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Warner eyes the perfect exit and a shot at a serious all-format legacy

Towards the end of a unique career, Warner has two massive assignments ahead of him: the WTC final and the Ashes in England

Osman Samiuddin
Osman Samiuddin
David Warner's return to the field was brief, Australia vs South Africa, 2nd Test, Melbourne, 3rd day, December 28, 2022

Barring a Boxing Day double, Warner's form of late has been patchy  •  Getty Images

David Warner is both a first-of-a-kind cricketer and a last-of-a-kind cricketer. There hadn't been anyone quite like him when he landed; the first Australian to debut in the national side - ODIs and T20Is - without having played a single first-class game. Now that the process of his exit has officially begun, it's difficult to imagine a new opener can ever be as domineering across all formats. The shorter way to say this is that Warner is kind of unique.
Admittedly, he hasn't felt so unique lately. One part of that is the unavoidable bloom-onslaught of modern batting. One day Warner was batting's 'I'm Him'; now suddenly, Suryakumar Yadav, Shubman Gill and Harry Brook are 'I'm Hims'. Warner used to feel like a freak for what he could do with a bat. On Saturday, as he stood in front of a small, polite media scrum in small, polite Beckenham, a little grizzled, a little reflective, under a grey sky that would give up and turn blue soon, he felt like that friend of dad's who was once in a band.
But a bigger part of it is form, that intemperate and inevitable feller of all athletes. And Warner does not have it. Take out his Boxing Day double-hundred against South Africa and his highest score in his last nine Tests is 48. He is 36. He has the World Test Championship [WTC] final immediately ahead of him, but no runs there and he might be running out of road.
Still, he deserves more ahead of this summer than to be sucked into some nonsensical, entirely confected war of words with Stuart Broad, his chief dismisser the last time Warner was in England for the Ashes.
Worried about Broady, Davey?
WTC final first, mate. Then Broad, "if they select him for the first Test this time."
Nope, saw his figures. Need to see the wickets. "Five Tests for any bowler, even our camp as well, it's going to be tough to keep backing up."
Heard Broady said he'd voided the last Ashes series in Australia - which England lost 0-4 - because of Covid restrictions?
Should I void my 2019 series too? "He [Broad] might get homesick and he can't cope with playing under those circumstances but we've all played Ashes series away. It's the same."
You are such a cad, Davey.
Maybe it was the Beckenham air, but none of these came out like barbs or snipes, as much as the headlines might make it seem that way. No fire, just some words. He played along, perhaps for old times' sake, perhaps because he was bored, perhaps because he's human and if he's asked pantomime questions, he'll play panto.
That bit of Warner that once felt so fearsome, that jaggedness in his energy, the bruiser in him is gone. Family, TikTok, success, Sandpapergate, who really knows why? He's not exactly cuddly. Fuzzier somehow and a little less vivid in outline.
None of what he's like will matter if he scores runs, runs which help Australia become Test champions, runs that win a first Ashes in England in over 20 years. How he thinks those runs will come is interesting, though. He said that in 2019, he wasn't playing his game. "I was listening to some other voices which, from my perspective, probably didn't suit my game."
Some other voices? Another flash of old Warner, the one who upended the whole sticks and stones schtick. His words did hurt.
This time he's going to back his real game. That one where he'd rather nick off cover-driving than get bowled on the backfoot defending. The Brendon McCullum mindset, he said, to be brave, to unsettle opening bowlers, to not cede those good areas to them. "You're going to have to make some brave decisions and be content with getting out, whether it's a cover drive or what not."
It is an interesting bit of reflection this, on age as much as anything. As we grow older, we assume we grow wiser. We evolve, we mature, we learn from the mistakes of our youth. This, we think, is the natural order. Sometimes when we get there, though, we learn that how we were when we were young is the way to be, because that is what got us here in the first place.
A healthy enough season at the IPL plays right into that. Transitioning in the past from red-ball state cricket to Tests, Warner said, had changed the DNA of his batting, focusing his mind on survival. Transitioning from the IPL to Tests, on the other hand, where the mode is attacking from the get-go, remains perfect.
Time was when we thought T20 batting was killing Test batting. But Warner's logic, this way around, of good T20 batting feeding into good Test batting doesn't sound so outré anymore. That you have to be content with getting out, that you value your wicket slightly less, Warner heralded the coming of this, long before Bazball, before Rishabh Pant, before Gill.
It's easier said than done. Warner's troubles with Broad in Ashes 2019 - seven dismissals out of ten - from around the wicket were not an abstract. They were very real and the perfect illustration of a specific and long-running global trend. Like punches and plans, broad-brush intent is good, until a Dukes ball comes out and nicks it off. Warner's opponents this summer are two of the best from that angle, Broad and Mohammed Shami.
If he gets past them, then Warner has a shot at a serious all-format legacy, leaving the game as an opener in a modern era - not an easy one for them - who has won the ODI World Cup, the T20 World Cup and the WTC. A first-of-a-kind, probably the last-of-a-kind.

Osman Samiuddin is a senior editor at ESPNcricinfo