Cricket-Warner angst adds spice to Australia's sleepy home summer

  • Cricket
  • Tuesday, 05 Dec 2023

Cricket - ICC Cricket World Cup 2023 - Final - India v Australia - Narendra Modi Stadium, Ahmedabad, India - November 19, 2023 Australia's David Warner walks after losing his wicket, caught out by India's Virat Kohli off the bowling of Mohammed Shami REUTERS/Andrew Boyers/File photo

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Home tests against an undermanned Pakistan may struggle to excite even the most ardent Australian cricket fan but angst over David Warner's farewell tour has given the series a much-welcomed boost.

Since his test debut against New Zealand in 2011, Warner has been front and centre in Australian cricket, whether as a poster boy for brilliance or a whipping boy for the team's occasional transgressions.

The 37-year-old is in the spotlight once again as he looks to bow out of test cricket on his own terms amid considerable doubt over his place in the side.

Former team mate Mitchell Johnson gave voice to that doubt with a sledgehammer column that highlighted Warner's waning output in tests and suggested selectors were too close to the lefthander.

While Johnson's takedown drew a scathing response from some media pundits, many in the Australian cricketing community feel a lingering discomfort more than five years on from the Newlands ball-tampering scandal.

'Sandpaper-gate' was arguably the nadir of Australian cricket in the modern era, with Warner adjudged villain-in-chief after a Cricket Australia integrity probe.

Opening partner Usman Khawaja spoke for many when he said Warner, along with fellow ball-tampering conspirators Steve Smith and Cameron Bancroft, had "paid his dues" by serving a 12-month suspension.

Yet plenty of fans would agree with Johnson that indulging Warner with a "hero's send-off" in the third test at his home Sydney Cricket Ground would be hard to swallow.

Warner remains saddled with a lifelong leadership ban following Newlands, despite his campaign last year to have it rescinded.

That came to nothing when he angrily pulled out of the process, accusing a Cricket Australia-appointed panel of seeking to dredge up unsavoury details about 'Sandpaper-gate'.

He has kept his counsel amid the recent furore, declining interviews while allowing his long-serving manager James Erskine to defend his character and return fire at Johnson.

Warner may hope his bat will do the talking, much as it did during the recent World Cup in India when his mountain of runs helped Australia to a record sixth title.

Test runs have been much harder to come by in recent years, barring a brilliant double-century in his 100th test at the Melbourne Cricket Ground against South Africa nearly a year ago.

Former captain Ricky Ponting later said that would have been Warner's ideal swansong - but he battled on through an injury-blighted series in India and a middling Ashes in England.

Runs rather than reputation may ultimately decide whether Warner gets the Sydney send-off he has long hoped for.

Former Australia wicketkeeper Ian Healy was famously denied a farewell 100th test in Brisbane by selectors who opted for the emerging Adam Gilchrist instead.

However, as has long been in Warner's favour, replacements remain thin on ground, with none of the usual names producing compelling cases to dislodge one of the nation's all-time best openers.

(Reporting by Ian Ransom in Melbourne; Editing by Peter Rutherford)

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