Have Warner’s and Australia’s Ashes hopes gone Walkabout?

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Australian batsman David Warner is racking up runs for Australia, but he's the only one. (AP Photo/Andrew Brownbill)

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Whether you view David Warner’s path to international cricket as being progressive, eccentric or flawed, you may be of the opinion that his withdrawal from it might be slightly irregular as well.

As everyone knows, in 2009 the Paddington-born opening batsman became the first Australian cricketer for over 100 years to play for Australia without having primarily sampled first class cricket.

The last time it occurred Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina had just been published, back in 1877. The general theme of insecurities laid bare that punctuate the book could act as a metaphor for Warner.

He started well enough on his international debut, hitting a confident 89 off 43 balls in a Twenty20 international at the MCG against South Africa.

His technique as a left hand bat looked good too. He also achieved a NSW one-day record at the time of 165, and smashed a formidable 97 from 54 balls in the Ford Ranger Cup.

In all that year he scored 390 runs in that comp at an average of 55 and a strike rate of 129.

An IPL contract followed with the Delhi Daredevils, and various commercial spin-offs followed including a lucrative deal to use a two-sided bat.

Quite simply he was a 21st century type of cricketer – dynamic, fearless, powerful and an excellent fielder to boot – Warner was used as a substitute fielder in Australia’s Test against South Africa in Perth in 2005-06.

He also happened to ply his trade in different competitions in different continents, even if the IPL was described by renowned Australian journalist Robert Craddock as “the sunniest of places for the shadiest people”.

In 2011, he achieved success with the red ball too, carrying his bat in what was only his second Test – something Hayden and Langer never achieved – against New Zealand in what ultimately was a stunning win for the Black Caps.

And after 19 Tests he averages a solid 39, which is certainly a platform to build on.

Yet Warner has a history of landing in trouble. A keen surfer, in 2007-08 Warner completed his second year with New South Wales, but after spending his winter at the Academy, he was sent home prematurely for general untidiness.

In the early hours of Sunday morning (GMT) the England and Wales Cricket Board alleged in a statement that there was an “unprovoked physical attack” on an England team player – later confirmed to be Joe Root – in an Australian themed pub called The Walkabout in Birmingham.

Let’s get things straight, according to eye-witness accounts (I called the pub myself but was issued with a stern “no comment”) I gather it wasn’t a vicious assault in any understanding of the term.

An unnamed source described it as a ‘glancing blow’. Warner has already apologised to Root. Alastair Cook has called for everyone to move on, and George Bailey called it “minor” – even if Jason Gillespie called Warner’s actions “unacceptable”.

I know the pub well having visited it after various cricket and football matches in the city. I have seen anti-social behaviour occur and have seen bouncers react very quickly to it.

The fact that the bouncers didn’t even throw anyone out, nor were the Police called indicates it was a minor transgression.

A generation or two previously, after the initial flare-up hands would have been shaken, more beers bought and there wouldn’t have been a second thought given about the incidents, unless it was brought up years later as an after-dinner thought.

But the Cricket Australia issued its own damming statement: “Warner has been reported for breaching ‘Rule 6: Unbecoming Behaviour…Team management have stood down Warner pending the outcome of a hearing.”

If you’re going to be labelled a 21st century professional cricketer, then I’m afraid you’re going to have to behave a lot better than that David. In certain industries Warner would be described as having ‘previous’.

Whether his prior offences influenced his dropping for the Kiwi game that was abandoned is a moot point. (Does a lot of money affect a young sport star’s behaviour? Discuss).

As recently as January this year during the ODI versus Sri Lanka at the SCG he received an official reprimand after pleading guilty to a Level 1 breach of the ICC Code of Conduct.

It stemmed from him standing his ground after being given out lbw, before eventually leaving but shaking his head.

The fact he may have been hard done by as replays showed he had got an inside edge to a Thisara Perera delivery before striking his pad made no difference: he was charged with breaching Article 2.1.3 relating to “showing dissent at an umpire’s decision during an international match”.

He was also fined the maximum possible for breaching rule 6 ($5,570) after a Twitter spat with journalists in May, accusing them of talking “sh*t”.

Conn, who had obliquely questioned the integrity of certain aspects of the IPL in the wake of the spot fixing scandal that threatens to engulf the tournament – or at least its reputation overseas – was met with a furious response from Warner.

Conn then tweeted back witheringly “You lose 4-0 in India, don’t make a run, and you want to be tickled on the tummy? Win the Ashes and get back to me.”

For Warner it was unedifying as it was avoidable. As much as twitter is lauded as a vital tool in the social media cannon, the fact is unless you’re as erudite as @eddiecowan or as pithy as a Ritchie Benaud parody account, perhaps it is best to leave the social networking until you’ve finishing playing – or at the very least delay sending a response until you’re less irate.

Incidentally his fine is nowhere near the largest for a Twitter indiscretion.

Ex-Arsenal footballer Ashley Cole was fined two weeks wages last season – approx. £260,000 – for calling the Football Association “tw*ts”. Just out of interest can anyone find an example which tops that amount?

Taken individually they are issues that could happen to anyone over the course of a modern career.

Collectively they are more damming, especially if you add the list to the fact that he failed to score in the India and Windies ICC warm up games, and has only managed double figures in one of his last seven innings, along with unremarkable form in the IPL, not to mention a stodgy nine off 21 balls prior to his night in the Walkabout.

You could argue a tipping point could be reached sooner rather than later.

In cricketing terms a day of reckoning could be overdue, certainly when you consider that he is one of five openers in the squad.

Yet, more importantly, in a country where violent crimes fuelled by alcohol are on the rise, a sportsman in the public eye, who has just committed an alcohol-influenced attack that must be labelled at the very least as unduly aggressive, at worst violent and reprehensible, surely cannot expect much leniency.

There are already reverberations of Andrew Symonds being sent home from the World T20 tournament in England in 2009, not to mention Punter’s infamous night out in the ‘Cross many moons ago.

The difference being Ricky Ponting quickly learnt from that error and worked his socks off to deservedly reside where the great men live in cricket.

The simple answer is for Warner to keep his head down, score runs and show more self-restraint off the pitch. Which is what the legendary Ponting did.

But will Warner do the same? Does he need to admit to a drinking problem, or at least anger management issues, or is it simply a case of curbing his booze intake that regrettably fires an excitable temperament?

Just how Warner (and Cricket Australia) react to this latest charge is just another subplot in this increasingly pressurised summer, however.

More to the point, will the newest problem to hit the malfunctioning Australian cricket team cause them to pull together more, or will we see resultant discipline subside again, fresh on the heels of “homeworkgate”, to reveal large fissures in the squad, weeks before the commencement of the biggest prize of all?

To cap it all before the game at Edgbaston last Saturday in which Australia lost by 48 runs, a message appeared on the big screen from the injured Michael Clark.

It read “Please remember to drink within your boundaries.”

As Tolstoy wrote in Anna Karenina: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

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