Not often does one come across an Australian who gorges on butter chicken with garlic naan and has not had a drink in 11 months.
“May 20 would be one year I haven’t had a drink,” said David Warner. One of the most explosive openers in current era, Warner has come a long way from being the incorrigible motormouth with a short fuse to a responsible senior cricketer. He attributes it to getting settled with a former ironwoman as wife and two daughters.
In a long interaction, Warner opened up on sledging, the Australian way of cricket and what prompted him to write children’s books where most characters are inspired from his childhood, including his Fox Terrier dog Max.
Was it difficult to graduate from T20 to such a terrific opener in Tests?
For me it was about adapting to opening the batting with the new ball moving around. In white-ball cricket, the ball doesn’t move around so much and I can play my game. Probably why I have been successful so far is because I haven’t got into my shell where I have looked to just defend in Test cricket where a lot of players like to get themselves in by letting balls go. I always look to score before defending. That’s how my nature is.
What’s your take on sledging now?
It’s not sledging. It’s more banter. It’s more about getting into the minds of the batsmen that you think would never say something to you. If you spot something that he normally does, get him thinking ‘Oh no I didn’t do this’. It’s just little things. There’s no sledging in the game at this moment.
How changed are you from the person from 2013 (when he was fined during the Ashes for a bar brawl)?
I’m the same person. Some things happened back then. Maybe if that’s today it might still happen, you never know. When you are in the heat of the battle sometimes you can really nudge that line. Given today that the bowlers can’t celebrate the wickets, it’s quite tough. Spectators love seeing the aggression of fast bowlers. Back in the day I used to love watching the West Indies, our fast bowlers, Brett Lee or Shoaib Akhtar sending the ball past your ears and then giving the stare down.
Today, the bowlers can’t do that. And I love when a bowler gets in my face because it switches you on. It gives that competitive edge. But we have to be mindful of keeping the game clean. As a result of having two beautiful daughters and a caring wife, marriage has settled me down a lot. You go back to 2013 when I made a lot of mistakes but you get through those times. And I came out of the other end very good. Some people think I should bring back some of my old antics a little bit but they will always be there.
What prompted you to write a children’s book?
I was never a smart kid, never good at reading or writing. For me it was about voicing my youth and giving my knowledge back to kids of how I went about school. It’s about doing what you can do to achieve what you want. For me it was cricket. This book was about telling kids to have fun when playing cricket. When you go to school, you got to behave. You are going to have kids who want to distract you, teachers who don’t like the way you behave or else you will be called the class clown.
I wasn’t smart enough to learn what the teacher was teaching me but when I came to PE those students who gave all their attention to the teacher in mathematics for example, they couldn’t kick a ball! So we were teaching them how to kick a ball. I want kids to understand that there is a lot more to life than just reading books and being smart. We need to teach kids about life skills. Once you finish school and in the real world, you are in a big sea. And there’s plenty of fish in the sea.
How much of that book is inspired from real life, including the dog Max?
I had a dog named Max, a Fox Terrier. He never gave back my ball though. He took it and destroyed it. Everything I had in the book is what I had in life. Besides the characters’ name, I had a Cambodian friend, a Bangladeshi friend and Indian friends. I went to a multicultural school where less than 50% students were Australian.
Australia celebrate their wins like no other team. How does it change in the IPL?
It’s embedded in us from back in the day. England are pretty much the same with Beefy and all of them. They have played the game, sit down in the dressing room, have a few beers and talk about anything. We love our barbecues, our beers and we are very family oriented as well. That’s something we have done as a culture.
When I was 16, playing grade cricket, we used to sit in the dressing room where they used to have beer while I was having a soft drink because I was underage. Now it has become smarter because not every day you win the World Cup or a Test. We celebrate in different ways here. We put cake in the face. I have embraced that coming here. As international players we go into our rooms and have beers with each other. A lot of Indian players have embraced what we do and we have embraced what they do.
Even the way Australians retire is different. How do you handle that?
You are always going to be replaced. You will probably never be forgotten but a lot of those players like to be in the system giving back what you learnt. I always try and talk to the retired players because they are greats of the game. They have been through what I am going through right now. For us when it comes to retirement, it’s about letting them have their peace. We celebrate their careers in a different way.
We catch up, have a beer with them. I remember Ricky Ponting’s retirement at the WACA (Perth). We were sitting around there all night, reflecting on when he was a youngster, all the World Cups, some of the Ashes turmoil and some of the Ashes victories --- just talking to a great player like that because you won’t get that moment ever again!
How do you spend your time off cricket during the IPL?
In 44 degrees you can’t play much golf. We play darts, we play ping pong. We jump around like hooligans in the pool playing volleyball. A lot of us use this 6-8 weeks as a strengthening phase. We do a lot of our strength programmes because over the expansion of this time you get a lot of things done that can get you through to 12 months of international cricket.
I watch a bit of Netflix, series like Narcos. But when family comes, it’s always family time by the pool, kids running around and giving headaches. I was fortunate enough to play a series that was washed out in Kerala. It’s a beautiful place. I love Vizag. Last year, my wife and I with Dale (Steyn) went for surfing. When we are close to the water it makes us feel at home. We are always in hotels around the world.
We understand now why the Indian players can’t go to the mall. Because we went to the mall and it was very tough doing our shopping. But it’s amazing how much they love and embrace cricket. It’s a religion. We can understand why people are grumpy when India lose or go nuts when India win the World Cup.
Have you been able to embrace the food here?
My experience is pretty bad. My tongue is still burnt from the first time I came here (playing for Delhi Daredevils). I love Chinese, Japanese. I got friends in Chennai and some of the food there was very spicy. And of course the biryani here (in Hyderabad). I put it in my mouth and steam was coming out of my ears. But butter chicken is a very nice dish. Butter chicken with garlic naan, I eat that a lot. Not much more though.