AUS VS PAK, 2023-24

Emotional Warner braces for a perfect farewell

Warner with his family at SCG
Warner with his family at SCG ©Getty

David Warner doesn't let his guard down in public too often when it comes to being emotional. Two days out from the start of his farewell Test, he got emotional on two occasions. And he didn't hold back on either occasion.

Both times, it had to do with an opening partner who he's had an association with since his very early days in cricket. One who he will walk out with at the SCG in his final foray donning a Baggy Green over the next week. The other whose plaque he'll walk past after having lost him in tragic fashion nine years ago but still sees "at the other end".

And Warner spoke about still finding it difficult to talk about the passing of the late Phillip Hughes all these years later but admitted that among the long series of those who he's had to open the batting with, his fellow left-hander from country New South Wales would arguably have been the best.

"For us, being here when he fell that day was quite sad and terrible. Still today, it hits us hard. I've always seen him at the other end. All the boys know he's looking down upon us. Still hard to talk about it today because I think he was going to be one of our greatest opening batters ever," said Warner.

"He had every shot in the book. His character, his energy and his smile lit up the room. Best mates with everyone, no one would ever say a bad word about him and truly, truly believe today, if he was still with us, he'd be in my position or Uzzie's position (at the top of the order)."

Warner had opened the batting in his maiden Test alongside the late Hughes, who had made his debut a couple of years earlier, a dozen Tests ago. And he'll be doing so in the company of Khawaja in his final Test, the 112th of his career, in Sydney. When asked about what it meant to him to be able to do so after all these years of having known each other is when Warner first showed signs of the emotional week that lies ahead of him, referring to it as a "fairytale ending".

"I was saying to Uzzie this morning when we were out in the middle, with his debut Test, I was actually sitting up in one of the boxes up there and it was awesome to see and it is a fairytale ending. I don't know too many cricketers who have gone through junior cricket with each other and played the highest level for a long period of time," Warner said.

"Just to see him come back the way he has the last two years has been absolutely amazing. I know his family are really, really proud of him. I'm really, really proud of him as a mate. And it brought a tear to my eye when he scored that hundred when he first came back (against England at the SCG in January 2021). But yeah, I think when you're childhood friends and you get to go out here at the SCG as kids, dreaming big, it's a great fitting. I love him, hey."

In a rather sweet moment, Warner walked into the press-conference room alongside his wife Candice and his three kids. They sat through most of his chat before the youngest needed a break. They'll be in full strength during the week, however, as he walks away from Test cricket for good. And having expressed his desire to call it quits in front of his family and friends on his home-ground some seven months ago, Warner revealed that he had considered leaving earlier as well but had no doubts over where he wanted to go out.

"I said (that) quite clearly in England before the World Test Championship (final). There was a lot of talk about me and my form. I wanted to nip it in the bud early. I said my ideal preference to finish would be Sydney - that's ideal, that's fantastic. But I actually had Lord's pencilled in as my last Test, especially if I didn't go as well as I did as a partnership with Uzzie at the top of the order. Then from there, it just followed on that we played some good innings together. I didn't have that hundred (in England) that I always wanted but eluded me in achieving. But as a team and as a whole we did our bit, so to get this ending is awesome, but it's not about me it's about us. We've won the series, but to win three nil and have a whitewash here at the SCG would be a great thing for the team. We can't take away the fact of how well this team has been in the last 18 months," he said.

Warner did admit to how the emotion of bidding farewell to something he's cherished for so long and has taken so much pride in was beginning to get to him as he's neared the finish.

"It has actually become more emotional. When I looked at Lord's (2nd Test of last year's Ashes) as a potential finish, I didn't really have many emotions because I was content. I might not have been scoring runs, but I still had the desire to play Test cricket. I love the game of cricket. It doesn't matter what format I'm playing. But definitely it's been emotional since Perth, since I've been back in Australia and knowing that I'm playing (my final Test). Getting that 160, putting us into a great position for the team, it hit home when people in the streets were coming up and saying, 'well done, we support you, we back you'. It really means a lot," he said.

"The emotions probably started then. I thank all the supporters and the fans out there, because they're the key shareholders in the game. Without them, you know, we don't get to play the game that we love. We don't get to entertain - and we're in the entertainment business. That really, really means a lot to all of us."

Warner hasn't of course always enjoyed the overwhelming love and the support of the Australian cricket public, as a collective anyway. In his opinion, it's a case of perhaps a lot of his detractors not knowing the real him, which he insisted could be fixed by them reaching out and grabbing a beer with him in person.

"There's two types of likes and dislikes. There's ones that hides behind the keyboard and there's ones in real life who have a sit down with you, have a beer and get to know you. They are the real people who actually support you. I've had a few of them, where I've called people out and had a beer with them and they've changed their opinion totally. That goes back probably four, five, six years ago. But what you see is what you get. I'm very honest, I'm open, always happy to have a beer with anyone that has a disagreement in the public. If you don't like what you see on TV, reach out I'll have a beer with you. That's open to anyone," he said.

Warner will finish his Test career as one of the most successful openers for Australia. A great achievement having started off as someone with a reputation for being a potential white-ball specialist. And Warner recalled a knock of 211 on an Australia A tour of Zimbabwe in 2011, before he'd played Test cricket, which he feels could well have been the genesis of him becoming a Test cricketer. Courtesy then selector Greg Chappell.

"I think I owe that thanks to Greg Chappell who showed belief and faith in my talent and ability and the way that I play the game. In Zimbabwe, I've got a memory of him when I was 40 not out and he comes up to me and goes 'this innings will change your life if you score 100'. I went on to get 200 and he told me 'I told you so'. I look back at that and they're my fondest memories of how I started. I got given the opportunity to open in one day cricket through Dom Thornely and then out of nowhere after that Zimbabwe series, I'm opening the batting for NSW. From there, it's been quite surreal. I wouldn't have ever imagined opening the batting for NSW or anyone when I first started. But to be here after 112 Tests and coming out for the last time, I'm still pinching myself," he said.

Warner's legacy, meanwhile, you'd think will be that of a pioneer who broke all norms and paved a path that those like him who start off with a white-ball bias could potentially dream of taking. Not that there will be many as talented as him ever to play the sport at the highest level. But Warner did express some sympathy for the younger lot coming through the ranks in the current era, and the tough decisions that they have to make in terms of prioritizing the different formats as compared to how it was when he'd started.

"It's easy for me to sit here and talk about playing for your country at test level through T20 cricket. Fortunately, in my development, I didn't have that there, so I didn't have to make that decision of going out and playing in those. For me, it was always about playing Test cricket for Australia. We're well remunerated as well with the central contracts, and that's the passion that you have growing up to play red ball cricket for Australia. Today with so many different opportunities and a lot of money at stake for younger guys coming through, it's a tough decision to make. I'm just fortunate enough that I don't have to make that decision coming through. It'd be wrong of me to say that I would still be passionate to keep playing for Australia and have those ambitions because that's every kid in Australia's (dream). It would be a very difficult decision to make if you're getting $100,000 thrown at you before you take a rookie contract," he said.

And speaking of legacy, Warner reiterated his journey from the housing commission in Sydney to where he's got to and about the need to have a dream and to dream big. He also spoke about the freedom with which he's always played Test cricket, and it's safe to say that will be what he gets remembered for the most.

"I've not always fitted the mould, but I've been authentic and honest and not someone different and I think that shows you on the field in Test cricket, I've played the exact same way. I'm even playing lap shots like I do in T20 cricket. I'm still trying my best to get better even in this last Test. I'm hungry to score runs. It's no different to any other game and I just want to leave behind that you can go out and play the way you want to play. You can play with freedom, you can play reverse sweeps like Joe Root if you want. You've got the ability to do that and you've got to trust and believe in yourself," he said.

Like he has done so incredibly well during a remarkable career that will go down as one of the greatest ever of all time.



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