David Warner should lead Australia in the shorter formats    Getty Images
David Warner should lead Australia in the shorter formats Getty Images

With the dawn of the new decade, Australia were struggling to come in terms with their fading glorious past. One by one the champions left the stage leaving an irreplaceable void. Matthew Hayden s absence at the top of the Australian Test line-up has left them with a massive hole to fill. In January 2009, a 22-year-old maverick was thrown into the ring, called ‘international cricket’. To his credit, he was the first since 1877 to play for Australia without playing a First-Class match. David Warner enthralled all with a 43-ball 89. Many years later, the approach remains same, controversies piled and faded but Warner stood strong and emerged as Australia’s go-to guy. Perhaps it is time he gets his deserved dues Australia’s limited-overs captaincy.

‘Go-to’ guy, really? Warner was perceived as a limited-overs specialist. During his early days purists would bet on their savings that this bumpkin was another slogger who would make quick bucks playing the lucrative T20 leagues. Were they wrong? He had not played First-Class cricket. However, making his Test debut in 2011-12, Warner redefined theories. He has amassed 4,669 runs at 48.63, and those runs have come at a strike-rate of over 77. Not just Warner, the game should thank Virender Sehwag, who saw shades of himself in the southpaw during their early Delhi Daredevils (DD) days and for making this youngster from New South Wales believe that Test cricket is simpler. Warner had passed the Test with distinction.

Cut to recent times. Ahead of ICC World T20 2016, the Steven Smith-led Australia, in a bid to strengthen their middle-order, decided to push Warner in the middle order. Warner had no complaints and responded to the call with fair bit of success. The tournament ended in disappointment for Australia as hosts India oust them from the competition. The dominators of the game have failed to master the shortest format. While the Australian think-tank continues to ponder on their T20 conundrum, they have failed to look beyond the Smith approach.

Right after the World T20 arrived IPL, and Warner powered the underdogs Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH) to the title win. Not only Warner was phenomenal with the willow but also his leadership won plaudits. Warner embodies commitment, passion and is a believer in leading from the front. Parallels can be drawn with Virat Kohli, the best limited-overs batsman and no wonder why they have been incredibly successful.

Cricket Australia failed to read the signs then but more was to follow. Under Smith, Australia were whitewashed in the Test series in Sri Lanka. Then came the ODIs, a format they are world champions of and have dominated like no other. Australia won the first, lost the second and Smith was rested. With a herculean task ahead, Warner was handed the reins and supported by the brilliance of another former captain George Bailey, Australia went on to win the series. It did not end there; Australia pocketed the T20I series as well.

Smith was back at helm for the ODI series in South Africa. The world champions were whitewashed 0-5. The sole bright point was Warner, who is at a stage in career where he can do no wrong. With a belligerent 173 in the final ODI at Johannesburg, Warner had almost avoided the whitewash but this is a team game and unfortunately, one player cannot be expected to play all 300 balls! Warner ended the series as its highest run-getter, amassing 386 runs at 77.20 and his strike rate reads 113.52.

The way he went about the chase once again spoke volumes of his mindset that is a mix of aggression and intelligence. Isn’t he Australian cricket’s ‘go-to guy’?

Not an overnight captaincy material

Australian cricket has been Smith-obsessed for a while. Smith’s tactical acumen has been hailed. Back in 2012, in Sourav Ganguly’s absence, a young Smith took charge of Pune Warriors India (PWI) for a match. And months before that he had led Sydney Sixers to the inaugural BBL title.

In 2014-15 Smith eclipsed Brad Haddin to captaincy and became Michael Clarke’s natural heir. In limited-overs cricket Bailey was treated shabbily despite his good record. He often filled in for Clarke as the ODI captain, won games, scored runs and when the big gun returned, he got dropped. Perhaps, he paid the price for his un-Australian methods.

Once Clarke retired after winning the World Cup 2015, Smith was elevated to ODI captaincy. Bailey, the man who led in Clarke’s absence as recently as the World Cup opener for Australia was overlooked despite his credentials and impressive record.

There is a feeling in world cricket that the Australian approach can never go wrong. Shane Warne was the natural successor to Steve Waugh but the former’s share of controversies denied him the job and Australia missed out on a tactical genius leading them. Next in queue was Adam Gilchrist but this legend missed out as the theory was not to overburden the special batsman who was already donning the role of keeping wickets. It had to be another special one from India MS Dhoni, who proved this mindset, had little logic.

The consensus among Smith-backers is Warner is just enjoying his odd moment under the sun due to his IPL success and the odd victory but not many remember that when Smith was making his mark with impressive leadership, Warner was spoken about too.

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David Warner receives the IPL 2016 Trophy from BCCI President Anurag Trophy AFP

In January 2012, barely a few weeks after Warner had made it to the Test side and crushed the touring Indians at Perth, the then Australian coach Mickey Arthur said about him: I think he has the ability to lead any Australian team in any form of the game at some stage. Whether that is in the next couple of weeks or whether that is in a year or whether that is in four or five years time I am not sure.”

He further added: What I do know is that he does have the ability. He has a very good cricket brain, he leads a lot by example, trains the house down. The perceptions that everybody had of David Warner and the reality of David Warner the person are poles apart.

Warner was Sydney Thunder’s first ever captain. He scored a hundred in the franchise’s maiden match against the Warne-led Melbourne Stars. He also led the Chairman’s XI against Dhoni’s India. Smith won the BBL but he was the stand-in skipper for Haddin.

He had himself to be blamed for going the Andrew Symonds way. What was more, his on-field behaviour had led the now late Martin Crowe observe in ESPNCricinfo, “Warner can play, but he is the most juvenile cricketer I have seen on a cricket field. I don t care how good he is: if he continues to show all those watching that he does not care, he must be removed, either by Cricket Australia or definitely by the world governing body.”

Smith did not have a problem as such. It was fair that that Smith raced past Warner in the captaincy contention. Warner steered away alcohol and pub brawls. He applied brakes in time, diverting his route to emulate the likes of Pontings and Haydens. His relationship and fatherhood helped him to make the perception and reality part apparent.

“It s (fatherhood) encouraged me to be a different person in the sense of being a role model for my daughters and for kids in general. Having two beautiful daughters and a caring wife has settled me a lot. It has helped me be the person I am today. I made a lot of mistakes but in my life away from cricket, there were things going on that never needed to get expressed. But I came out of them feeling very good. I love the person I ve turned into, said Warner during IPL 2016.

His growth as a person, a cricketer and leader has been phenomenal and Australian cricket are missing out on Warner, the leader.

Captain Warner

After losing the first two ODIs against South Africa, hundreds from Smith and Warner propelled Australia to 371. In history of the sport, only once a score higher than this was successfully chased and amusingly it was South Africa who did it against Australia in 2006. Australia’s weak bowling attack fell to David Miller’s brilliance but some part of that was allowed.

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David Warner poses with the trophy after winning the T20 series in Sri Lanka AFP

South African all-rounder Andile Phehlukwayo, who supported Miller in the stand, was completely out of sorts against the leg-spin of Adam Zampa. Despite that he was under-bowled by Smith, bowling 7.2 overs. Australia had a plethora of medium-pacers and when nothing works, at least a change in bowling style helps. It wasn’t that Zampa would have won it for Australia but a different approach could have made a difference.

Smith off late has been criticised for being tactically conservative and the fact was well highlighted when in his second Test as captain he allowed Dhoni’s India to scrape through a draw. India were surviving dangerously, Australia were 4 wickets away from a win and there were 4 overs left in the day and Smith decided to shake hands with Dhoni and settle for a draw.

On the other hand, Warner has an unmatched hunger for wins. SRH coach Tom Moody described: The most important thing that I draw from him is he has a relentless passion to win. He is a born winner and that rubs off on others. He has got incredible work ethic, incredible discipline and all those things are so important from a leadership point of view and that has rubbed off on the group.

Warner was brilliant with his communication skills. In his attempt to communicate with his ace bowler Mustafizur Rahman, who only speaks and understands Bengali, Warner attempted to learn the Indo-Aryan language that is the national language of Bangladesh. The way Warner helped Yuvraj Singh and Shikhar Dhawan resurge in the tournament was another classic case of how backing your top players can help your cause.

His opening partner Aaron Finch, who was also Australia’s ex-captain in T20Is praised him in an interview with Cricket Australia website, To lead the Sunrisers to the title I think shows how much he loved the responsibility of captaining. He led from the front with the bat, in the field he led from the front and I think as a captain he was someone who captained the way that he plays. He always took the aggressive option, he never backed down.”

But enough of IPL. The bowling changes Warner made in Sri Lanka were refreshing. In the T20Is, he broke the convention and held back opener Usman Khawaja, promoting an under-fire Glenn Maxwell to open the batting. Maxwell responded with a 65-ball 145, Australia put up 263 and won by 85 runs!

Bowlers have come out and praised Warner as he gives them the field they want. And even Smith could not hold onto his praises after the Sri Lanka series.

I thought he did a great job with the guys. His energy was magnificent throughout those games and looking forward, that is the sort of energy we want from him and all of the other senior players. We have a pretty quiet group and we need that sort of energy to come in South Africa and in the summer as well,” said Smith.

Warner himself relishes the role. After his success in Sri Lanka, Warner told the press: “I loved every minute of it. I feel that the guys have taken it on board very, very well. You always have the respect from your peers, which is always fantastic. And I felt that the guys did everything I asked of them in the last game, and everything I have asked of them at training. They have done everything I have asked for, and I couldn’t be any more pleased.”

Under Smith the results are not as desired especially in coloured outfits. Let Smith lead in Tests. Let the burden on the No. 1 Test batsmen be reduced. Teams have successfully gone ahead with the multiple leadership approach something Australia had initiated themselves, about two decades ago. Warner’s approach is aggressive and positive. He is tactically sound and leads from the front and commands tremendous respect. Are these qualities not enough to qualify for the role of Australia’s limited-overs captaincy?

(Suvajit Mustafi consumes cricket for lunch, fiction for dinner and munches numerous other snacks throughout the day. Yes, a jack of several trades, all Suvajit dreamt of was being India s World Cup winning skipper but ended up being a sports writer, author, screenwriter, director, copywriter, graphic designer, sportsmarketer , strategist, entrepreneur, philosopher and traveller. Donning so many hats, it s cricket which gives him the ultimate high and where he finds solace. He can be followed at @RibsGully and rivu7)