David Warner: Why Australia's man of many personas can bow out an ODI great

David Warner celebrates a century
David Warner has scored 499 runs in the World Cup so far

ICC Men's Cricket World Cup 2023 final: India v Australia

Venue: Ahmedabad Date: Sunday, 19 November Time: 08:30 GMT

Coverage: Ball-by-ball Test Match Special commentary on BBC Radio 5 Sports Extra, BBC Sounds and the BBC Sport website and app. The website and app will also have live text commentary and in-play video clips (UK users only)

A version of this article was first published on 14 November, 2023.

More than most athletes, David Warner's public life has featured the man in a series of versions.

The early brawler, the reformed sage, the repeat offender, the penitent observer of silence, the strategist, the troublemaker, the king of the kids, the petulant self-justifier, the granular cricket analyst, the late-career paragon.

Some may have been more sincere than others, though there have at least been times when Warner has appeared to believe in them all.

Accordingly, he is received differently by locale.

In England, accentuate the negative: start by scoffing at his 95 runs in the 2019 Ashes, return to sandpaper if required. Some thoughtful and fair-minded people are genuine in their lasting deploration of his ball-tampering, but those whose default response to his name is to yell or type "Cheat!" are generally marked by less originality and understanding of nuance.

In India, conversely, Warner is hugely popular, the legacy of 14 seasons of Indian Premier League service and an ability to perceive which side of the naan is buttered.

In the manner of counterfeit jersey vendors only offering India shirts bearing Virat or Rohit, the Australian options are Warner or Maxwell.

Warner caters to to this pointedly, especially to the Telugu market in Hyderabad where he played seven seasons, roping his daughters in for Tollywood [Hyderabad-based cinema] dance videos on social media and replicating the moves on the field.

In Australia, reception is mixed. Some cricket watchers were put off years ago by his attitude, an on-field personality that was deliberately abrasive long before other techniques followed suit.

Some still resent the embarrassment of the sandpaper situation. Others enjoy his combativeness and respect his temperament, the one that involves more an inability than an unwillingness to give up.

Those judgements tend to colour how people perceive his cricket, especially in recent years when Test runs have been more of a struggle.

David Warner has the name of his wife and children sewn into his cricket boots
David Warner has the name of his wife and children sewn into his cricket boots

His achievements are immense: only four opening batters have exceeded his 109 Tests doing that job, or his 8,448 runs, or his 25 centuries. An average that once topped 50 but has declined to 44 leaves him now in the category of the very good, rather than the greats who only need one name: Tendulkar, Ponting, Sangakkara.

Where he could strengthen a claim to be grouped with those three is in one-day cricket. As the format has become less loved, so have its performances become less valued, except perhaps for Virat Kohli's march to 50 centuries.

At the top of the list for all World Cup runs, Tendulkar has 2,278, Ponting 1,743, and Sangakkara until a moment ago was third on 1,532.

Through the current tournament, an intriguing subplot has been playing out. Kane Williamson, Steve Smith, Joe Root, Shakib Al Hasan, Mushfiqur Rahim and Quinton de Kock all joined the 1,000-run list along with Warner and Rohit. Kohli was already in the club.

The latter three have set about challenging the podium, racing each other on the way. Heading into the final, Kohli has moved into the bronze position with 1,741. Warner is on 1,520, just behind Rohit's 1,528.

That's with Warner and Rohit on substantially fewer innings: this is their third World Cup, compared to Kohli and Sangakkara with four, Ponting five and Tendulkar six.

But Ponting is the only one of them to actually win the thing more than once - his famous streak of three, with Adam Gilchrist and Glenn McGrath. Tendulkar and Kohli won together in 2011, Rohit wasn't in that team, Sangakkara lost two finals. And Warner won in 2015. This year is his chance to bow out with two titles and break into the top five for most runs in the tournament's history.

It would underline his gift for 50-over cricket, something perhaps under-appreciated with modern scheduling affording little chance to play.

Warner has played ODIs across 15 years but averaged 10 a year. Yet these have returned disproportionate rewards. For instance: Warner's 160 matches have produced 22 centuries for Australia. Ponting played 215 more times and made 29.

On Sunday, in the final against India, Warner could pass Michael Bevan's tally of 7,000 career runs, meaning he would trail the two Waughs, Ponting, Gilchrist, and Michael Clarke for Australia. Steve Waugh played 166 more games and currently leads Warner by 673 runs.

The bulk of scoring from limited opportunity exceeds any team-mate or predecessor by a distance. Warner's record is singular.

Most singular of all is the energy in his campaign. Australia's huge Test year is showing. Cameron Green is a shadow, Smith is patchy, Pat Cummins has at times seemed worn, while Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood have not always been at their best.

Meanwhile, having turned 37 during the campaign, Warner is fresh as a spring lamb. He is hurling himself into innings, attacking bowling with the confidence of old, hitting the roofs of stadiums, sprinting runs, and setting the fielding standard in the deep.

It is the best he has batted in years. Now in the final, he has the chance for that to change something.