Outcast to Ashes: the reinvention of David Warner
David Warner has been called a lot of things in his career but last December he learnt a new term … an oik.
It's an old English word for someone who displays ignorance or a lack of respect. But it came not from a drunken cricket fan on the terraces, rather someone trying to help him.
Warner and his wife Candice were sitting across the table from experienced player agent James Erskine in his Sydney office, getting informal advice on Warner's potentially perilous and potholed path back to mainstream cricket.
Warner at the time was very much a cricket outcast. With Steve Smith and Cameron Bancroft, he was serving out the final months of his year-long ban from the game after he had been deemed the mastermind of the ball-tampering incident in the Cape Town Test against South Africa earlier in the year.
Erskine had known and respected Candice from her days on the ironwoman circuit but only knew David by reputation, and an unflattering one at that.
Inevitably, the chat flowed to the point where Erskine thought the debate had to return to ground zero and the unvarnished truth about the challenge ahead.
"I said - look, I don't know you - but the fact of the matter is the perception of you is not good,'' said Erskine.
"You are in a situation where most Australian cricket fans don't like you and if I had to write down one word on a paper to describe you it would be an oik.''
Warner smiled at the term but from that ice-breaking moment the discussion moved on to the formulation of a plan to navigate Warner's journey back to mainstream cricket and - in a greater challenge - public acceptance.
The stains of the ball tampering affair will never be fully wiped away. The challenge was to ensure it was not a life sentence.
Warner was a man who needed a plan.
THE BASIC RULES
Erskine felt the best course of action was to follow a few simple rules which involved contrition, forgiveness and acceptance.
They included …
* You can't change the past, so don't try to.
* You cannot be resentful to anybody involved.
* If you want to play Test cricket again you have to get along with your team-mates. At some stage you must ring them and say sorry for your part. You can hold no grudges and look forward to seeing them again.
* Do little or no public interviews and don't bother hiring a publicist because you have nothing to publicise. Stay quiet and stay out of the headlines.
Warner did ring his team-mates and his pleas for forgiveness must have felt awkward to those players who sensed more people knew than the three who got caught.
Warner is a car lover who enjoys driving a flash Bentley but Erskine felt if he wanted to reconnect to the man in the street the last thing he needed to be doing was being snapped in a super-flash car.
So he advised Warner to "dress down'' on the road and was impressed when the Bentley was left in the garage at their next meeting. Warner arrived in a less ostentatious Toyota.
"I told him to lose the Bentley. The average Australia makes $48,000 a year. Why would you want to stand out? You don't," Erskine said.
"The sort of money our sports stars earn is totally unrealistic to the average person. You are setting yourself up for criticism.''
Among other suggestions Erskine gave to Warner were to stop chewing gum on the field, take his hat off in interviews, don't get upset, open doors for old ladies, smile more and have the graciousness to congratulate someone when they played well.
"Little things like that, it's amazing if you are nice to people how nice they are back,'' he said.
"I have to give him credit. He has listened to everything and is 10 from 10 in taking it up.
"I told him not to chew gum because the camera is going to be on you and it looks bad. I can't fault his approach.
"He is the first person in my 42 years in the industry to ring me up and mention that he had not paid me for anything and (ask) when would the bill arrive. He has done really well in the IPL and the World Cup.''
SELECTORS' BOLD MOVE
One of the most significant moves in the comebacks of Warner and Smith was a secret and potentially controversial vote of confidence by the national selectors.
In February it was speculated Smith and Warner could be left off Australia's 20-man contract list and made to sing for their supper by winning new deals by playing a select number of matches.
But rather than leave them in the cold the selectors went the other way and gave them a seven-figure cuddle.
Not only were they on the list but reinstated to high ranking positions - Smith is believed to be No 3 and Warner No 4 (Pat Cummins is No 1).
When Australia's cricketers assembled in Brisbane for the World Cup camp several players ranked lower than the duo privately expressed surprise at their high rankings, but the whispers soon died down when it became evident during the World Cup how much they were needed. The selectors' faith was vindicated.
REGROOVING THE MACHINE
Warner and Smith have been interesting technical studies in their year out and since they returned.
Warner has given his free-flowing game a grease and oil change and refitted some themes which worked for him as far back as primary school - such as keeping his head still.
Former Australia coach Darren Lehmann likes the shape of Warner's game entering the Ashes.
"He looks to have tightened up and it's a good look,'' Lehmann said.
"He has never scored a Test century in England so he will be determined to do so.''
Smith, whose home made style is an amalgam of countless moving parts held together by an eye which could spot a field mouse from a helicopter, showed patches of the world-dominating batsman he was before the ban during the World Cup without quite managing the big slam dunk innings.
Net watchers noted how Warner, smiling at press conferences, too, looked relaxed while Smith seemed as intense as ever.
Assistant coach Ricky Ponting was legitimately worried Smith was hitting way too many balls. Almost over-cooking.
Smith's desperation for success was such that when team-mates such as Glenn Maxwell were dismissed during Australia's World Cup semi-final against England he looked let down by them at the other end and occasionally made gestures of hot frustration.
BAND IS BACK
Smith and Warner are not alike in many ways but they do have one common therapy … music.
Smith brought his guitar to the World Cup. He'd play it on the bus for most trips, while Warner had the Bluetooth headphones in, listening to pop tunes from the likes of Lewis Capaldi during net sessions.
When Smith and Warner returned from South Africa they were sent on different planes so great was the tension.
When they trained at the SCG during their year off they occasionally ran into each other though there was never a sense they were routine training partners.
But they are also big boys and there were no reports of tension in the team during the World Cup.
Ricky Ponting was privately praised by team sources during the early stages of the World Cup for simply floating around and chatting to anyone who looked like they needed company.
There is only one certainty in this Ashes series: Warner and Smith will be heavily jeered by the English supporters group, The Barmy Army, who will readily plunge the knife into a flesh wound still carrying sensitive scars.
They handled it without major concern in the World Cup and, in typical bulldog fashion, it even seemed to rouse Warner to produce his best form.
The big question down the track is whether Smith will be jeered when he gets back to Australia.
Cricket Australia have said that when Smith's two-year ban from the national captaincy ends they will monitor crowd reaction in Australia before deciding whether to re-appoint him as Test skipper.
Jeer him and you will probably spear him; cheer him and he may again be the main man.
Australia, it's over to you.