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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 13 December 2018

David Warner needs to direct fighting talk to the right channels

The Australia vice-captain has never been afraid to stand his ground on issues that affect players, but his bully-boy antics towards his opponents cast him in a bad light

Australia's David Warner smiles at the end of the fifth and final day of the first Test against South Africa at Kingsmead in Durban. A day earlier he was embroiled in an ugly spat with Proteas wicketkeeper Quinton de Kock. Themba Hadebe / AP Photo
Australia's David Warner smiles at the end of the fifth and final day of the first Test against South Africa at Kingsmead in Durban. A day earlier he was embroiled in an ugly spat with Proteas wicketkeeper Quinton de Kock. Themba Hadebe / AP Photo

Oh, how David Warner has flattered to deceive.

Last Wednesday, on the eve of the first Test against South Africa in Durban, the Australia vice-captain said he was not averse to a life in politics following his eventual retirement from cricket. He opened up about his childhood, too, and how it toughened him and made him a responsible individual.

“As a kid, I had to do everything at home with my brother just because my parents worked all the time,” he said. “Once I was able to go and work, I went and worked because we needed that money coming in to pay the bills.”

Warner, whose batting at the top of the order has underpinned Australia’s Test success in recent years, presented himself as someone who could be counted on, as someone who “liked looking out for anyone who was close to me”. A noble aspiration indeed.

The left-hander put into context his notorious predisposition for a fight by reaching back to the time when he and fellow Australian cricketers took a stand against their board over what they perceived to be less than fair pay, especially for those who played at the domestic level.

“If you believe in something, you are going to have to fight for it, and I wasn’t going to stand down because we needed someone out there to speak about it.”

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The word “fight” has figured prominently in this brash and often badly-behaved player’s life. Which is why it was touching to hear him use the term in a positive light, towards a good cause. After all, how can you not be moved by someone offering a helping hand?

But just three days after his revelations promised to win over some critics, Warner found a way to once again polarise opinion when he got involved in an ugly spat with Proteas wicketkeeper Quinton de Kock.

A video emerged showing an incensed Warner yelling at De Kock as the teams made their way back to the dressing rooms for tea. His chain evidently yanked, the Australian had to be restrained by teammates from making physical contact with De Kock. A fired-up Warner had earlier directed a verbal volley at Proteas opener Aiden Markram after the rookie batsman was culpable in the running out of AB de Villiers for a duck.

This is typical of Warner. The man who only a few days earlier professed about helping others, especially those who needed support, found yet again the one player he thought he could pick on.

Just like he got stuck into upcoming England player Joe Root in 2013 and the sometimes diffident India batsman Rohit Sharma a couple of years later, he allegedly had a crack at De Kock. Except he did not realise his target was, by one South African account, a feisty character who would “have a go back”.

The details of the spat are still murky, but De Kock supposedly said something unsavoury about Warner’s wife. To Warner that was not on, as it should not be to any self-respecting person. But the question often asked of Warner and his Australia teammates has been: When players engage in verbal jousts on and off the pitch, where do you draw the line between what is acceptable and what isn't?

Former South Africa spin bowler Paul Harris summed up Warner’s character best when he called him a bully. "When he says something and someone comes back at him, then he gets upset. That’s pretty much all the characteristics of a bully.”

Politics has its share of bullies, possibly, but would a tempestuous Warner survive in the well of the Australian parliament? Rest assured, he would be regularly baited with incendiary remarks by his opponents. Would he fire back, or worse, get into a fistfight - like he did with Root? Would he survive in politics without a thick skin?

This is not to say Warner is a bad person. He isn't. He is just a terribly insecure one, who happens to be very good cricketer and a leader of men – as he has proved with Australia and Sunrisers Hyderabad, the Indian Premier League franchise.

He just needs to be touched by the better angels of his nature.