Even the most ardent Australian cricket fan will struggle to get excited about home tests against an undermanned Pakistan, but anxiety over David Warner’s farewell tour has given the series a much-needed boost.
Since making his Test debut against New Zealand in 2011, Warner has been at the forefront of Australian cricket, whether as a poster child for brilliance or a whipping boy for the team’s indiscretions.
The 37-year-old is back in the spotlight as he attempts to exit Test cricket on his own terms, despite significant doubts about his status in the squad.
Mitchell Johnson, a former teammate, echoed that criticism in a scathing editorial that underlined Warner’s diminishing Test productivity and argued selectors were too close to the lefthander.
While several media pundits reacted angrily to Johnson’s takedown, many in the Australian cricketing community are still uneasy five years after the Newlands ball-tampering controversy.
‘Sandpaper-gate’ was perhaps the low point of Australian cricket in the contemporary era, with Warner named the villain-in-chief following a Cricket Australia integrity investigation.
Usman Khawaja, Warner’s opening partner, spoke for many when he stated Warner had “paid his dues” by serving a 12-month suspension, along with fellow ball-tampering conspirators Steve Smith and Cameron Bancroft.
Many supporters, however, would agree with Johnson that giving Warner a “hero’s send-off” in the third Test at his home Sydney Cricket Ground would be difficult to swallow.
Warner is still subject to a lifetime leadership ban as a result of Newlands, despite a successful fight last year to get it lifted.
That ended when he furiously withdrew from the process, blaming a Cricket Australia-appointed panel of attempting to dredge up unsavoury details regarding “Sandpaper-gate.”
Throughout the latest uproar, he has remained silent, rejecting interviews and allowed his long-serving manager James Erskine to defend his character and strike back at Johnson.
Warner may be hoping that his bat will do the talking, as it did during Australia’s record-breaking sixth World Cup victory in India.
Except for a stunning double-century against South Africa in his 100th Test at the Melbourne Cricket Ground about a year ago, Test runs have been much harder to come by in recent years.
Former captain Ricky Ponting later stated that would have been Warner’s ideal farewell, but he persevered through an injury-plagued series in India and a mediocre Ashes series in England.
Runs, not reputation, may ultimately determine whether Warner receives the Sydney send-off he has long desired.
Former Australia wicketkeeper Ian Healy was notably denied a 100th Test farewell in Brisbane by selectors who chose the developing Adam Gilchrist instead.
However, as has always been in Warner’s favour, successors are scarce, with none of the typical suspects making strong bids to unseat one of the country’s all-time best openers.