Just over 12 months ago, more than 50 per cent of the Australian public wanted David Warner out of the national team for good.
That isn’t, of course, an official number (as we’ve seen in the last month, though, what good are poll results?). But, in any case, it certainly felt like more people wanted Warner gone than didn’t.
He was the chief architect of Australian cricket’s demise, the puppet-master leading more vulnerable types into nefarious actions on the field. After their sins, all three would fall together, publicly and emotionally. Two sets of tears were met with sympathy, Warner’s by contrast were seen as that of a crocodile.
But as Cameron Bancroft and Steve Smith waged their carefully curated redemption narratives – one in a singlet expounding the virtues of yoga, the other plundering runs against a club side in a telecommunications advert – Warner stayed quiet.
And he remained quiet until this week, when he conducted his first press conference following a match-winning century against Pakistan in Taunton. Cricket Australia had been waiting for him to do something significant in a game before trotting him out to face the press.
While anything Warner does will still be received with cynicism by some, his comments to journalists were, well, quite classy. He immediately paid tribute to his wife Candice, who he credited with getting him out of bed in the initial weeks following the events in Cape Town. He described her as his ‘rock’.
Then, when asked why he hadn’t done a public interview (as the other two had), he said he didn’t want or need to. “I was just focused ahead,” he said. “That was my own thing … I didn’t need to say anything.”
The press conference marked a conclusion, of sorts, of Warner’s period of quiet. While he has spoken via more carefully managed mediums and briefly at grade cricket games, this was the first time he responded to media questions.
Reflecting on this keep-quiet strategy, it’s hard to argue it hasn’t worked, especially when you consider where Warner’s reputation was some 15 months ago. By no stretch is he redeemed in the public eye, and he arguably never will be. But his turnaround has seen him back to a point where he may just be tolerable. That, in itself, is a marked improvement.
Warner’s actions were more than just questionable during the South Africa series and the Ashes (or, some would say, years) that preceded it. But after getting a lot wrong leading up to the infamous sandpaper incident, he has got a lot right ever since.
It’s been reported that Warner’s manager James Erskine knocked back several highly-paid interview opportunities for his side of the events at Newlands. Cricket Australia were terrified of a ‘tell-all’, knowing the build-up of widespread criticism could easily lead a frustrated Warner defending himself and taking others down with him. That would have been both instinctual and characteristic.
Combative on the field, Warner rarely shies away when someone comes at him. Bancroft shifted blame onto Warner during an infamous interview aired during the Boxing Day test. “Dave [Warner] suggested to me to carry the action out on the ball given the situation we were in in the game and I didn’t know any better,” Bancroft said.
Many were expecting a Warner retort, but it never came. In fact, he was praised (for the first time since the incident) in December for staying quiet while the other two were criticised for both the timing and content of the interview.
There’s an inevitable criticism here that, contrary to the above, the only reason Warner is now being accepted is quite simple. That is that he is an incredible cricketer that will help Australia win again. Success papering over the cracks, if you will.
But Warner made a mistake, paid a hefty price, and has returned. His actions were exceedingly poor but, put plainly, not in the same ballpark as other Australian sports people who have transgressed and returned.
Much of the criticism directed at Warner over the years has been due to what comes his mouth. It’s then no surprise that, since keeping quiet, views on him have somewhat softened.
He has visibly cooled since last March. Whether he remains that way could define his legacy.