Australian Test match opener David Warner has been making the headlines again for all the wrong reasons, and, in so doing, the pocket-sized batsman has raised serious questions as to just how long Cricket Australia (CA) can carry on supporting the controversial New South Welshman.
Warner’s latest brush with the authorities occurred after the 26-year-old missed a grade one match for his state in order to go to the races instead, resulting in the pugnacious left-hander being handed a one-match suspended sentence by Cricket New South Wales on Tuesday.
The opening batsman had been due to feature for Randwick Petersham on the second day of their two-day match with Northern Districts, only to instead spend the day at Royal Randwick racecourse for Epsom Day.
And this latest indiscretion only serves to compound what has been a miserable year both on and off the field for the diminutive Aussie, who must now be seriously concerned about his international future.
Warner was, of course, infamously suspended by CA back in June for the tourists’ first two warm-up fixtures leading up to the opening Ashes Test match against England the following month, as well as being fined £7,000, after allegedly punching Yorkshire batsman Joe Root in the Walkabout Bar in Birmingham following the two countries’ clash in the ICC Champions Trophy.
However, despite subsequently being recalled to the Australia team for the third Test at Old Trafford, Warner struggled for form during the remainder of the series, finishing with just 138 runs at an underwhelming average of only 23 from the three Tests he featured in.
And then to compound matters further, Australia head coach Darren Lehmann dropped the player from the tourists’ one-day international (ODI) and Twenty20 (T20) squads for the limited-overs leg of the tour in September, citing a general lack of runs at the top of the order in the shorter form of the game of late.
So what now for Warner and where does this latest indiscretion leave the hugely talented batsman as we fast approach the eagerly anticipated opening Test match of the winter Ashes series Down Under?
Well, Warner is most definitely not the first gifted sportsman to have found himself in hot water off the field, and he certainly will not be the last either.
Whether it be Paul Gascoigne with the England football side, Ian Botham with the England cricket team, Eric Cantona with Manchester United and France, or Ricky Ponting with CA, the past sporting landscape is littered with similar such cases as Warner’s.
And in all of those above examples, the players in question were each backed by their respective employers after their own various lapses and brought back into the fold mainly for one reason and one reason only; their value and importance to the team in question.
There was never any question that, say, United were going to sell the inspirational Cantona after his kung-fu kick on a Crystal Palace fan at Selhurst Park in January 1995, as the striker was just too integral to the on-field success that Sir Alex Ferguson’s side were enjoying at that time.
However, worryingly for Warner, the same cannot be said of his current standing in the Australia setup. For one thing, as we have already mentioned, the fiery batsman has already found himself dropped from both the ODI and T20 teams, the two forms of the game where he actually first came to prominence Down Under.
And that just leaves the Test arena for the New South Wales opener to now fulfil his undoubted talent on the international stage, but as we saw recently against England, even his place in that side is under threat going into the first Test of the winter in Brisbane next month.
Yes Warner was done few favours by the selectors last summer after being shunted up and down the order, while he also (admittedly due to his own fault) had relatively little preparation time going into the final three Tests of the previous Ashes series.
The one thing that may spare Warner, though, come the opening Test at the Gabba next month are the lack of serious alternatives to take his place, especially at the top of the order, with perhaps only Phil Hughes currently putting pressure on his opener’s spot now that Shane Watson has found yet another new home down at No. 3 in the batting lineup.
In the end, it may just come down to a gut feeling on the part of national selector John Inverarity and Lehmann, something the latter has already be known to do on a few occasions in his brief stint in charge of the Australian team (think Ashton Agar at Trent Bridge in July).
And perhaps the best way to decide on whether Warner gets a reprieve for Brisbane or not would simply be to compile a list of pros and cons to sticking with the troubled opener?
In the former you may find things such as: explosive batsman, gun fielder in the covers, quick run-scorer capable to turning an innings on its head and so a player the opposition fear.
While in the latter category, you would more than likely have: off-field issues constantly interrupting his fledging career, unreliable and a disruption to the equilibrium of the team.
However, in the end, as we touched on earlier, the key question that Inverarity and Lehmann must both ask themselves is this: is Warner’s outrageous talent with the bat worth all the inevitable off-the-pitch hassle that comes with it?
And the answer, sadly, to that poser is no, meaning Australia should now take the decision to finally cut their ties with Warner and start building for the future with another opener instead, as this is hardly a Cantona, Ponting, or Botham we are talking about here.
But one suspects that CA and Lehmann may actually just hedge their bets on this tricky issue—anyone who understands the Aussie coach knows he loves to take a gamble when it comes to team selection—and retain Warner in Brisbane in the hope that his match-winning potential finally comes to the fore against England, especially with the lack of obvious alternatives crying out to take his place.