David Warner’s future has gone back into the balance

Two weeks from now, David Warner will play his 100th Test match for Australia – selection permitting. These things ought not be assumed.

When he dragged his lengthening shadow onto the Adelaide Oval late on Saturday afternoon, Warner started out like a batsman needing a hit. He nicked Jason Holder a metre short of the slips. He survived an extremely tight lbw appeal and review from Alzarri Joseph; if the umpire had given Warner out, the decision would have stood.

When everything is swimming along for a dominant Test team, there is always an individual fighting a personal battle for survival. On several fronts in Adelaide, that individual was Warner.

David Warner is bowled by Roston Chase.

David Warner is bowled by Roston Chase.Credit:AP

The brouhaha around his leadership ban could not have helped, though Warner did himself no favours with his emotion-laden withdrawal from the redemption-seeking process on the eve of the Test match. Perhaps he wanted to increase the degree of difficulty. Perhaps he thought the distraction wouldn’t matter; for a decade in the Australian team, whatever else has been going on, Warner has been able to trust in his bat.

Not so much in recent times, however. Since this fixture a year ago, Warner had scored 340 Test runs at a little more than 20 in 16 innings played mostly on batting-friendly pitches here and on the subcontinent. No Test century in nearly three years. An average slip-sliding from a tick under 50 to a tick over 46. If Australia were producing opening batters like they produce opening bowlers, Warner would have been under extreme pressure to retain his place since his return from his playing ban in 2019. The leadership ban would be entirely hypothetical.

Speaking of leadership bans, Warner could be very grateful to his captain in Adelaide, Steve Smith, for deciding not to ask the West Indies to follow on. This has become an unremarkable tactic in Test cricket, but there were ironies laced through ironies in the identity of Warner’s friend. Smith, also banned after Cape Town in 2018, has been conditionally restored. He is only Australia’s stand-in captain, but this barely rates a mention now. Smith led the team astutely in the field, using his bowlers well to pick apart the West Indies’ first innings and adding in a clever review to give Nathan Lyon one of his three wickets.

Smith stepping in to replace the injured Patrick Cummins has become automatic. While some would still be unhappy that Smith has been forgiven, there is unanimous support within the team and Cricket Australia for his caretaker captaincy. Warner can only look on with the frustration and chagrin that his statements have made manifest.

Decisions often seem vexing, verging on crisis, before they are made. Remember the angst about Smith becoming vice-captain? The hundred years of doubt that hung over a fast bowler, such as Cummins, being given the captain’s reins? Until they are made, these decisions can seem to have the whole world hanging on them. Then, once they are made, it’s ho-hum, what was all the fuss about?

It is the lack of a decision – or the reopening of a decision made in 2018 – that has stirred up the current controversy. Cricket Australia had it in its power to state, quite firmly, that Warner’s ban would remain. It also had the power to commute his sentence. Instead, it tied itself in knots trying to resolve a problem without actually making a decision. In doing so, all it did was breathe new life into the most divisive issue in Australian cricket. If CA’s purpose was to stir up dissent, remind supporters of the lasting ambivalence they carry toward this Australian team, and keep the controversy alive, then it can congratulate itself on a job well done.