Twice in his first over during the match between Kings XI Punjab and Sunrisers Hyderabad on Monday, Ravichandran Ashwin pulled out of the delivery. Maybe, the Kings XI skipper was trying to play mind games with the Sunrisers opener. Warner of the earlier vintage might have activated the lip. Here, he saw the funny side of it and broke into a smile.
Warner knows he now has little margin for error. After the ‘sandpaper gate’ in Cape Town last year, he became the persona non grata in Australian cricket, administrators and fans alike. Steve and Cameron Bancroft, too, had been handed the suspension, but Warner’s image suffered the worst blow. Him being labeled the ‘bad boy’ back home too played a part. Things became worse, when the Committee of Administrators (CoA) that run the BCCI, kowtowed their Australian counterparts and banned both Warner and Steve Smith from playing the last year’s IPL.
The Cape Town incident and the subsequent 12-month ban had put Warner’s international career at a crossroads. He badly wanted to return to Hyderabad, a city where he is loved. He was desperate to put in shifts for a franchise where he is a legend.
“With the family being here and the kids are a little bit older, it’s easier and more accessible for us to go out and enjoy Hyderabad. I’m getting amongst the people. Going to some nice cafes, having some nice dinners with my family. I thoroughly love this place. It’s my second home. I spend a lot of time here each year and hopefully I look forward to coming back next year,” Warner told his ‘special guest cameraman’ Bhuvneshwar Kumar after the match yesterday. By the way, Warner’s advice for the Indian fast bowler was that “he is better on the field, bowling with the new ball and bowling at the death”. It was tongue in cheek.
World Cup via IPL
His parting quotes, a two-minute video clip posted on the IPL official website, also profusely thanked Sunrisers owners and fans. “I’m very grateful to come here again, play and participate in the IPL. They (owners) have been very, very good to me and my family over the years. And to the fans, thank you very much. You guys are the backbone of our team. You guys always come out and support us. Really appreciate it. Keep making some noise for us.” The left-hander will now leave for Australia and will prepare for the World Cup that starts in a month. His IPL exploits has given him a ticket to the quadrennial showpiece.
How well did he perform — 692 runs from 12 matches, including a hundred and eight half-centuries, and a strike-rate north of 143. He leaves India bestriding the run-scoring charts. KL Rahul at No. 2 is way behind with 520 runs. It all started at Eden Gardens on March 24. Shaking the rust off was his primary challenge, and also the small matter of negating the Kuldeep Yadav threat. The chinaman bowler had been having “the wood” on Warner over the past couple of seasons. To increase the degree of difficulty, the opener didn’t look 100 per cent as well, returning form an elbow injury that he suffered while playing the Bangladesh Premier League earlier this year. And yet, Warner ended up scoring 85 off 53 balls, an innings that spoke volumes for the Australian’s character and resolve. A low score in the first game, and things could well have gone awry. He spectacularly built on his start and a technical adjustment played a part.
“…it just goes back to being still as a batsman. I get the tendency to moving around a bit if there have been a few dots. But I have worked hard over the last few months,” Warner said at the post-match presentation yesterday. An elongated hiatus gave him an opportunity to work on his game, which was an upside of the forced break. Also, the whole sandpaper episode helped him develop a different perspective, when life wasn’t going apace. “Just put the bat down and tried to be the best man I can be, the best husband I can be and that’s worked for me,” he said last night. By his own admission, Warner is a prankster in the Sunrisers team. “Yeah, I try to be the funny man in the team, the prankster.”
Time will tell if Warner can integrate himself into “some values” that Australia coach Justin Langer set 10 months ago “to keep moving the team forward on and off the field”. But that’s Australia’s problem. Sunrisers fans would care little. They will sing the Warner chant, every time the 32-year-old from New South Wales turns up in Orange; opening the innings and manning the long-on or long-off boundary. “… orange is great colour for us. We are the Sunrisers. It’s a beautiful colour. It stands out. Obviously it’s the colour of the sun, a mix of orange and yellow,” Warner told Kumar.