Cricket Australia lose sight of what Warner has become

David Warner withdrew his appeal against the leadership ban
David Warner withdrew his appeal against the leadership ban ©Getty

'Australian cricket does not deserve David Warner.' It's a sentiment you hear quite often as you travel around the country. It's generally laced with a level of condescension. The kind that you associate with someone who's been built up to be a problem child, the one that never grows up.

The fact is though that Australian cricket does indeed not deserve David Warner. But that's because they've never valued him enough or to the extent that they should have. Of all the things that have come to light in the wake of the latest off-field drama to hit Australian cricket, this seems to be at the heart of the issue.

And by letting this cliched and tired narrative around Warner fester for all these years, what Australian cricket has let transpire is losing sight of who David Warner has actually become. For, the fact is that Warner has grown up. It's just not in the way Australian cricket wanted him to or in a way they can identify with. There are plenty around world cricket though who do recognise it. And if at the end of all this, Australian cricket does run the risk of losing Warner forever, they will have only themselves to blame. There is no dearth after all of people in power in other parts of the cricket world who will gladly have him.

Yes, the whole hullaballoo that has threatened to take the focus away largely from the second Test in Adelaide, might have to do with the specific matter of Warner's captaincy ban. It is however a larger reflection of how he's been treated at home for more or less the entirety of his career. Forever the antihero. Forever the attack dog. Forever the scapegoat.

Someone who's been compromised way too often for the sake of the ostensible larger good of Australian cricket. It's only understandable then if Warner doesn't trust that Australian cricket has always had his best interests in mind. That he was prepared to withdraw his appeal at the slightest hint that he and his family would have to relive the aftermath of the Cape Town fiasco from early 2018 is only a further indication of that lack of trust. And who can blame him.

That Australian cricket constantly wants Warner to prove that he's a changed man post the misadventures in South Africa nearly five years ago only adds to it. More so when it's been widely accepted that Steve Smith, who also served that one-year ban alongside his statemate, has moved on from it and can be handed the responsibility of captaining this team again.

Looking it at from the outside, you in fact wonder why there even needs to be an inquest or an appeal into whether Warner is ready to be a leader in Australian cricket. You'd think it's obvious, based purely on how he's been on and off the field since returning to the fold in 2019.

Maybe it is a bit too simplistic to think so. That protocols and procedures are compulsory in such complex matters. But what about the number of times he's offered his experience and his leadership nous to the captains he's played under since his return. What about the number of times he's actually stepped up and helped them out.

What about the leadership he shows in training sessions, when he spends as much time working on his batting as he does helping others out. To the extent that, as recently as before the Perth Test, Warner was seen stepping away from his own stance to help Marnus Labuschagne out with a query the No 3 had about his technique, even asking the support staff member to wait because he was himself in "batting coach mode". Most importantly what about the message coming through loud and clear from those who matter most, his teammates, who all have vouched for him in the last few months, and especially in the wake of the chaos over the last couple of days.

What Australian cricket if anything hasn't realised yet is how much they've missed out on by not tapping into his leadership qualities in a more official capacity. Not just in terms of the tactical knowhow he brings on the field but also the worldly perspective he's garnered with his exploits outside the Australian cricket system, especially in the IPL. You just have to speak to the many young Indian cricketers who've played under Warner to realise the holistic nature of the positive influence he's had on them.

Watching from the outside again, the "lifetime leadership" ban for having played a part in altering the condition of the ball always felt like an overreaction that you knew Australian cricket would struggle to backtrack from. By dragging this issue out much longer than was required, they've once again also highlighted the archaic master-slave relationship between administrators and players in sport, cricket in particular, that hasn't completely gone away yet.

The eventual outcome of this misadventure might take some time to play itself out. But this goes beyond Warner's current quest for a big score in Test cricket and his immediate future in the format. It also goes beyond how many games he plays in the BBL or even what he's got left to give Australian cricket as a player. And Australian cricket will have to act fast to ensure that they don't lose him forever, even if it continues to ring true that they don't deserve him.