Australia’s vice-captain David Warner has compared the Ben Stokes affair to his 2013 suspension for punching Joe Root, saying his transgression was “a lot less than we’ve seen on the footage” of the England allrounder in a Bristol bar.
Warner’s glancing blow at Root was called a “despicable thing” by Cricket Australia’s chief executive James Sutherland and resulted in his ban from Australia’s 2013 Ashes warm-up matches, effectively suspending him from the first two Tests of that series.
Warner was also made to deliver a public apology in London, and the saga indirectly led to the sacking of coach Mickey Arthur, who was replaced by Darren Lehmann. However, there was neither footage of the incident nor any police investigation, and Warner rebounded to be a key player in the return series in Australia later that year.
“I did do my time. It was a lot less than what we’ve seen on that footage, that’s for sure,” Warner said in Sydney. “It’s up to them what they want to do – how they punish him [Stokes] and first of all it’s up to the police. Obviously with their investigation findings, to see what happens there. I think everyone in the world is waiting to see what happens there and what the outcome is.
“I had to deal with the situation that I was dealt with. Does Cricket Australia regret that or not? I don’t know. I just copped it on the chin and moved forward. One thing they didn’t have was video footage, I’d still like to know where that is.”
The episode and subsequent suspension was a turning point of sorts for Warner, who on the same Ashes tour struck up a relationship with his now wife Candice Falzon and started to develop the routines and disciplines that have him working as Steven Smith’s deputy.
“Each individual has their ups and downs – and that was my turning point,” Warner said. “I can’t really speak about, if it didn’t happen, what would have happened and where would I be. For me it was one where I really turned the corner, knuckled down and worked my backside off to get where I was.
“I am fortunate enough that my wife came into my life at that time and really got me into a routine. What happened, happened, I dealt with the situation as it was dealt, copped it on the chin and moved on.”
Looking ahead to this summer’s Ashes, Warner was blunt in asserting that he would be at his most aggressive and corrosive on the field. Since a 2015 exchange with Rohit Sharma, after which Warner was put on notice for his on-field persona, he has taken on a more serene demeanour that earned the sobriquet “the reverend”, but insisted he won’t be holding back against England at home.
“I’ll be doing everything I can to make sure that when we’re out there, we’ve got a lot of energy and lot of buzz,” Warner said. “Whether that’s being vocal or with my intent batting and in the field. When it comes to the Ashes, it’s a massive thing for us. Given what happened in India, given the IPL and county cricket. Everyone’s mates, we are mates, but sometimes you have to really try and work a way out to actually build some kind of – I used the word ‘hatred’ the other day. But some dislike, make things a little bit uncomfortable for blokes when they’re out there.
“I think that’s something that has sort of fallen out from our game, with bowlers not being able to stare at batters when they bowl a good ball. That little stuff is sort of slowly being taken out of the game. I love it as a batsman. If a bowler bowls a bouncer or I play and miss, and he looks at me – and not swears at me – but gives me a little bit of an earful or something then it gets you going. It’s exciting, people want to see that. I think that is missing a little bit from the game now. Obviously we can’t overstep the mark, but we just have to be cautious because sometimes the ICC and umpires take action over little things you do on the field.
“A big one is stump mic. You can hear the guys from fine leg saying stuff, so it’s very hard to actually say things these days. Because it gets picked up everywhere, you look at the stuff that happened with Michael Clarke. People turn around and go ‘Woah, I wouldn’t have expected that to happen on a cricket field,’ but that’s the aggression that happens. That shouldn’t have been put out there. But when you’re on the field, these little things can happen and it gets you going.”
Warner explained that it has been a difficult road for Australia in adapting to a somewhat less hostile posture on the field due to ICC regulations. He went through the process two years ago, surprising team-mates as much as anyone else at the time. By 2016 it had been decided to recall the chirpy wicketkeeper Matthew Wade, as much for his on-field “noise” as anything else.
“I definitely have [gone quiet] because I know every time I open my mouth I get a point deducted or I get a fine of some sort, whether I’ve overstepped the line or not,” Warner said. “Something always seems to happen, as soon as I walk in towards the batters or if I got to say something. Something always happens. It’s one of those things, I don’t want to have to come off the field all the time and have to fill out an incident report or whatever it is the umpires give us. So from where I stand, it’s going to have to be very, very subtle.
“After the Rohit Sharma incident [I stopped]. I felt I had a valid point there, because if I’m going to swear in a different language on the big screen, nobody is going to do something about it. But if I said what he was saying to me, in English, and you could lip read me – I’ll still get in trouble anyway. That’s where I was really disappointed with what happened. I think everybody interpreted it the way I actually said. It wasn’t being racist or anything like that. I just clearly wanted him to swear at me in English so everyone else could hear what he was saying.
“As a group we always talk about having energy and intent. There’s different ways of showing it, and I feel to make sure I get the best out of myself is to try and keep getting into a contest. I know when I come out to bat, nothing really gets said. That’s probably a tactic from the opposition, not to say anything. We copped a little bit of banter when we were in India. That was exciting, I liked it. Sometimes you don’t expect it when you walk out, it’s good, it gets you going and sometimes can turn you into a different player.
“We talk about guys like Virat Kohli, not to have a go at him or say anything to him. Because it inspires him. That is what some players do, they do take a little bit of inspiration out of that and determination to go one better.”