While Australians have locked with screens or gone to grounds for another installation of the footy season, leaders and lanyards from Cricket Australia have been quietly war-gaming the small matter of the sport’s future and their fragile place in it. But the scent of blossoming wattle in the cool morning air means that spring has arrived; footy is soon over, cricket will soon be here and Australians are asking: why are we talking about David Warner as captain?
Obviously, these things cannot be answered exclusively through a sporting prism. Why would we do that when there are social, political, broadcast, entertainment, geopolitical, historic and economic interests to overlay it with, too? Sure, there is a white-ball vacancy and he is Australia’s best and most experienced player, an admired tactician and respected senior figure among his teammates. But on the other hand, wasn’t he banned for life from leadership positions for that thing? And what’s he like as a bloke?
By now, the potential overturning of Warner’s ban has little to do with whether or not he replaces Aaron Finch. Instead, the question is more entangled with the extent to which CA needs Warner, the implications of private equity, the future of cricket, and Sandpaper. Warner finds himself the lightning rod for all of it.
Warner wants his lifetime ban overturned. Less to assume the captaincy, more to achieve redress. He is supported by the players’ union, the Australian Cricketers’ Association, which made formal representations to CA several months ago on this specific issue, without response. Senior teammates publicly support Warner, too. The ignominy of a lifetime punishment would weigh heavily on anyone. His career is in its twilight, and it would be impractical to retrospectively lift it afterwards. The time to broach the question is now.
CA’s path is delicate but, whichever way it approaches it, it is in bondage to that sliver of yellow, 80-grit sandpaper. It may calculate that revisiting the ban is not worth the loss of corporate face, even if, as Warner points out, it was meted out by its predecessors. But the alternative – to effectively reaffirm the lifetime ban – risks something altogether more damaging. So far Warner has stayed quiet about events at Newlands and beyond but, depending on whom one believes, failure to redress his punishment may open the door to wilder mediums of debate – like a book, or a court. Warner has the nuclear codes. In corporate-speak, this is sub-optimal.
Whether Warner is your kind of guy or not, that he could consider such recourse would be completely understandable. He was made the arch-patsy for misdemeanours authored by many, and now wears the humiliation an immutable sentence, a punishment in perpetuity, denied the chance for atonement. It was a penalty delivered in blazing hot blood – where an independent review later found “strong systemic and organisational input” into the decision to cheat. But Warner effectively took the hit.
Because of the misalignment between punishment and responsibility, events around sandpapergate now give way to truths, semi-truths and apocryphal myth.
More will come out. But in reality, Warner’s punishment wasn’t about tampering the ball (unsuccessfully at that), it was about attending to the public’s outrage about the many sins of many fathers over many decades of ugly Australian cricket. But the punishment did not cleanse, it embittered. Speaking to Guardian Australia, Warner’s manager, James Erskine, said of sandpapergate: “Even a black labrador dog knows that more than three people were involved.”
But it’s not all violins for Warner, either. The man some call the optometrist (for specialising in the “I”) caused others’ eyes to roll as he spoke about his keenness to “benefit the next generation” after accepting BBL money that was not offered to his contemporaries. He is a self-made man who unapologetically avails himself of his value, perhaps feeling that he’s been burnt before, and is safer looking after himself and his family. Perhaps it is reasonable in the circumstances.
But as the truth now drips, is there a middle ground that both parties can strike before it floods? CA appears open to the idea of lifting the ban both in public and private, subject to the way it takes place. In its ideal scenario, Warner would front the board, demonstrate his growth, and ask for lenience. But such is the changing shape of cricket, Warner might reject the idea of CA as his school principal, parole officer or keeper.
Nick Hockley and Lachlan Henderson’s challenge is to chisel an agreeable ‘halfway’. A place able to note that both parties have grown, both are improved versions of what came before, and that peace is of mutual benefit. To that end, overturning Warner’s leadership ban might not just be the right thing to do, it’s good business, too. He doesn’t even need to become captain; though he’d be a good one.