Had Delhi Daredevils (as they were then known) managed to snag Moises Henriques ahead of the second season of the Indian Premier League in 2009, there is no gainsaying what shape David Warner’s international career would have taken.
Henriques was snapped up by Kolkata Knight Riders instead, forcing the Daredevils to look elsewhere. Their search ended in a 22-year-old left-handed opener who attacked the ball as if he detested its very sight. At the time, Warner had not even played first-class cricket.
During his early days in the IPL, a conversation with his Daredevils captain convinced Warner that he could be a genuine success in white clothing. “When I went to Delhi, (Virender) Sehwag watched me a couple of times and said to me, ‘You’ll be a better Test cricketer than what you will be a Twenty20 player’. I told him I hadn’t even played first-class cricket yet and he said, ‘All the fielders are around the bat. If the ball is there in your zone, you’re still going to hit it. You’re going to have ample opportunity to score runs’.”
It took Warner a little time to take Sehwag’s proclamation to heart. It took even more time – roughly two and a half years – for Australia’s selectors to be convinced Warner had what it took to succeed in Test cricket. And look at where the New South Welshman is today.
Sehwag saw in Warner a kindred soul, an uncomplicated ball-basher whose batting wasn’t based around optimism and a song and a prayer, but an innate understanding of his strengths and, more importantly, his limitations. Almost a decade previously, the purists had written off Sehwag as a Test batter, pointing to his high-risk approach as a definite invitation for disaster. Sehwag proved the critics wrong, making a hundred on debut in the middle order, moving up to open the batting the following year and redefining the art of opening the innings, all while scoring two Test triple hundreds.
Australia aren’t so hung up on tradition and orthodoxy; the only way Warner would not have played Test cricket was if he didn’t believe in himself, if he didn’t believe he could make a success of it. Encouraged by Sehwag’s pep talk, Warner trained his focus on the first-class game, made his Test debut in December 2011 and established himself over a dozen years as one of the finest openers, nay batters, to have come out of Australia.
At some stage over the next few days, Warner’s run as a Test cricketer will come to an end. The Sydney Test against Pakistan, starting on Wednesday, will be his final five-day encounter. He will bow out as the fifth highest run-scorer for his country in Tests (he currently has 8,695 runs in 111 matches). With more runs than Michael Clarke and Matthew Hayden, Mark Waugh and Justin Langer, Mark Taylor and David Boon and even Greg Chappell. Only Ricky Ponting, Allan Border, Steve Waugh and Steve Smith are ahead of him; that’s not a shabby list to prop up.
These are impressive numbers – 26 hundreds, average 44.58, strike-rate 70.26. Hang on, 70.26? Of Australia’s top 15 most run-makers, the next best strike-rate is Hayden’s 60.10. 10.16 runs per hundred balls fewer. If nothing else, this alone should cement Warner’s legacy.
Warner’s batting reflected his personality – feisty, combative, never taking a backward step, in-your-face, an admixture of bravado and chutzpah but without the attendant adrenaline rush. For all his aggression, he mostly thought with his head, not his heart. But it was his heart that often got him into trouble. Warner believed it was incumbent upon him to stand up for his mates, hence the snarling and the growling and the borderline boorish behaviour that typecast him as the ‘ugly Aussie’. History will undoubtedly judge him more kindly; for now, the numerous run-ins and his culpability in Sandpapergate in Cape Town in 2018 that not merely attracted a one-year international ban but also a lifetime exclusion from a leadership role by Cricket Australia will hang around his neck like an albatross, a perennial asterisk that will accompany his mountain of runs, the plethora of match-turning edifices, the numerous instances when he did the unselfish act of taking on the bowlers up front so that the pretty middle-order boys could bed down for breakfast.
An unqualified hit in India and especially in Hyderabad – he captained Sunrisers Hyderabad to the 2016 IPL title – Warner has been more sinned against that sinner, however divided the jury might be. But when it comes to impact – in Tests, ODIs or T20s – there is no scope for ambiguity. David Andrew Warner, in a class of his own.