David Warner brewed up a storm last week as he published a scathing statement on social media, accusing the independent panel that was constituted to review the sanctions on him of wanting a “public lynching”. Warner’s statement just before the Adelaide Test against West Indies has once again put Cricket Australia’s handling of the fallout from the incident in the spotlight, with current and former players criticising the board for the continued injustice to the star.
The sanctions on David Warner were an outcome of the ball-tampering scandal that took place in the third Test between Australia and South Africa in 2018. Australia were touring South Africa for a four-match Test series, and entering the third Test, the series was levelled at 1-1. It is to be noted that the series took place at the height of Australia’s dominance in cricket, especially in the longest format of the game. For years, Cricket Australia has adopted an aggressive strategy on the field, both to win the fixtures but also to create drama, thereby attracting audiences towards the game.
On the third day of the Third Test, Australia’s Cameron Bancroft was caught live on television appearing to rub the ball with sandpaper traditionally used to maintain bats. The repercussions were quick, with Cricket Australia finding captain Steve Smith, vice-captain David Warner and Cameron Bancroft to be the players involved in planning and executing the incident. While both Steve Smith and Cameron Bancroft were found guilty of not preventing the plan, it was David Warner who was found to be the mastermind behind the ban.
This led to a 12-month suspension of David Warner from domestic and international cricket and a lifetime ban from the captaincy. While Steve Smith’s ban from the captaincy was for just twelve months, the decision to permanently ban Warner from the captaincy created much controversy, with many former players and experts criticising the sanctions as too harsh. It was opined that David Warner was made the scapegoat by Cricket Australia in light of the public backlash, and a true look at the issues within the management never took place.
Changes in Australia’s Code of Conduct
Discussions about repealing David Warner’s lifetime ban started earlier this year, with many former and current players calling for a change to the lifetime sanction awarded to him. But Cricket Australia’s Code of Conduct rules did not allow a review of any punishment when the charges have been accepted by a player, which David Warner did back in 2018.
Cricket Australia modified the Code of Conduct rules this year after a thorough review, creating a path for David Warner to appeal his lifetime ban. The application will be considered by a three-member review board consisting of independent commissioners who will make the decision based on the facts of the case.
The primary criterion for modifying a long-time sanction was if the candidate expressed genuine remorse and altered his behaviour in light of the sanction. Considering David Warner’s change in approach towards the game and his discipline on the field, it was widely considered that he would be able to get his sanction modified swiftly. At the time, Warner endorsed the new rules, and hoped for a fair review of his actions and that he could move on from the incident.
Warner’s Appeal and Withdrawal
David Warner submitted the appeal last month and hoped that a decision could be made before the start of this year’s Big Bash League. A captaincy chance with his team Sydney Thunder looked very much in sight for the 38-year-old. But the process turned out to be different from both what Cricket Australia and David Warner hoped it would be.
According to David Warner’s lengthy statement, the independent panel wanted a public hearing of the case, contrary to what was expected. In his words, the panel wanted to conduct a public spectacle by making him relive the incidents of 2018, and expose him and his family to further humiliation and harm. He also accused the legal counsel assisting the review panel of making offensive comments during the process.
David Warner has reportedly contacted Cricket Australia to lodge a protest against the panel’s approach, with the management also reportedly unhappy with the panel’s approach. But a week after his complaint, Warner saw no meaningful effort towards the panel’s approach, and hence decided to withdraw the application.
The Path Ahead For Warner And Cricket Australia
David Warner has been going through a lean patch in the past few months in Test cricket, and he is likely to retire from the longest format of the game by the end of next year. While he continues to be a matchwinner for Australia in ODIs and T20Is, he is unlikely to ever captain limited-over sides for the national team given his age. For Warner then, overturning the ban is a moral victory rather than a practical one.
Cricket Australia is mostly to blame in the whole episode, with the board repeatedly accused of shifting away the responsibility of making decisions to escape blame. Instead of amending the rules that would have allowed the board itself to make a decision, Cricket Australia created a complex maze of panels and appeals that took away the power from itself, suffering the repercussions as a result.
Australia’s captaincy troubles are unlikely to go away in the short term, and the board would benefit from a thorough introspection.
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