David Warner links Australia to the great sides of the past
They used to call David Warner the bull. That was when Warner was a cricketer but was also a living, breathing embodiment of The Line. The Line that Australia drew, the precise location and pulse rate of which only Australia knew, the policing of which only Australia could do.
He was The Line because he once had no hesitation raising doubts about what South Africa did to get a ball to reverse and then, four years later, was one of the lead instigators in Sandpapergate.
He was The Line because he was such a serial sledger that the ICC warned of drawing their own line ahead of the 2015 World Cup, but who has gotten into a near-physical scrap once, and walked off the field once when he deemed the sledging to be too much.
Somewhere along the way they started calling him The Reverend. It's not clear why, other than because he became a father, smiled a bit more and stopped throwing punches at cricketers and constantly being all up in their faces.
After he returned from Sandpapergate, they started calling him Hum-bull (humble, geddit?) More smiles, more Tiktok videos, less sledges (though Ben Stokes didn't think so).
It's very likely that he's none of these, was never really any of it, but also is all of it and was always all of these. In the real world of ordinary humans - who do not have every single detail of their lives publicly scrutinised as mercilessly as athletes - this is what we call growing up. But over the last week, Warner has shown us a truer, more genuine core, that can't be faked or nicknamed, a trait that used to be ascribed to the best Australian cricketers.
Let's break this down. This is not an Australia side like those old Australia sides, those habitual winners, those snarling, gnarled champions. Sides don't fear them the way they used to in big tournaments; some, like England, have treated them with disdain recently.
Tim Paine gets a lot of attention for being a nice guy, but Aaron Finch is a decent man with the kind of open smile that his not-so-distant predecessors took for weakness. It is a side in which Glenn Maxwell can talk openly and bravely about mental health, not mental disintegration. In which Adam Zampa can be all kinds of a vegan, coffee-connoisseur hipster. In which Marcus Stoinis is Zampa's bromance, not his mate. In which, as a fast bowler, Pat Cummins is Tom Cruise in Top Gun, not Ben Stiller in Dodgeball. This is, in the context of Australian cricket, a touchy-feely kind of side.
And Warner, whatever he is now, is not exactly out of place in this side. Maybe there is something to Hum-Bull after all; the guy who silently served his time, didn't snitch, and returned with dignity enhanced; maybe he's just waiting till he's done and then he'll drop the memoir on it. But in this latter part of the tournament, he alone has summoned this old-school link to those champion sides and its greatest players; players who pulled out their biggest game for the biggest games; who, when they saw an occasion, rose to it; who went by nicknames like Tugga, Pidge, Punter or Warnie
These days such a conclusion sounds primitive. Data has been used - often persuasively - to argue that there are no clutch moments or games, let alone clutch players. Data can be a buzzkill, albeit a necessary one. In which case, take the following sentences of pure fact in whichever way makes most sense.
In three successive games that Australia needed to win in a country in which their win-loss record before this tournament was 3-6, they first chased 158 against the defending champions, then 177 against the unbeaten, virtual home side, and then 173 in a final. Warner hit 89*, 49 and 53; 191 runs all told, strike rate 154, a boundary or a six struck at less than every five balls.
This wasn't the early, pioneering Warner. This was smart, ruthless Warner, working his way through his battles, picking his match-ups. It's easy enough to calculate in numbers how he squeezed those preferred match-ups. But there's no measure of how it deflated the opposition.
The Imad Wasim over for instance, the fourth of the semi-final chase; favourable match-up sure, 17 runs in all from it, but quite tangibly it sucked the energy out of whatever vibe Shaheen Afridi had created. Or when he hit Mohammad Hafeez for that six and then stepped out to Shadab Khan for another; these weren't metrics as much as a new Pakistan being taught an old lesson.
Tim Southee came into the final on Sunday a transformed T20 bowler, conceding under five runs an over in the powerplay. Warner hit him for two boundaries in his very first over. Then he hit a six in his second. Southee came out the powerplay the old Southee: 2-0-20-0. Mitchell Marsh was well on his way by the time Warner went after Ish Sodhi, but that ninth over didn't just take out a key member of the attack, it changed the mood of the chase. He doesn't hit as many sixes as he used to, but each one of the six he hit through the two knock-outs, had an incremental effect on the opposition's morale: going, going, going - as the late Dean Jones used to say - gone.
Plus, he hasn't totally lost the ability to be downright outrageous. The pull off a Sodhi slider that went straight down the ground for four, or the square drive off Imad having moved well outside leg-stump - this is what makes Warner, finding his own solutions to various problems. Those shots were also to be reminded of what Greg Chappell once said about Warner, that he is wired different to others.
He sure is, although, as the last few days have shown, not so different to the greatest of those who came before him.