David Warner leapt in joy, thrust his arm into the air with the bat. He held his helmet to his heart and kissed it. The Rajiv Gandhi cricket stadium in Hyderabad erupted in sheer joy doing a “Warner, Warner” chant as the opening bat acknowledged the cheers of the adoring crowd with a 360 degree rotation of the bat. He and Jonny Bairstow had pulverized the Royal Challengers Bangalore bowling attack, both hitting centuries.
But for Warner, the feel of the three digit figure on the scoreboard meant much more than the smell of the sweat that went into reaching it. Sunrisers Hyderabad mentor and former India cricketer VVS Laxman in his column revealed how Warner had promised coach Tom Moody 500 runs in the 2019 edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL). He topped that self-decided target by 192 runs, hitting 8 fifties and a hundred in the 12 matches he played. By the time he left for Australia to join the World Cup squad on 30 April, he had scored 692 runs at an average of 69.2 and a strike rate of 143.86. He would wait for the end of the IPL on 12 May to find out if anyone manages to take away the Orange Cap.
It was as if Warner wanted to make up for his forced absence from IPL 2018, after the ball-tampering controversy in South Africa. But more than that, Warner consciously stayed away from the media, letting his powerhouse of a bat do the talking. He had endured the most difficult phase of his cricketing career and life and it is a tribute to his mental toughness and the support system of his family and close friends that he had handled it very maturely.
But it is not as if Warner was not playing well in the tournaments leading up to the IPL. He played the Canadian and the West Indies leagues in June and August respectively and hit good form in the Bangladesh Premier league where he led the Sylhet Sixers team and scored three 50s.
The tournament saw a display of Warner audacity when he batted right-handed against Chris Gayle. Struggling to score off Gayle, midway through the 19th over, he switched his stance and started batting right-handed. The next three balls went for a six, a four and another four.
“I play golf right-handed so I thought I might as well swing and clear the ropes. It came off,” Warner was to say later. But more than a cricketing adjustment, it revealed a mindset. A never-say-die spirit.
One reason he hit the purple patch turning up for the Orange Army was because for Warner, the Sunrisers has been a second home. He was always made to feel wanted, irrespective of whether he was physically with the team or not. The reception was extraordinarily warm this season but even last year, he continued to be part of the team’s social media chat groups. The message was clear : Sunrisers was family and families do not let a member down.
Warner had led the Sunrisers to the title in 2016 and was an inspirational captain. Kane Williamson of New Zealand took the mantle of captaincy in Warner’s absence last year and took to the team to the finals, where they lost. This season, SRH insiders say it is heartening to see the leadership camaraderie between Williamson, Bhuvaneshwar Kumar and Warner.
Warner’s role was clearly defined this year, that he was there for the batting, setting up the target or chasing down the scores. But he was an integral part of the team bonding sessions, be it through a game of dart or ping pong or a pool session and was always at hand to guide youngsters in the SRH set-up.
While Warner in this ominous form was great news for SRH, who are still in contention for a slot in the final four, the others in the World Cup would be wary. But is the World Cup the big aim for Warner?
His close associates say as a cricketer, he would obviously want to win the World Cup once again for Australia, having been part of the winning team in 2015. A bigger target for him would be to win the Ashes in England and score big runs.
As Warner left India, he was in a happy space. If there was an award for the most precious player of the IPL from 2008 till date, the pocket dynamo from Down Under would be a leading contender for it. From 2009 to 2013, when he turned out for Delhi Daredevils, he was a success story in most editions. He has repeated it with SRH. His wife Candice is expecting their third baby this June-July and that keeps him motivated and excited.
There are no Sundays in Warner’s book, he trains even when everyone else takes an off. Which is why his friends say when it comes to work ethic, `Discipline’ could well have been Warner’s first name instead of David.