricket Australia would rein in Warner, we were badly mistaken.
“You try to get into a battle as quick as you can,” said Warner in the build-up to last year’s Ashes. “I try to look in the opposition’s eye and work out how can I dislike this player, how can I get on top of him? You have to find that spark in yourself to really take it to the opposition. You have to delve and dig deep into yourself to get some sort of hatred about them.”
He retracted those words later, but the national board chose the nudge-nudge-wink-wink approach to the toxic sentiments expressed by the vice-captain. And as Australia romped through the Ashes 4-0, there was absolutely no rebuke for the Warner brand of bullying on the field.
Now, Warner is the one most expendable, the one Cricket Australia have hung out to dry as the main conspirator in what has come to be called SandpaperGate. Steve Smith can look forward to Redemption Road. For Warner, there is nothing. The announcement that he would never be considered for captaincy again was especially telling.
The silences and deflected answers in the Warner press conference were even more revealing, especially when he was asked if others were involved in the plot and if it was the first time Australia had done such a thing on the field.
If those advising Warner, legally and otherwise, decide that he has no international future — and the tune Cricket Australia has been humming suggests as much — they could well ask him to come clean in an exclusive media appearance. If he did, what he had to say could cause huge embarrassment to his former teammates and board officials.
Sutherland has banged on about the “spirit of cricket” in recent days. Those words were dropped from Cricket Australia’s strategic plan in 2017. As Gideon Haigh wrote in The Australian: “At times over the years, CA has given the appearance of caring little about the sport’s image, except as a brand or product. One was reminded this last week of the conference five years ago where CA’s commercial chief, Ben Amarfio, argued that controversy in sport was not a problem — it could even be advantageous.”
Now Warner, who in addition to his “ball maintenance” duties was also the team’s attack dog, is the one they are trying to put down.
“I know there are unanswered questions,” tweeted Warner after his tear-filled media conference. “In time, I will do my best to answer them all.”
For half a decade, Warner set the tone for Australia with both his bat and caustic tongue. He is unlikely to go quietly now.