The Warner Controversy: where to from here?

Cricket news in this part of the world, thankfully given England’s dismantling of the Black Caps at Lords, has been all about David Warner and his spat in social media with two of Australia’s most respected cricket journalists: Malcolm Conn and Robert Craddock. I do not intend to revisit what was said: if you are a cricket fan you have read the exchange. If you are a Warner apologist you have already congratulated him on “sticking it up the journos” (aside: my favourite reply was “what would they know, they have never walked in your shoes” … are you kidding: the bloke gets paid to play cricket something the mere mortals among us would do for free). If you are on the side of the journalists you are bemoaning Warner’s conduct and declaring his captaincy prospects dead and buried. Most have taken a side and the less said about that the better.

What is important now that #warnergate has happened is to consider what the next steps are and how cricket in this country gets back to focusing on the upcoming Ashes and the return of the Ashes urn to its rightful place of residence in Australia.

Tomorrow is an important start to that process as Warner faces a charge against Rule 6 of CAs Code of Behaviour. For the uninitiated, Rule 6 provides:

Players and officials must not at any time engage in behaviour unbecoming to a representative player or official that could (a) bring them or the game of cricket into disrepute or (b) be harmful to the interests of cricket…this rule applies at all times where the unbecoming behaviour involves the player being involved in public comment or comment to or in the media.

There are various punishments available to the CA Senior Code of Behaviour Commissioner, The Hon. Justice Gordon Lewis AM, who will hear the case from a fine through to a reprimand and ultimately a suspension.

It seems difficult to argue that the conduct of Warner, no matter what side of the fence I have alluded to above one sits, is not in breach of Rule 6. As a minimum, Warner’s conduct must have been conduct banned by Rule 6(b) inasmuch as it can not be in the interests of cricket for a current player to abuse two of the most senior journalists in the game for the having the temerity to have an opinion. The question therefore becomes one of penalty and what Warner can put to the Commissioner as a plea in mitigation.

Herein, I think, lies a major problem for Warner. He has, despite his relative lack of time in the top flight of the game (19 test matches), been involved in a series of unseemly on field incidents of what could be best be described as sledging but really, even from a one eyed Australian fan, was tantamount to abuse. The most obvious of such incidents have occurred against India in both of the most recent home and away series. Even in a losing, Warner’s approach to relations with players from opponent teams seems to be “abuse first and ask questions later”.

I know regular readers of this blog will say that I have prejudged Warner here and that my general lack of, for want of a better term, endearment for the play of Warner is colouring my judgment here. Frankly, it may well be the case that I am harder on Warner than I would be on a player that I actually enjoyed watching play the game. I know this is incongruous given the alleged entertainment value that Warner brings to the game BUT the fact is that the conduct of Warner on the field is a major part of why I do not like watching him play.

Now is an opportunity for Cricket Australia to give guidance to a young player who is arguably at a career crossroad: having gone from being considered to be a captain in waiting no less than 3 months all of a sudden that carrot seems to be gone. That fact added to a start of a career where the numbers (1263 runs in 19 tests at an average of less than 40 AND 1124 runs in 38 ODIs at an average of 30) do not match hype means that Cricket Australia must tread carefully. Equally, Warner’s conduct can not go unpunished: indeed the conduct of recent times, including the sledging noted above, is a major part of the make up of Warner, or his ego, that needs to be worked out of his game and needs to be worked out his game right now.

Whatever the penalty, and given the penalties recently handed out for failing to answer a questionnaire that penalty must involve a suspension, now has to be the time that someone like a Rod Marsh or Andy Bichel, both selectors and massively respected in the game, tell Warner to shut up and let his bat do the talking.

I, for one, will be watching the outcome of the hearing tomorrow with interest and, more particularly, be closely examining Warner’s response to see if once again his ego is his guide or he has taken a moment of pause and learned the error of his ways, at least in the short term.

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