Explained: What propelled Australia pace legend Mitchell Johnson to launch explosive 'sandpaper' tirade at David Warner?
Mitchell Johnson severely criticised David Warner ahead of the Australian opener's ‘farewell’ Test series against Pakistan.
The controversy surrounding David Warner's Test farewell ignited on Sunday as the opener was picked for the first match against Pakistan in Perth, as former Australian pacer Mitchell Johnson criticised his nomination for a “hero's send-off,” questioning both his recent cricket performance and accountability in the notorious ball-tampering scandal in 2018. Johnson's scathing remarks highlight the tension surrounding Warner's Test retirement, with allegations of “arrogance and disrespect” surfacing from the former Australia pacer.
As Johnson made a vicious attack at the Australian opener, let's take a brief look at the controversy that the former pacer referred to, and Warner's recent struggles in red-ball format.
At the heart of the debate is Warner's involvement in the 2018 ball-tampering scandal, where he, along with Steve Smith and Cameron Bancroft, faced severe sanctions for their role in altering the condition of the ball during a series against South Africa. The infamous scandal, colloquially known as the 'Sandpaper-Gate,' remains a dark chapter in Australian cricket history. The incident, captured on camera, led to widespread condemnation and severe repercussions. Cricket Australia swiftly imposed hefty sanctions, including year-long bans on Smith and Warner from international and domestic cricket. Warner, in particular, faced scrutiny for his senior role in the team and his perceived abuse of leadership influence. Warner was also barred from appearing in the Indian Premier League, where he was the captain of Sunrisers Hyderabad at the time.
Return of Warner, Smith
The return of David Warner and Steve Smith to international cricket after serving their ball-tampering scandal bans was marked by intense scrutiny and a challenging journey towards redemption. The duo faced significant crowd hostility – particularly in England, who are considered the arch-rivals of Australia. However, over time, their on-field performances, sincere efforts towards redemption, and significant contributions to the team's success across formats played a pivotal role in gradually winning back the support and acceptance of fans and the broader cricketing fraternity.
Warner played a key role in Australia's 2021 T20 World Cup victory, where he was named the player of the tournament (289 runs in 7 matches at a strike rate of 146.70). Smith, meanwhile, was even named the interim captain of Australia on multiple occasions. In addition, Warner was also handed leadership duties in the Indian Premier League in 2023 (with Delhi Capitals).
Warner's connection to the ball-tampering scandal led to severe consequences, including a leadership ban that prohibited him from captaining the Australian team ever again. This ban, a result of his role as a senior member fostering a ‘win-at-all-costs’ culture, was highly debated in Australia; Smith, the captain before the ball-tampering incident, was only imposed a two-year leadership ban. In fact, Warner had attempted to reverse the decision in November 2022 but to no avail – this, despite the fact that Cricket Australia laid changes to their rule on sanctions, where players and support staff were were permitted to “have long-term sanctions modified.”
Warner made an appeal to reverse the ban, but later withdrew, revealing that the review panel wanted the hearing to be held in public. “I am not prepared for my family to be the washing machine for cricket's dirty laundry,” Warner had said in a statement announcing his withdrawal of appeal.
Johnson's remarks during Ashes 2023
Since January 2020, David Warner has played 26 Tests, scoring 1399 runs at a rather unimpressive average of 31.79. He had only two centuries to his name throughout this time – with no three-figure score in 2021. In the Ashes series this year, Warner averaged only 28.50, and calls were made for his removal from the Test side. Interestingly, Mitchell Johnson had a war of words with Warner's wife, Candice, over the opener's selection in the Ashes squad as well.
After Candice had defended Warner's selection and asked, ‘If Dave doesn’t perform in that first Test, who do they bring in that’s better?’, Johnson had a rather explosive response.
“We’ve all appreciated Warner’s tremendous career as an opener and what he’s achieved. But that’s not what it’s about,” Johnson wrote in a column for The West Australian.
“His form has not been up to scratch for a while now. Warner even had his wife Candice defending him in her panel role on the TV show The Back Page this week. Her loyalty might be admirable but it was all a bit weird and cringey when she said if Dave doesn’t perform in that first Test, who do they bring in that’s better?
“I hate that argument. If players were only judged on their previous achievements then Dennis Lillee would still be opening the bowling for Australia and Ricky Ponting would be batting at No. 3,” Johnson had said at the time.
While David Warner is included in the squad for the first Test against Pakistan in Perth suggests a potential comeback, it doesn't assure him a spot in the playing XI. The decision on Warner's participation lies in the hands of captain Pat Cummins and coach Andrew McDonald. Mitchell Johnson's unequivocal criticism of the opener adds an intriguing layer to the narrative, highlighting Warner's persistence in the team despite a string of underwhelming performances. “Why a struggling test opener gets to nominate his own retirement date. And why a player at the centre of one of the biggest scandals in Australian cricket history warrants a hero's send-off?” Johnson has questioned in his fiery column that sharply criticizes the Australian opener.
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