David Warner was named the winner of the Allan Border Medal this week, the third win of his illustrious career. An incredible achievement and result given that for the first few months of the voting period he was still serving his 12-month ban for his role in ‘sandpapergate’.
This, perhaps, is why a number of members of the media, as well as the general public, have questioned the validity of the medal. With others like World Number Two Batter Steve Smith and World Number One Bowler Pat Cummins considered more worthy winners.
Smith was banned too, but Smith’s crime was seen by the public to be less than Warner. Smith was merely guilty of failing to stop it from happening and trying to cover it up. Warner was the ringleader, he was the guilty one.
Few in Australia noticed that David Warner won four man of the match awards in the ODI World Cup. All that they noticed was that he was batting a bit slower than he usually does. He received a huge amount of criticism, in spite of being Australia’s best player in the tournament, or at worst second-best behind leading wicket-taker Mitchell Starc. As far as the public were concerned, Warner had a bad World Cup. The reality is that he was brilliant.
There is no doubt that Warner had a bad Ashes, getting 9 bad scores out of 10, while Smith was amazing, with some of the best batting that anyone has ever seen. It would have been better if not for the concussion that saw the emergence of Marnus Labuschagne as a Test Match force.
Emotionally, few would doubt that Smith deserves the Allan Border Medal. His Ashes was incredible, and it did so much to lift the team in the time since then as well. He lifted the side. Smith in 2019 was like Mitchell Johnson in 2013.
If Smith didn’t get the award, then it should go to Pat Cummins, who came back from years of injuries to become the best bowler in the world. Filling that gap between Mitchell Johnson and Josh Hazlewood to create a powerful three-man pace attack that means that Australia can win test matches, and he’s been pretty good in the other formats too.
But David Warner won so many man of the match awards, in ODIs in the World Cup, in Twenty/20 internationals, and even in tests. Indeed, in almost half of the matches he played in, he won the man of the match award.
Smith’s story is incredible too, and Smith definitely outperformed Warner in the Ashes. Indeed, Smith’s performance in the Ashes was better than anyone else’s performances at any time in the year, but Smith wasn’t as hated as Warner. When Smith did well, he was applauded. He was even forgiven for his failures. Not Warner. Warner got four man of the match awards and was told he was out of form. He got more man of the match awards than anyone else and his getting the award was said to be controversial.
The reality is that this is not a controversial decision. On raw statistics and raw performances, David Warner was Australia’s best player. The only reason that anyone sees this is controversial is that we are blinkered because we see his performances as worse than they are because we hate him. We are reluctant to applaud his successes and excited to applaud Smith’s, or Cummins’.
It isn’t just Warner who is being treated unfairly, though. Mitchell Starc broke the all-time record for most wickets in a single ODI World Cup and not only did he miss the player of the series award, but he was then dumped for the upcoming Ashes, in favour of a returning James Pattinson, who ended up not doing particularly well, while Starc was amazing.
Josh Hazlewood, who was in great form, missed out on the ODI World Cup entirely, for no particular reason, not even coming in after other bowlers were left out injured.
The reality is that cricket is often a game of hunches and, while we get excited by statistics, perhaps more than we should, we are all so sure that whoever we like is better than whoever we don’t like.
Yes, there is an argument for putting Smith or Cummins in there, and emotionally we would love to do it, but if we take the emotion out of it then Warner was the better player.
I for one think it is a great achievement for Warner to come back this well after so much negative publicity. Hopefully this will lead to his successes being applauded, not hidden, and the press can judge him based on his performances, not his history.
However, given that Muttiah Muralitharan retired with his chucking label still hanging over his head, perhaps Warner will still have this ball tampering hanging over his head long after he retires.