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David Warner will have to work hard and tread carefully to reclaim his spot in the Australia team
June 14, 2013
The Wedge is a mostly forgotten sketch comedy show that aired for a couple of seasons on Australian television six or seven years ago, but there was one recurring character who rang true then and still does now. Mark Wary, as played by actor Jason Gann, was a professional at some unspecified sport, who in every skit was at a press conference apologising for some controversial incident.
"I wish to apologise undeservedly," he reads from a crumpled piece of paper, before the suited manager sitting beside him interjects. "Unreservedly," the manager corrects. Later, the manager explains: "When you reach Mark's level of professional sport you are confronted by an exceptional amount of pressure," to which Mark adds "and champagne". Mark always has an excuse.
After two public apologies in three weeks, David Warner's strike-rate is starting to resemble that of the fictional Wary. At least, to Warner's credit, when he faced the media in London on Thursday he conceded he was lucky not to have been sent home and didn't try to offer justification for hitting Joe Root. Nor did he shrug it off as a "minor incident", as the stand-in captain George Bailey had the previous day.
It might have been trivial by bar-room skirmish standards but it seemed remarkable that a respected leader like Bailey would misjudge the situation, that an international cricketer laying hands on an opponent could ever be seen as minor. It certainly wasn't by James Sutherland, the Cricket Australia chief executive, who on Friday fumed like he rarely has in more than a decade in the role.
There was an edge to Sutherland's voice on Friday and an uncharacteristic sharpness in his words. He called Warner's actions "despicable" and said his apology counted "for a little bit, but not much". What was a group of players doing at a pub at 2.30am during a tournament, he wondered out loud. He did not suggest a tour curfew but placed the onus on the team to decide what was in their own best interests.
Notably, he put the blame for Warner's actions on the entire squad, team management included. Drifting off-field standards cannot be allowed in England as they were in India to the point where the homework sackings were deemed necessary. Sutherland's performance was impressive; this was not a time to be gentle. And he is right to be concerned at how it came to this.
But while stricter ground rules might need to be enforced, coach Mickey Arthur and team manager Gavin Dovey should not have to act as babysitters, and Michael Clarke has enough to worry about in getting himself fit enough for the Ashes. The addition of experienced professionals such as Chris Rogers, Brad Haddin, Ed Cowan and Peter Siddle for the Tests will help with team discipline and standards.
In the meantime, the senior men in a youthful one-day squad should have been leading by example. Warner is one of them. He has played 102 matches for his country, comfortably the most of the six Australians who were reportedly at the Walkabout pub when the Root incident occurred - Clint McKay, Matthew Wade, Mitchell Marsh, Glenn Maxwell and Phillip Hughes were the others.
Even aside from the punch, did the thought ever enter Warner's mind that Marsh, five years his junior, might look up to him as a role model? That drinking into the early hours with Marsh might be a bad idea? Marsh is only 21 but has already been in trouble several times in his short career, including over a Perth Scorchers group drinking session at last year's Champions League. Marsh is fortunate to be on this tour in the first place; Warner is lucky to still be on it.
"I'm playing all three forms so I should be considering myself as a leader," Warner said last December. "They've had a word to me about trying to be the senior person now and trying to set standards of our Australian way. Whether we're doing a fielding drill or we're batting out the back, just keep in mind that we're training our backsides off and make sure everyone's doing the right thing."
Thanks to his own brain-snap, training his backside off is all Warner can do for the next four weeks. The punishment handed down by Gordon Lewis, the retired County Court judge who independently handles Cricket Australia's Code of Behaviour hearings, might seem neither here nor there. But being banned from playing any cricket for a month is not exactly lenient.
It will cost Warner his Ashes spot, for he cannot prove himself in the warm-ups before the first Test. Nor will it be a holiday for Warner, more like probation. He will be monitored more closely than ever and with good behaviour, might have some hope of playing later in the Ashes. He's fortunate not to have been sentenced to transportation back to the colonies.
An enforced period back in Australia might have been good for Warner in the long term, for he has been more or less permanently on the road for 18 months. If home life can keep a man grounded, a cashed-up travelling existence can have just the opposite effect, suggesting freedom from responsibilities.
It is hard to believe that only three weeks ago, after Warner's Twitter rant at two Australian journalists, Clarke defended his leadership potential and said that "if he continues to grow as he has done over the past four or five years there's no reason, in my opinion, why he hasn't got the potential to captain Australia one day".
If he continues to be as immature as he has been over the past few months, he'll be lucky to keep playing for Australia, much less lead them. They might as well appoint Mark Wary head of PR.
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets hereFeeds: Brydon Coverdale
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